Six Card Cribbage is basically a game for two players, but adapts easily for three players, and for four players in fixed partnerships - a very useful feature. It is now the standard form of Cribbage and widely played in English speaking parts of the world.
Cribbage is a game where etiquette is important. The rituals associated with cutting and dealing, playing and pegging, as well as the terminology, all serve the useful purpose of keeping things in order - and they help to give the game a flavor of its own. In card playing, as with food, authenticity matters.
Two players use a standard 52 card pack. Cards rank K(high)Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 A(low).
To be the first to score 121 points or over (twice round the usual design of board) accumulated over several deals. Points are scored mainly for combinations of cards either occurring during the play or occurring in a player's hand or in the cards discarded before the play, which form the crib or box.
The score is kept by means of a board and pegs. Starting at one end of the board - usually to the left of the first dealer - players peg their scores as they occur using their two pegs alternately: the forward peg shows the player's latest score, and the rear peg shows the previous score.
When a player scores, the rear peg is moved in front of the forward peg by the same number of holes as the score to show the new total. This enables scores to be easily checked and acts as a visible statement of the progress of the game. Players peg up on the outside of the board and back on the inside. The winner is the first to peg out by exceeding 120.
The exact design of the board is not critical. The diagram shows the type of board most commonly used. However, boards come in a variety of shapes. The essential feature is a track for each player with holes representing the numbers from 1 to 120.
The first deal is determined by cutting the cards. The player cutting the lower card deals and has the first box or crib. If the cards are equal - and that includes both players cutting a ten card (10, J, Q or K) - there is another cut for first deal. The deal then alternates from hand to hand until the game is over.
It is usual to play best of three games. The opponent of the first dealer in the first game deals first and gets the first box in the second game. For the third game - if a decider is needed - there is a fresh cut to decide who deals first.
The dealer shuffles, the non-dealer cuts the cards, and dealer deals 6 cards face down to each player one at a time. The undealt part of the pack is placed face down on the table. At the end of each hand, the played cards are gathered together and the whole pack is shuffled by the new dealer before the next deal.
Each player chooses two cards to discard face down to form the crib. These four cards are set aside until the end of the hand. The crib will count for the dealer - non-dealer will try to throw cards that are unlikely to make valuable combinations, but must balance this against keeping a good hand for himself. Dealer, on the other hand, may sometimes find it pays to place good cards in the box - especially if they cannot be used to best advantage in hand.
Non-dealer cuts the stack of undealt cards, lifting the upper part without showing its bottom card. The dealer takes out the top card of the lower part, turns it face up and, after non-dealer replaces the upper part, places it face up on top of the pack. This turned up card is called the start card. It is not used during the play of the cards but in the show it will count for combinations as part of both players' hands as well as of the dealer's box.
If the start card is a jack, the dealer immediately pegs 2 holes - this is called Two for his heels.
Beginning with the non-dealer, the players take turns to play single cards. You play your own cards to form a face-up pile in front of yourself, keeping them separate from the other player's cards. In this stage of the game the total pip value of the cards played by both players is counted, starting from zero and adding the value of each card as it is played. This total must not exceed 31. When no more cards can be played without going over 31, the count is restarted from zero. The pip values of the cards are:
Ace = 1; 2 to 10 = face value; jack = 10; queen = 10; king = 10.
As each card is played, the player announces the running total - for example the non-dealer plays a king and says "10", the dealer plays an 8 and says "18", the dealer plays a jack and says "28", and so on. If a card is played which brings the total exactly to 31, the player pegs 2 claiming Thirty one for two as he does so.
A player who cannot play without exceeding 31 does not play a card but says Go, leaving his opponent to continue if possible, pegging for any further combinations made (see below). Bringing the total to exactly 31 pegs 2, but if the total is 30 or less and neither player can lay a card without going over 31, then the last player to lay a card pegs one for the go or one for last.
The cards that have been played are turned over and a fresh round of play starts with the cards remaining in the players' hands in exactly the same way. The opponent of the player who played last in the previous round (scoring Thirty one for two or One for last) plays first in the new round. This second round of play starts again from zero and again continues until neither can play without going over 31. The last player again scores "1 for last" or "31 for 2", and if either player has any cards left there is a further round. Play continues for as many rounds as necessary until both players' cards are exhausted. Towards the end, it may happen that one player has run out of cards but the other still has several cards. In that case the player who still has cards simply carries on playing and scoring for any combinations formed until all his cards have been played.
Example: Player A has king-king-2-2; player B has 9-8-7-6.
First round: A plays king - "10"; B plays 6 - "16"; A plays king - "26"; B says "go"; A plays 2 - "28"; A plays 2 - "30 for 3". A pegs 3, namely 2 for the pair of twos and 1 for playing the last card of this round.
