The dealer rotates with each hand, and this is important because of the advantage the crib gives to the dealer (especially in five-card). If at any point in a hand a player pegs out (reaches the winning score), then the game ends and he wins. A notable feature of cribbage is that as soon as a player pegs out, the game is over; this can happen during the play of cards or while the hands are being scored. Some cribbage boards are marked with an ‘S’ in place of 90 because a player is said to be ‘skunked’ if, when the game ends, the player has fewer than 91 points. A player who finishes with fewer than 61 points is said to be ‘double skunked’ or ‘lurched.’
The deal and the formation of the crib
The dealer shuffles the pack and deals the required number of cards. The non-dealer has the right to cut the deck before the deal, though this can be ignored to save time. The players then discard cards face-down to form the crib, which will be by the dealer.
In one (unfriendly, but nevertheless common) variation, the non-dealer does not have the right to cut the deck before the deal. In this variation, the dealer may choose to offer the cut; a naive or inattentive opponent will cut the deck and hand it back, whereupon the dealer immediately pegs one point; a knowledgeable opponent, though, will simply accept the deck, whereupon he becomes dealer for that hand.
The player to the dealer’s left cuts the pack and the dealer turns up the top card (sometimes called the Starter). If the card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points “for his heels” or “knobs.”
Aces always count as 1, and face cards always have a counting value of 10, but their customary rank for runs (i.e., 9,10,J,Q,K is a valid run of 5, but A,10,J,Q,K is only a run of 4, since the Ace is always 1).
Each player in turn plays a card, with the non-dealer playing first, stating the total as he goes (face cards count as 10, aces as 1). When the first player leads with a card which is the same as the turned up card, they will often exclaim “See one, play one”. The total must not pass 31.
If a player cannot play a card without bringing the total over 31, the player says “Go” and the other player must then play any cards that keep the total at 31 or less, he then pegs 1 point for the go (or 2 points—but no point for the go—if he hits 31 exactly). The count then resets to 0, and the player who said “go” leads the next card (unless he has no cards, in which case the other player plays his remaining cards).
The cards should be played face up in front of the player. Players peg points as follows:
- 2 points for bringing the total to 15,
- 2 points if the card is of the same value as the previous card (i.e. completing a pair),
- 6 points for playing a third consecutive card of the same value,
- 12 points for playing a fourth consecutive card of the same value,
- Three points for completing a run of three cards, four for completing a run of four cards, etc. This is regardless of the order of play, as long as no non-run making card stands in the way, so if the cards played are 6,6,4,2,3, then the player who plays the 3 will score three.
- 1 point for playing a card such that none of the other players can go—because either everyone else is out of cards, or no one else can play without exceeding 31—in either case this is a ‘point for go.’
- 2 points for bringing the total to 31.
- 1 point for playing the last card—except when the last card counts to 31 in which case 2 points are scored (see above).
In all games except five card, when no other player can play, you play your remaining cards. In this situation, it is possible for you to inflict a “go” on yourself! For instance, if (in a two-player game) your opponent runs out of cards when the count is at 22 and you’re holding a 5 and a queen, you play the 5 (bringing the count to 27), peg a point for your own “go” and then begin a new count, playing the queen (and scoring 1 point for last card).
An example from a two player game:
- Player 1 plays a 10, saying “Ten”,
- Player 2 plays a 5, saying “Fifteen for two” and pegging two points,
- Player 1 plays a 5, saying “Twenty for two” and pegging two points,
- Player 2 plays a 5, saying “Twenty-five for six” and pegging six points,
- Player 1 plays a 6, saying “Thirty-one for two” and pegging two points.
- The count resets and play continues until all eight cards are played.
- Player 1 plays a 9, saying “Nine”,
- Player 2 plays a 7, saying, “Sixteen”,
- Player 1 plays an 8, saying, “Twenty-four for three” and pegging three points (run of 7,8,9),
- Player 2 plays a 5, saying, “Twenty-nine”,
- Player 1 having no cards which would keep the total at 31 or less, says “Go”,
- Player 2 plays an Ace, saying “Thirty” and pegging one point (for the “go”),
- Player 1 plays a 9, saying “Nine” (the count has been reset after the “go”),
- Player 2 plays a 3, saying “Twelve”,
- Player 1 plays a 4, saying “Sixteen and one for last” and pegs one point (for the last card of the hand)