Cribbage etiquette

Etiquette is important in card games, cribbage more than most. It is regarded as a gentleman's game (naturally, for card-playing purposes, ladies can be gentlemen too). Like most worthwhile things in life, it is surrounded by complicated and often incomprehensible ritual. However, in an important sense the ritual is the game and so you dispense with it at your peril.

Before the game

Determine whether or not Muggins will be played. If you want to play Muggins but your opponent does not, be gracious and honour his wishes. After all, he is doing you a favour by giving up his time to play cards with you. You should also give your opponent his choice of game - five-card cribbage, six-card cribbage, short game, long game, best of three, best of five, and so forth. The wily pegger never passes up a chance to hone his skills and broaden his experience by playing something different from his usual game.

Some players allow a four-card flush in the crib; though this is not standard, it is a not unreasonable variation and makes for slightly higher scores. However you should determine in advance whether this will be allowed.

Various additions to the standard rules of cribbage are sometimes played, especially in tournaments: for example, that one cannot peg out on a go, or other restrictions on scoring. Unless such rules are specifically mentioned you should assume that you are playing standard cribbage. Once the game has started it is too late to change the rules.

The cut

Most official rules of cribbage stipulate a mandatory cut by pone before the deal. It is indeed common practice to make this cut; however, because it is specifically designed to prevent the dealer cheating, some feel it an unnecessary slur on their character. In games like poker, of course, often played with strangers and for high stakes, such measures are essential. Cribbage is a legacy of a more gentlemanly age (notwithstanding the rumours about Sir John Suckling). A gentleman does not imply that another gentleman might not be a gentleman.

Similarly, the rules allow for pone to take the deck and shuffle it himself before the deal. While perfectly legal, this would be an unusual thing to do and implies that the dealer is suspect.

Our own preference is to skip the cut, if only because it saves a little time. However, if pone requests the cut, of course you must grant it.

Pegging

During the pegging, when you play a card, announce the count clearly and follow it by any score you may have made. For example:

Pone: Four.
Dealer: Ten.
Pone: Fifteen five. [pegs]
Dealer: Twenty for two. [pegs]
Pone: Twenty-five for six. [pegs]
Dealer: Go.
Pone: One for the go. [pegs]

Dealer: Seven. And one for last. [pegs]

You should not peg for your opponent unless you have agreed that one of you will peg for both. Conversely, remember to peg your own points!

Scoring

Lay your cards face up in front of you so that everyone can see and check your scoring. Announce the combinations in a set order - usually: fifteens, pairs, runs, flushes and nobs. As you announce each combination point out the cards involved. For example:

"Fifteen-two, fifteen-four; a pair is six; and nobs is seven."

Familiar fifteen/pair combinations such as Q-Q-5-5 (12 points) should nonetheless be announced individually: "fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six, fifteen-eight, and two pairs is 12". Simply announcing 'I have 12' saves only a few seconds, and tells nothing about how the combinations are formed - possibly confusing your fellow players. You may miss points yourself if you try to count by recognising whole sets of combinations at once. At the worst say 'Fifteen-eight and two pairs is 12'. No-one will rebuke you for counting carefully and methodically, as long as you do not waste time. Similarly, combinations such as a double run of 3 (8 points) should be announced as 'two runs of three is six, and a pair is eight'.

Speed

Cribbage should be played allegro, ma non troppo. In other words, don't dawdle, but don't rush it either. Presumably you are playing the game for the enjoyment of it, in which case it should be treated as something to be savoured rather than rushed through at maximum speed.

This is not to say that one should play slowly. Save as much time as you can on things which don't require any thought - riffling, shuffling, dealing and cutting should all be done quickly and without fuss. The temptation is always to talk while one is shuffling, to analyse the previous hand, and so on. Avoid this. Shuffle smoothly and silently, then deal. Talk about the game after the game.

The time you save here can profitably be re-invested in thinking about your discards and plays. Take as much time as you need, but no longer than that. Pretending to ponder over ones discard, perhaps hoping to imply that you have an excellent hand, is not only against etiquette but boots nothing - unless your opponent is so intimidated that he resigns on the spot!

Strive to avoid the temptation, if you are losing badly, to slow right down, distract your opponent with chatter, and generally delay the inevitable. Apart from being bad sportsmanship, it delays the moment when you can start a new, and perhaps more successful game. On a strategic note, it is never worth giving up on a game. If you are losing, you should be fighting hard for every point, and striving to avoid a skunk. If you have no chance of avoiding the skunk, strive to avoid the double skunk! There is always work to be done. At the worst, you can use the freedom of this situation to try out new ideas and experimental plays which you would not risk in a game-leading position.

After the game

If you won, don't crow about it. If you lost, don't gripe about it. Either way, thank your opponent for the game. Compliment her on her play if you thought it was good; keep quiet if it wasn't. Insincere compliments are worth no more in cribbage than any other field.