Second round: B plays 8 - "8"; A has no cards left so cannot do anything; B plays 7 - "fifteen two" (B pegs 2 points); B plays 9 "24 for 3 and 1 for last" (B pegs 4 points: three for the run 7-8-9 and one for playing the last card).
Please note: it is never possible to score "one for last" and "31 for 2" at the same time. They are alternatives. If you make exactly 31 for two points just peg those two points - you do not get an additional "one for last" in this case.
Tactical note: It is often worth keeping low cards in hand for this phase of the game, especially when there is a strong possibility of being able to peg out before one's opponent.
A player who makes any of the following scores during the play pegs them immediately.
Note that to score for pair, pair royal, double pair royal or run, the cards must have been played consecutively during a single round of play. If one player had to say "go" while the combination was being formed, the combination is still valid, but if both players are unable to play, causing a new round of play to be started from zero, all combinations are started afresh.
Example 1: Player A has 10, 10, 9, 6; player B has 7, 6, 5, 4.
A plays 9, B plays 6 (scoring fifteen two), A plays 6 (scoring two for a pair), B plays 5. The total is now 26; A has to say "go", so B plays 4, scoring three for a run, plus one for last. The A begins again with 10, B plays 7, and A plays the other 10, scoring one for last.
Example 2: Player A has 10, 8, 7, 5; player B has 7, 6, 5, 4.
A plays 8, B plays 7 (scoring fifteen two), A plays 7 (scoring two for a pair), B plays 6. The total is now 28; neither can play, so B scores one for last. If A now begins again with a 5, A does not score for a run, because the 7 and 6 were played in the previous round of play (before the total was reset to zero).
Players now retrieve the cards that they put down during the play and score for combinations of cards held in hand. First the non-dealer's hand is exposed, and scored. The start card also counts as part of the hand when scoring combinations. All valid scores from the following list are counted.
Note that when scoring a hand, the same card may be counted and scored as part of several different combinations. For example if your hand is 7 8 8 K and the start card is a 9 you score Fifteen 2, fifteen 4, and a pair is 6, and a run is 9 and a run is 12 - 12 holes to peg, with each of your 8s forming part of a fifteen, a pair and a run.
Muggins (optional rule). If a player, when scoring his hand or the crib, overlooks some points, then after the player has announced the total and scored it, his opponent can call "muggins", and peg the points himself. Some people apply the same rule if a player fails to claim a combination scored during the play. Some Americans call this version of the game "cutthroat" cribbage, and play that you don't have to say anything - you just wait until the opponent finishes pegging the points they have noticed and then silently peg the rest of their points yourself.
As soon as someone reaches or passes 121, that player wins the game. This can happen at any stage - during the play or the show, or even by dealer scoring two for his heels. It is not necessary to reach 121 exactly - you can peg out by scoring 2 more when you were on 120 and still win. All that matters is that your opponent's pegs are both still on the board.
All the scoring features are identical to the two-handed version. Partners sit opposite each other. One member of the partnership is elected to peg and these two players cut for first box. Dealer offers the pack to the opponent on his right for the first cut (or not, if you pay the rule that the cards are not cut). Cards are dealt clockwise one at a time, five to each player. (So this is six card crib with five cards each - the logic of the game is the same since hand and box always contain the same number of cards.)
Each player puts one card in the dealer's box. Dealer then offers the undealt stack to the opponent on his left to cut for start. ('Cut back for box, forward for start.') Partners may help each other keep score and will try to assist each other with a good discard if possible (putting a 5 in partner's box on occasion, for example) and will co-operate during play to trap their opponents or to improve each other's chances of pegging. But they may not overtly advise on play or indicate the cards they hold. When three players are forced to say "go", the fourth player continues to play cards until unable to play without exceeding 31 and then earns the point for last card, or two points if the total is exactly 31. Play then continues with the next player to the left. In the show, counting begins at the dealer's left and ends with the dealer.
Again, all the main features of play are identical. Dealer deals five cards to each player and one into the box. Each player discards one card, so that everyone has a four card hand and there are four cards in the crib. The player to the dealer's left cuts the deck to reveal the turn-up card. This player also begins the play, playing the first card. When two players are forced to say "go", the third player continues to play cards until unable to play without exceeding 31 and then earns the point for last card, or two points if the total is exactly 31. Play then continues with the next player to the left. In the show, counting begins at the dealer's left and ends with the dealer. Each player acts completely independently, although the two trailing players may temporarily conspire to do down the leader. This form of the game really requires a special board with either three sides or some other arrangement to accommodate three sets of holes.