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.