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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

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).

Pairs

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").

Runs

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

Can you go over 31 in the play?

Christine Hendricks writes:

Hi

I have just read your Simple Cribbage rules, I used to play a lot with my family many years ago, I have now joined a Cards group and they welcome new games, so I thought I wold introduce them to Cribbage, there is something not clear in you rules and I can't remember, during 'The count' when players are laying down the cards what happens when, say for example 4 of a kind came up and they were 8 or above - thus taking the total of the count to over 31? also the same for runs that would go above 31 - do you stop or what ?

Christine,

During the playing phase - as distinct from the scoring phase - each player lays down just one card at a time, and you cannot play any card that would take the running count over 31.

So in your example, 4 successive 8s could not be played. After the third 8 (making the count 24), the next player would have to play a 7 or lower, or 'Go' (meaning they have no legal card to play). (Failing to play a card when you legally could is called a renege and is usually penalised.)

When nobody can play any more cards without exceeding 31, the count is over, and a new count begins at zero, with the last scoring player laying the first card.

"Go" rule

I have some questions about situations that can occur during play. Here is an unrealistic example, but it allow me to ask both questions:

* Player A has an Ace, 10 and a Jack left in their hand
* Player B has just played her last card bringing the sum to 19
* Player A plays 10 bringing the sum to 29
* Player B cannot play because she does not have any cards left in her hand

Question 1: Does Player A get a point for "go"?

* Player A plays his Ace bringing the sum to 30
* Player B still cannot go
* Player A cannot go without going over 31 and calls "go"

Question 2: Does Player B get the point for "go" even though she does not have any cards in her hand?

* Player A plays the Jack and scores a point for last

Variations on cribbage rules

Cribbage rules have remained largely unchanged since the game first originated in the 17th century, but there are many variations on the standard rules of cribbage and many different forms and variants of the game. Captain's Cribbage is perhaps the best known, and most widely played.

Cribbage rules

Standard cribbage rules

Variations on cribbage scoring

Cribbage scoring can count against you instead of for you, as in Lowball cribbage.

Number of players

The number of players can include one, for solitaire cribbage, two, as in the normal cribbage rules; three, in three-player cribbage and Captain's cribbage, or four, in four-player cribbage.

Number of cards

The number of cards in a cribbage hand can vary from five, in five-Card cribbage, to seven, in seven-card cribbage.

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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