I am new to the game of cribbage and am curious about the conspicuously negative rule excluding four-card crib flushes. This rule seems to be begging for a good mathematical explanation. Statistics seems like the right explanation, but the five-card crib flush is very improbable and intuitively does not seem to justify a special rule excluding the four-card flush.
A flush in cribbage is 4 or more cards all of the same suit (for example, four diamonds). If you hold 4 cards of the same suit in your hand, you score 4. If the turn-up card is also the same suit, you score 5.
However, in the crib, only a 5-card flush will count (the 4 cards in the crib and the turn-up card must all be the same suit).
What is Five Hundred Cribbage?
I am indebted to Mr Herb Barge who sent me scans of a book written by a distant relative of his in the 30s, Thomas B. Stauff. This book, entitled "Rules of Play governing '500' Cribbage, Thomas system, a Modern Version of Cribbage", appears to be a fairly radical re-working of the game.
Juli emailed us to ask:
could you help solve an argument.
The hand is 4-4-4-3 with another 3 turned up.
I counted 15-2, 15-4, 6pts for the 4s and 2pts for the pair of threes for a total point count of 12.
Is this correct?
Exactly right! The 4-4-4 makes 15 two ways, once with each of the 3s. There's a pair royal of 4s (6 points) and a pair of 3s, no runs, flushes or nobs equals 12 points total.
(Previous section: Cribbage rules - the go)
Having played out all the cards, both players then score their hands, pone first - this time including the turn-up card as part of both hands. The dealer's crib also includes the turn-up. Again, points are scored for 15s, runs, and pairs; you can also score for a flush (all cards of the same suit) - see the cribbage scoring chart below for a handy reference. It is a key part of the rules of cribbage that the non-dealer should score first - at the end of the game, both players may have enough points to win, and the right to score first will determine victory. The cribbage board's positions usually alternate during the game, with first one player leading, then the other. The trick is to be in the first-scoring position when you are close enough to win!
If the four cards in your hand are of the same suit, you score four for a flush (a cribbage flush, unlike in poker, doesn't beat three of a kind!). If the starter card is also of the same suit, you score five. However, in the crib you cannot score a four-card flush; all five must be the same suit. These rules occasionally have local variations, so check to make sure which rules are being used. In an official tournament, the American Cribbage Congress rules apply.
Some cribbage rules sites explicitly state that flushes are not scored in cribbage. This is incorrect, at least according to the American Cribbage Congress rules, which are the nearest thing to an official set of rules for cribbage.
2 points are scored for a pair in cribbage, and 6 for a pair royal - that is, three cards of the same rank. This can be considered as 3 different pairs worth 2 points each. Similarly, double pair royal (four of a kind) scores 12 as there are 6 ways of picking two cards from four. You begin to see why mathematicians love this game.
Combinations of cards making 15 score two points each - for example, 8 and 7. As many ways as you can make 15 with your cards, you score 2 points for each of them. For example, 8-7-7-A can make 15 three ways: the 8 and one 7, the 8 and the other 7, and the 7-7-A. Consequently it scores 6 points (for 15s, and a further 2 for the pair of 7s).
Runs score as many points as there are cards in them. For example, a four-card run 9-T-J-Q scores 4.
You also score 1 point if you have the Jack of the same suit as the starter card (known as 'his nob' or just 'nobs').
Cribbage scoring chart
You can print out this cribbage scoring chart and keep it handy when you're playing!
|Pair royal||6||Three of a kind|
|Double pair royal||12||Four of a kind|
|Run||1 per card||Runs need not be in numerical order (eg 3-5-6-4) but they must be consecutive (3-4-4-5 does not score).|
|Go||1||The go is scored by the last player to lay a card.|
|31||2||The 2 points for 31 includes a go (by definition no-one can go when the total is 31). So no extra point is scored for the go.|
|Nobs||1||"One for his nob" is scored if you hold the Jack of the turn-up suit.|
Can you break down the count of 29 as it is supposed to be counted? It seems you are not allowing the Jack to be counted with the 4 5's for another 8 points which would give 36 points.
