Cribbage strategy: replying to the lead

As there are so few cards played in a hand of cribbage, strategy is important with each play. Your choice of reply to the opponent's lead can be critical.

  • Never play a 6 to a led 4, or vice versa. This leads to a nasty sting as your opponent slaps down a 5, for five points (4-6-5 run and 15). It is a common mistake in cribbage strategy to set up runs for your opponent. Unless you've got a plan up your sleeve, of course...

  • Get rid of your higher cards first, as they will be a liability when the count approaches 31. Save Aces - they are your emergency escape strategy to turn a point-losing 30 into a 2-point-winning 31 (but get rid of lone aces - see below).

  • Do not pair your opponent's card unless you also hold another of the same card in reserve. For example, if your opponent plays a 4, you should not reply with a 4 if it is the only 4 you hold - because your opponent is quite likely to have another 4 herself (making a pair royal for 6 points). Conversely, you should encourage your opponent to pair your card when you yourself hold a pair. The chances of her holding the fourth card to make double pair royal (12 points) are minimal.

  • When holding two cards that together make 5 (for example 4 and Ace), lead one of them. Your opponent is likely to play a 10 onto it, enabling you to make 15.

  • Watch for runs! Don't play a card with a value 1 or 2 away from your opponent's card - for example a 9 on a 7 - as he is likely to complete the run. The exception, of course, is when you hold the necessary card to extend the run yourself and top your opponent's points. Beware of 'banging your head' on 31, though - calculate beforehand whether you will be able to play onto the run without going over 31.

Go to the main cribbage strategy page

Aces in cribbage

Scoring aces: Is the ace high in cribbage?

In cribbage aces are always counted as one point, rather than as elevens or fourteens as in some other games. So, for example, A-2-3 is a run, but Q-K-A is not.

Counting aces as ones instead of elevens is part of the official rules of cribbage and not decided by the players' choice.

scoring runs during play?

I am so confused about scoring a double run while pegging. Suppose the play goes 3-2-A. At that point the player playing the ace scores 3. If his opponent plays another Ace, does he score 4 for a run of 4 plus 2 for the pair?

What if the play goes this way 3-3-2-A. Does the player of the Ace count 3 or 4? What if tne next play is another A? What does that player count?

Can someone state the rule about scoring runs & pairs during play clearly enough that even an idiot like me can get it?

Cribbage rules - the play

(Previous section: Cribbage rules - the turn-up)

The count

Following the deal, the discard and the turn-up, the hand proper begins.

In the playing phase of Cribbage, the players take it in turns to lay down a card, trying to make the running total equal to certain values. The non-dealer plays first and states the value of her card (for example, "ten" for a Jack). Court cards count ten (together with the face 10 they are known as the 'ten-cards', or 'tenth cards'). Ace counts one.

15 and 31

The dealer then plays a card, the value of which is added to the current running total. The player who makes the total exactly 15 scores two points ("fifteen-two"). Two points are also awarded for making 31. Additionally, you score a point if your opponent cannot play without going over 31 ("one for the go", or just "one for go"). You must play if you can (reneging is against the rules).


If your card is the same rank as the last card played, you score two for a pair. If your opponent plays a third card of the same rank, he scores 6 for a "pair royal" (three of a kind). Four of a kind scores 12 ("double pair royal").


If the last 3 cards played form a sequence, the player making the sequence scores 3 for a "run". For example, 3-4-5 makes a run of 3 and so scores 3 for the player laying down the 5. If the opponent then plays a 6 (or a 2) to extend the sequence to 4 cards, she scores 4, and so on as long as the sequence is unbroken.

Sequence do not have to be in order. For example, if the play goes 7-9-6, you can then play an 8 to score 4 for a run of 4.

Continue to Cribbage rules - the go

Out of order runs

Lucy writes:

If a sequence like: 2-4-5-3-7-6. Can the person that put the 6 count 6 points?


Indeed she can! And if her opponent held an Ace, he could play it for another 7 points. Anyone who plays a card which completes a run, whether in order or not, scores a point for every card in that run.

I hope this helps.

Runs of Q-K-A

Paul emailed our rules department to ask:

Is Q, K, A a run? If so, are there two runs in the event that the other
two cards are 2 and 3?

The Ace is always low in cribbage, so Q-K-A is not a run. However, A-2-3 in any order would count as a run!

How to score two 8's, two 6's and an Ace?

My wife and I were playing cribbage at the cabin. A friendly debate erupted when I tried to score the following hand: two 8's and two 6's, and the cut card was an Ace.

How do you score this hand?


Pegging question

Rudy writes:

If the point count in playing a hand is at 25, and I’ve laid a Ace to make it 26, my opponent plays an Ace to make it 27, he gets 2 points for the pair, and I say “go” and he has another Ace, does he get 2 points for the first pair of Aces, and then 6 points for 3 of a kind ?

We're handing this over to Ezra, the Cribbage Corner librarian and rules guru, for a definitive answer. Ezra has a snowy white beard and half-moon spectacles, as you might imagine. Ezra says:


Unfortunately he not only scores 6 for the pair royal on top of the 2 he already scored for the pair. He scores an additional 1 for go, making 8 in total for the play of two cards.

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