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.
As it seems not to have caught on with card players, and is therefore primarily of historical interest, I will not give the complete rules of Five Hundred Cribbage here. A summary of the main differences follows.
- Go is 34. Mr Stauff bases this choice on its number-theoretical relationship with 15, and invokes no less an authority than Euclid to back him up. However, you could probably find justifications for choosing almost any number, and 34 seems not sufficiently a more obvious number than 31. Neither does it make the pegging play dramatically different or more logical, which rather leads one to suspect that things not broken are better not mended.
- Mr Stauff, clearly a keen poker player, was apparently much exercised about the relative point values of the straight flush (10) and four-of-a-kind, known as pair royal (12). He points out, accurately, that the straight flush is a more unlikely poker hand than four-of-a-kind and so ranks higher in poker scoring. Thus he makes a special award for the 5-card straight flush (but, not, interestingly, the 4-card variety) of 5 points, bringing the total to 15.
His justification for this particular choice is that in a pair royal each card is ‘worth’ 3 points of the total 12. Therefore each card in a 5-card straight flush should also be ‘worth’ 3 points, making 15. Which perhaps goes to show that his grasp of card playing exceeded his grasp of combinatorics and probability theory, but his very American reforming zeal endears him to us nonetheless.
- Though 5-card straight flushes probably don’t come up that often, rendering the whole debate rather negligible, the 5-point bonus does mean that a 19 hand becomes attainable (and thereby, no doubt, infuriates traditionalists everywhere). For example the 3-4-5-6-7 flush contains a 15-4 in addition to the Stauff 15, making a resounding 19. I can see this causing scoring confusion, though. Perhaps this score should be announced as “I really have nineteen. No, honestly.”
- Mr Stauff argues that traditional Cribbage scoring does not give adequate recognition to the three different ways to score points: pegging, hand and crib. Accordingly, he proposes (as far as I can determine, for the description is not exhaustive) a six-track board where each player can record separately the points gained in each class.
The scores in each class are then given a different weighting and summed to count towards Game (500). Pegging points are the most valuable, which seems reasonable, followed by one’s own hand and finally the crib (which some might say should be the highest-weighted, since half the cards were placed in it by your opponent specifically to stop you scoring). I suspect that this change, being by far the most radical of Mr Stauff’s proposed modifications, and involving as it does not only the purchase of special equipment but a good deal of mental arithmetic for scoring every hand, may have been the one which broke the camel’s back as far as the Cribbage community at large was concerned.
Nonetheless I would be most interested to hear from anyone who has played, or even heard of ‘500’ Cribbage, or its seemingly forgotten originator. Do any of Mr Stauff’s special boards still exist (assuming they were ever made)? Or perhaps your ancestor devised a version of Cribbage where you have to make 17 instead of 15, and you score an extra 50 points on hands containing the nine-and-a-half of diamonds. Email and let me know.
Thomas system cribbage board
I have a 500 cribbage thomas system board.
This board appears to be comercailly made and has a Thomas system logo on the bottom.
There are seperate tracks marked C for crib
H for hand and P for pegging.
There are 30 points on the crib and pegging track and 60 points for the hand track.
I have been trying to find the rules for this board just to complete the game.
I play 500 cribbage!
I have played 500 cribbage in preference to the standard game all my life (I’m 52), as has my entire extended family, using handmade 500 cribbage boards. Rather than a merely historical curiosity the game is a living reality, albeit with what is probably a very small circulation!
The story I remember about the origins of the game is that it was invented by a man who worked with my grandfather, Warren Benjamin Wade, at the original General Mills plant in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the 1930’s. My grandfather obtained a prototype of the game–including a 500 cribbage board and instructions (both of which my father still owns)–from the inventor and started playing it as a four-handed game with my grandmother and several of her relatives.
As I recall, the game was never marketed widely, but I’m not sure whether that was because of lack of capital/investors, lack of interest by games manufacturers, limited marketing efforts, or the Depression. However, my grandparents preferred it to the standard game of cribbage and taught it to their children and grandchildren. My grandfather made a homemade wooden 500 cribbage board with painted nails as pegs for each of his nine grandchildren, and my dad and uncles have also made 500 cribbage boards. I treasure mine both as a family heirloom and as a game I greatly enjoy.
I have played standard cribbage plenty of times but much prefer 500 cribbage, because I think it involves more skill and strategy. Actually, I think the game my family plays is somewhere in between the two versions: we do peg to 34 rather than 31 and score pegging, hands and kitty separately but do not score five card flushes, for example, as you describe. I have never looked at the original instructions but will do so the next time I visit my parents.
It’s difficult to estimate how many people I know who play 500 cribbage, but family members have taught the game to friends, and the younger generation also has learned to play (I have an ongoing tournament with my 14 year old niece and 12 year old nephew) so it seems likely to continue being played for some time.
My brother has a 500 style board and original rules book given to my parents by Thomas Stauff and his wife Alma. They were family friends of Mom and Dad when they were first married and living in Minneapolis circa 1948-50 while my Dad attended Dunwoody Institute. I remember my Mom telling me about their friends, the Stauffs when she taught me how to play cribbage which would have been about 1961. I was not taught the 500 method at that time probably because learning the classic game was challenging enough for a 6 year old but I do remember her showing me the board and rule book. I believe they were neighbors and I seem to remember her telling me it was a 4 plex or duplex they shared with the Stauffs in the 2200 block of Garfield ave. so. I am going through a box of old family pics, clippings, and just read a postcard from Alma Stauff to my parents who had then moved back to our hometown of Tracy, Mn. postmarked 2/6/52 informing them of Thomas’s death. I looked at the address of 2213 Garfield ave. on google street view and it doesn’t appear that building is still there. I will be looking for a Coles directory from that era to confirm my assumptions
. I thought you’d enjoy hearing from someone with a connection. Sincerly, Lee
On the second bullet, it states “… and four-of-a-kind, known as pair royal (12).” Although as a cribbage player I have never heard the pair royal term, reading other sections of this website makes me believe a pair royal is three of a kind (6 points) and that a four of a kind (12 points) is a double pair royal. True?
Go at 34
Having learned with the same boards as my sister (also posted here) I have found the go at 34 to be so much better than 31, that I prefer to play regular cribbage that way. It gives much better play with face cards, as 31 overemphasizes the value of an ace, but does not allow a Face,5,Face,Face. Even better, Face, 5, Face risks a 9, making this a play you have to think about. What I like best is that some complicated run patterns can be filled to the go: 8,7,10,9 is a good challenge both to make and avoid in the 4 hand game.