tournaments

Penalties in cribbage

What are the rules on penalties in the game of cribbage? How many different penalties are there in the game of cribbage? When playing with friends, we don't usually score penalty points for mistakes in play. In more serious games, though, especially in official tournaments, the ACC cribbage rules dictate various penalties that can be applied when things go wrong at different stages of the game.

Looking at the bottom card

Penalty: 2 points

After the cards are mixed and shuffled, neither player is allowed to look at the bottom card of the deck. If either does, the opponent can claim a 2 point penalty.

Similarly, following the cut, neither player must look at the bottom card of the top part of the pack. The penalty is the same.

Not confirming the wrong number of cards dealt

Penalty: 10 points backwards

If someone is dealt the wrong number of cards, there is a redeal. The player receiving the wrong number of cards must allow the dealer to confirm the number of cards in the hand. If he does not do this, his scoring peg is moved backwards 10 points, or back to zero if he has less than 10 points.

Examining the crib

Penalty: 2 points

Neither player must look at or count the points in the crib before the proper time. If this happens, the player is assessed a 2 point penalty.

Renege

Penalty: 2 points per renege card

If a player reneges (fails to play a card when she could have done), her opponent scores 2 points for each card that should have been played.

Incorrectly claiming the game

Penalty: 15 points backwards, opponent scores overclaim

If a player mistakenly pegs more than their actual score, and claims the game as a result, the opponent scores penalty points equal to the number overclaimed, and the offender takes a 15-point backward penalty (has to peg back 15 points).

Pegging with opponent's peg

Penalty: 2 points

If you accidentally (or otherwise) move your opponent's peg when pegging your own score, the opponent scores 2 penalty points.

Placing starter card in hand, crib or pack

Penalty: 2 points

When counting hands, neither player must mix the turn-up card into their own hand or crib, or place it back in the pack. There is a 2 point penalty for this.

Other penalties and special situations

There are many detailed instructions in the ACC cribbage rules for handling situations which may arise in play such as misdeals, and if you are playing in or organising a tournament it is important to familiarise yourself with them (and ideally have a printed copy of the rules handy to refer to).

Uneven number of teams in a tournament

We are hosting a one day Round Robin type cribbage tournament and don't wish to exclude a team if there is an uneven number of teams. What would be a fair default score for a team for a 2-game round in which they have no opponent?

Runs in the play

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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)?
  4. Similarly if the next card played is a 4, will this count as a double double run of four? How would this be counted.
  5. What are the specific rules for adding to runs in game play?
  6. 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?
  7. 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:

ACC Tournament 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.

Can you peg out on a Jack?

Al & Carol Turriff emailed to ask:

You're in the stink hole. Can you cut a Jack and then go out? I say yes you can. Is this correct?

Under normal circumstances, if the dealer turns up a Jack as the starter card, she scores 'two for his heels'. The official ACC cribbage tournament rules specifically say that this score still counts even if the dealer would peg out and win the game as a result:

Rule 6.3. Scoring When The Starter Card Is a Jack (His Heels)

a. When a Jack is turned up, the dealer is entitled to two points.

b. The dealer may peg out into the game hole by turning a Jack starter card.

However, some people like to play a local rule that you are not allowed to score 'his heels' (and sometimes 'go') if you are in the stinkhole (the 120th hole, one short of game). Sometimes this also applies if you need 5 or fewer points to win. There is nothing to stop you playing this rule if you want, so long as all players agree it beforehand.

Order of dealing

Del asked us:

I have a friend that deals the first card to himself in a three handed game. Is this the proper way to deal?

No, it isn't - usual practice and ACC tournament rules state that the first card goes to pone (or in a three handed game, the player at dealer's left).

What happens if there is a misdeal?

Jacqueline writes:

The other night, I was playing a game against my roommate. It was his deal and we were both very close to the end hole - he misdealt by dealing out 7 cards instead of 6. I said to take the last card dealt me and to continue playing. He looked at his hand and threw his cards on the deck and said -"Nope - it's a misdeal so I lose my crib". I argued that it wasn't a fair play - he could misdeal on purpose just to shift the game so that he would count/peg first and essentially win. Any ruling on this???

I passed this one over to Ezra, the staff librarian and cribbage rules expert. Ezra says:

Jacqueline, the short answer is that you were right. The ACC tournament rules state that "If either player was dealt the wrong number of cards... there shall be a redeal by the same dealer." However, this rule only applies before the starter card has been turned.

If the starter was already turned when you noticed the misdeal, the situation is more complicated. The ACC says "Pegging and play continue (regardless of time of discovery) until the dealer plays his or her last card. If discovery occurs when the pone plays the excess card(s), pegging is retracted to the point of the playing of the dealer's last card or continues until the dealer plays his or her last card. The dealer's pegging points count. Any points scored by the pone during the pegging are retracted. The pone's hand is dead. The dealer's hand is counted. The crib is counted if it is correct. If the crib has too few cards, a judge mixes all of the pone's cards, and the dealer blindly selects the needed card(s) to complete the crib; the crib is then counted."

In other words, you must play the hand as dealt, until the dealer has played his last card, and then retract all the points you scored as pone, and you do not get to score your hand. I would interpret this as meaning that you cannot go out by pegging from a dead hand.

In non-tournament play I would suggest a simpler rule: if you discover a misdeal, all points scored in this hand are void, pone scores a 2-point penalty, and the dealer redeals. You should certainly not switch dealers under any circumstances.

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.

Cribbage tournament rules

How to set up a cribbage tournament

There are many cribbage tournaments held by local cribbage clubs, and even regional and national events. You could set up a cribbage tournament of your own with a few friends, which could be played as a single event or over a period of several days.

If you need a reference copy of the rules of cribbage, try our printable cribbage rules.

Types of cribbage tournaments

Points

The most common way to play tournaments is in groups of nine, round-robin fashion. Each player plays one game with each of his eight opponents, scoring 2 for a game won and 3 for a skunk. At the end of the tournament the player with the most points wins. The spread points (how many points you won or lost by) should be recorded for each game so that the total net spread points may be used as a tiebreaker.

Swiss

Everyone plays everyone else. When one undefeated player remains, she is the winner.

Single elimination

As soon as you lose a game, you're out!

Double elimination

As with single elimination, except that you must lose two games to be out. In each round after the first, winners play winners, and losers play losers. After each round any double losers are removed from the competition.

Rules and penalties

Cribbage rules in tournament play are generally stricter than when playing amongst friends or socially (though the same etiquette applies). For example, penalty points are scored for a renege. See the cribbage penalties page for full details.

Cribbage rules

Simple cribbage rules

The rules of cribbage are simple - it's one of the easiest card games to learn and certainly one of the most satisfying. Once you've read through our simple rules for cribbage, you'll be playing in no time!

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