Refrain from long post-mortems. Do not point out your opponent's mistakes or faults unless she specifically asks you for a critique.

How to cheat at cribbage

Cheating in a friendly card game is pointless, and dangerous in any other kind, so we don't recommend it. But it is possible to cheat in cribbage, and it would be wise to know how to spot if someone is trying to cheat you.

One way to cheat at cribbage is to miscount your hand, particularly when counting quickly, and to announce scores that you haven't in fact made. Always check-count your opponent's hand, and don't let them rush you if it is a tricky score to calculate. It is quite possible to make innocent mistakes when counting, but if your opponent repeatedly overcounts her hand, beware.

Over-pegging your score is another form of cribbage cheating. In a fast-paced game it is easy to peg more points than you made. Double-check your opponent's pegging.

It is illegal in cribbage to renege; that is, to fail to play a card when the rules say you can. It happens often that your opponent lays down his last card leaving you with several small cards in hand. You must play them all if you can. If your opponent says 'Go', and following the restart of the count lays down a card that he could have played before the Go, this is a renege and against the rules of cribbage. Usually reneging is simply a mistake, but if this happens more than once in a game your opponent may be trying to cheat you. (The penalty in tournament play for reneging is detailed on the renege page.)

Penalties in cribbage

In games where anything other than fun is at stake, penalty points usually apply to offences such as glancing at the bottom card, looking into the crib, or moving your opponent's pegs. See our cribbage penalties page for full details of the penalty points that apply in formal play.

Dear Doris, We have a

Dear Doris,
We have a continual debate about how to score runs in cribbage.

Suppose that the following cards were played:

6 - 7 - 4 - 5

While I don't think this is a run, the computerized version of cribbage on line will give you the 4 points for this run. Is this correct?

Any help you can lend would be appreciated.

Thanks.

Paula

Hi Paula Runs don't have to

Hi Paula

Runs don't have to be in numerical order to score points. Although 6-7-4 is not a run, adding the 5 completes a 4-card run, and so scores 4.

I hope this helps!
Doris

baseball cribbage board

Dear Doris, I'm looking for a baseball cribbage board. My nephew and I love to play cribbage and he is also a baseball player. It would be a perfect gift for him! Any help would be appreciated!

Many thanks,
Karen

Cribbage Baseball Game

I have a cribbage baseball available. The game is called 'Round the Bases.

Counting points in a hand - verbal ettiquette

I have played Crib for over 30 years and I have heard people count using the repeated use of the word 15 which always struck me as annoyingly redundant and very minor waste of time. We were not taught this way by our Dad and I have played many different people some who used this method - others who didn't. My preference is not to use this but I do count carefully and always show my opponent quite clearly where the points are and I'm happy to use the word 15 for clarification the very rare odd time. I don't mind if other players count this way but I have always chosen not too.

I am a very efficient person by nature and tend not to do things that do not require doing - however when playing golf I will always walk around my opponents lines before putting as walking on someone's line is a severe breach of golfing ettiquette.

I recently played Crib with someone however who insisted that we play using the verbal reference 15-2, 15-4, 15-6 etc... when counting our hand or we would not be playing together. We eventually agreed to disagree and ended up only playing the one game as a result.

I would hate to think that I was in the wrong and should have aquiesed and agreed to play "properly". I had simply never encountered this as an enforceable "rule" before ....

Is not saying 15-2, 15-4 akin to walking on someone's line before putting or something similar?

For some reason I find the repeated use of the 15's strangely off-putting.

Your help would be greatly appreciated.

S.

Re: Counting points in a hand - verbal etiquette

It's not an enforceable rule. You can count your hand however you like, but it seems good etiquette to count your hand a certain way if your opponent requests it.

Especially when playing with beginners it can be helpful to count this way, "15-2, 15-4..." and indicating the cards by pointing as you count them. Between experienced players and familiar opponents I'd say it's unusual. I would tend to count a hand by saying "15-6 and a pair for 2 is 8" or something similar. As my opponent is counting her hand aloud, I will count it silently and if we disagree, then we can double-check by counting it more carefully.

I may not be correct.

But I usually count 15-2, 4, 6, and a pair is 8 (example). Sometimes I'll say 15-2, 15-4. But usually I only say 15 once.

Submission rule to keep deal

My wife and I disagrees with me in that I understand that if I concede when defeat is unavoidable after a hand and count on her deal that I then have the first deal in the next game. As I write this I am also, point 2, I am assuming the deal remains in order at the conclusion of a game.

OK, for those in the know, Q: 3, I was taught that if an opponent short counts ther hand and pegs their points I can point out the shortfall and claim them. These were my granfather's rules I have played to since the early 70's.

BTW - excellent blog!g