Please help me with my confusion over this.
The 29 cribbage hand page does not explain how the score is broken down, so here goes!
We score the 29 hand in the same way as any other: taking 15s first, then pairs, runs, flushes and nobs.
First count 15s. The Jack makes 15 with each of the 5s, that's 4 15s. Also, there are 4 ways of choosing three different 5s to make additional 15s. That's 8 in total, for 16 points.
Then pairs: there are 6 different pairs of 5s, for another 12 points. That's 28 so far.
There are no runs or flushes, so the Jack of nobs gives us a final point for 29.
I hope this helps!
Ty Nielson emailed to ask:
So, we’re having some controversy in the office over some of the rules of the cribbage game, all being long time players of cribbage and each of us having slight variations in the rules that we want to play. For the rules that I request please answer with the rules that would be played in a traditional cribbage tournament. This is very important, it’s a business full of wrestlers, knife vendors, construction workers and young people, its getting pretty rough around the company deck here if you can imagine.
- When in play, and three people are playing cards off of one another, and a sequence of cards is thrown (3, 5, 4) do the cards have to be in sequence? Does the above throw represent a run of three for the thrower of the 4?
- Now assuming that 3,5,4,2 were played…. Do the last three cards have to be in sequence or is this 4 points for the player of the 2?
- Once this 4 card series is played, if 3,5,4,2,3 is played is this three points because it is the last three cards which must be in sequence? Or is this a double run of 4 for 8 (not counting the pair)?
- Similarly if the next card played is a 4, will this count as a double double run of four? How would this be counted.
- What are the specific rules for adding to runs in game play?
- During tournament cribbage, when the dealer has 4 cards in the crib of the same suit that do not match the lead card which was cut from the deck how does the dealer count his crib? Flush or not?
- If you have a detailed standard set of rules
Ty, that's a lot of questions! We spoke to Ezra, Cribbage Corner's wrinkled retainer and rules librarian. His rheumy eyes peered over his horn-rimmed glasses as he said:
The most important rule to remember when counting runs in the play is this. "Each card played scores points for the run it completes."
To take your first example of 3, 5, 4, the 4 completes a run of 3 so it scores 3. It does not matter if the cards are not in sequence.
If the next player lays a 2, that completes a run of 4, so scores 4.
There are no double or triple runs in the play (those only count when scoring the hand). So if 3,5,4,2,3 is played the last card only completes a run of 4, so it scores 4.
If the next card is a 4, that completes a run of 3 (2-3-4) so scores 3.
If a pair is played, it scores points for a pair but not for a run. For example, 2-3-4-4 would score 2 points for the pair, but it does not complete any runs, so it does not score any run points. Laying a 5 on this does not complete a run, because of the two 4s preceding it, so scores nothing. Remember there are no multiple runs in the play.
Your last question about the flush is simpler to answer. Remember 'No 4-card flushes in the crib'. While you can score a 4-card flush in the hand, in the crib all 5 cards must be of the same suit to score.
While there are no truly official rules for cribbage, the American Cribbage Congress is the recognised governing body for tournament cribbage in the United States and most tournaments worldwide are played according to its rules:
However, most of these relate to handling unusual situations (misdeals, mis-pegging and so on). For a detailed explanation of the mechanics of cribbage play, Pagat.com's Six Card Cribbage page is very useful.
James Walker emailed to ask:
four card flush...I know it counts fourin hand ...BUT does it score four in CRIB ?
There is a special rule for a flush in the crib. Normally, if you have four or more cards of the same suit in your hand, including the turn up card, you can score a flush. In the crib, however, a flush only scores if all four cards AND the turn up are the same suit. In other words, only a 5-card flush counts in the crib.
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.
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.
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: Fifteen five. [pegs]
Dealer: Twenty for two. [pegs]
Pone: Twenty-five for six. [pegs]
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!
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'.
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.