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Cribbage tactics

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Forming the crib

There are certain cards and card combinations that are likely to be beneficial to a hand, so a non-dealer should try to keep them in his hand and the dealer should try to keep any good combinations together, either in his hand or in the crib. It is less beneficial to plan for the play. Obviously pairs, runs and combinations totalling fifteen are good. Other things to look out for are:

  • Fives – Since 4 out of every thirteen cards are worth 10, there’s a good chance that a 5 in the crib will help make 15’s, and even in hand. A five thrown in a crib will result in at least two points. There is no 5-card combination including a 5 that totals less than 2 points.
  • Sevens and eights – Not only total 15, but have a chance of meeting a 6 or 9 and completing a run.
  • Threes, sixes and nines – Likely to combine to 15 (69, 366, 339, etc.).
  • In “old game” (2 players, 5 cards) the crib (which has more cards) is the most plentiful source of points, and the split of the hand should reflect this. Players must be prepared to sabotage their own hand, to avoid giving their opponent a high-scoring crib.

The play

Some of these tactics will only work in a two-player game (with more players it is harder to devise a strategy). If you play first:

  • Don’t lead a five; chances are your opponent has a ten or face card and can easily make 15 for two points.
  • Playing a four or less guarantees that your opponent can’t make 15 – the best they can do is to complete the pair (which there is no defense against unless you hold at least two of a given card).
  • Other than the above, if you have two cards totalling fifteen, play one; that way if your opponent takes the score to fifteen for two, you can complete the pair to get two yourself.
  • If you have a 7 and a 9 or an 8 and a 9, play the 7 or 8. Chances are that your opponent will play for the 15, giving you a run of 3 with the 9.

In general:

  • Play a card from a pair; if your opponent completes the pair for two, you can smugly complete a triple for six (make sure there will be room for your play).
  • If you play a card where the next higher or lower card would make fifteen and you have the next card in the sequence (i.e. you play an 8 and hold a 6 or 9), you can make a run of three if your opponent makes fifteen.
  • Try to keep small cards, making it more likely that you play the last card for a point or even 31 for two. When pegging first, however, leading a card lower than five prevents the next player from immediately scoring a fifteen.
  • Leading with a 6 or a 9 is generally considered a bad play, although there are situations when it can be advantageous.
  • Avoid making the count 21 if at all possible. There are 16 cards in the deck (30.8% of deck) with a value of 10, so making the count 21 gives your opponent a good chance to get 2 points for 31.

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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  1. Robert Milk
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    At a very high level, this is very good. There are strategies to apply to cribbage depending on whether or not you are the starting dealer or non-dealer and where on the board both you and your opponent are located and whose deal is it.

    From The Play
    Bullet #1 There are times when leading a 5 is the correct5 lead for example, you are holding one 5 and three 10-value cards and you must have 1 more point than you have after the cut. There are only 7 combinations in which you will not score the needed point; a second time is when you have three 5s and one 10-value card. You lead the 5 to avoid getting trapped multiple times; the third example is on the 3rd card; this is the scenario:
    I am the pone (non-dealer of the hand). The play went
    K (my play)
    8 (dealer)
    J (my play)
    3 (dealer)

    At this point the dealer most likely has the following cards: 4,3,2,5,8,7,6.
    If I play a 10 value and hold the 5 for my last card, the dealer most likely will trap in in a run. A controlled/known 2 points in most cases is better than giving up 3 points.

    Bullet #2: When holding low cards, it is better to lead the 3 or 4, this forces your opponent away from playing a 5 as it leaves open the run possibility.

    Bullet #4: The 8 is a much better lead than the 7, you cannot play a 4th 8 in sequence as the count exceeds 32, but a 4th 7 can be played for a dealy 12 points.

    In General
    Bullet #2
    If the lead is an 8 and you have a 7, but no other cards of 7 or less, do not play the 7 to make it 15 for 2; this is because you opponenet can score an easy 8 points on you, by playing the 9 for 24 and a run of three, then a 6 for a run of 4 and a go.

    Just my not so humble opinion.

    Bob Milk
    Grand Master of the American Cribbage Congress (www.cribbage.org)

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