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Play Cribbage -- How to Become a Better Player -- Cribbage Tips


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See basic cribbage strategy tips here: Cribbage Game Strategy


GameColony.com is now a "home away from home" for many of the world's strongest and the most experienced cribbage players. Below are cribbage hints (tips) and suggestions by Robert (Bob) Milk (player handle: Moojus aka Moo) - a dedicated GameColony player and the current Commissioner for American Cribbage Congress (ACC). The American Cribbage Congress (ACC) is the largest organization for the promotion of cribbage. Bob Milk has originally posted his cribbage hints separately one-by-one in GameColony's public forum (e.g., Cribbage Hint #1).

As there was a lot of interest from GameColony's cribbage players, we have combined these posts here.

Cribbage Tips below are general principles of play. Skilled cribbage players also try to get to know their opponents and how they play and make a few mental notes of what their opponents like to discard to their cribs or their opponent's cribs, assuming they have choices when doing so.

Study these cribbage hints - they should help you play cribbage better!

Without further ado... below is pure... Moojus:


Cribbage Hint #1

I am going to start off this one with two questions, along with their answers, and some information for you to ponder.

Q1.  What is the average crib count?
A1.  4

Q2.  What is the average number of points down the board does the dealer score (this includes pegs, hand count, and crib count)?
A2.  16

Q3.  What is the average number of points down the board does the non-dealer score (this includes pegs, and hand count)?
A3.  10

Q4.  How many hands (deals) are there in the average cribbage game?
A4.  The answer is 10. Generally speaking, there are 9 hands fully played out. The starting dealer usually goes out during the 10th hand.

This has a subtle implication...The starting dealer gets to count one more crib during the average game than the starting pone (non- dealer); providing the starting dealer with a minimum of a 4 point advantage.

This means that somehow, the starting pone needs to outpeg (score more points) than the starting dealer during those hands.

If, as the starting pone, you just intend for the cards to favor you and not the starting dealer, then you are not playing to your fullest.

As the starting pone, you should play more aggressively to overcome this deficit so that you can go out during the 9th hand. By the same logic, the starting dealer should try to keep the starting pone from pegging points as the starting dealer wants the game to go slow enough so that they get to count their hand and crib on the 9th hand and if not out, be in a position to go out during the 10th hand.

Just some thoughts to make you think about some strategy!


Cribbage Hint #2

Watch Out for Runs During Play!!!

You need to pay attention during the play so that you do not let your opponent pick up 3 or more points by playing into a run.

Frequently, I am able to pick up 3 or more points because my opponent may not be paying attention and makes a play such that I can get a run. This example showed up last week. I was the dealer, the play was as follows:

Note: P-pone; D-Dealer, [..]-points scored

(P)-4;
(D)-9 making the score 13;
(P)-10 making the score (23);
(D)-8 making the score (31) [5 points for the (D)]

The Pone had better cards to play. Free Points for your opponent is what happens when you are not paying attention.

This example was NOT a trap, that is, the only possible play.

I hope that some of you are able to use my hints.



Cribbage Hint #3 - Dump the Lone Ace


Mike Burns taught me that the pone should dump the lone Ace as quickly as possible. Mike Burns has attained the ranking of Grand Master in the American Cribbage Congress (ACC). Mike won the ACC's Tournament of Champions in 2004.

Many players try to save their lone Ace to get a 31 for 2 or last card. Many times this has disastrous results for the pone. For a real example, last night, I did not heed this advice and my Ace was trapped; this cost me the game as I lost by 2 points.

I was the Pone and held: A-6-6-8 (this is a common hand) The dealer held: K-4-A-A (another common hand)

(P)-8;
(D)-K making the score 18;
(P)-6 making the score 24;
(D)-4 making the score 28
(P)-A making the score 29
(D)-A making the score 30 [2 points for the D]
(P) - Go
(D)-A making the score 31 [2 points for 31 plus 6 points for the pairs royal for a total of 8 ponts to the D]

The Dealer scored 10 unanswered points. Had I led with the Ace or played the Ace second, I would have won this game. My opponent counted first and had exactly enough to go out. I could not count my last hand, but had enough to go out. Had he scored fewer than 10 points during that play, the game results would have been different.

Some players would say the dealer got lucky here. In reality, skill, or rather my demonstrated lack of skill, resulted in the 10 points. The skill is in understanding how to correctly play the cards you are dealt and then playing them correctly.



Cribbage Hint #4: Probability


Cribbage Tip: Basic Probability Theory

Cribbage players should have an understanding of probability. This understanding will help you become a better (more skillful) cribbage (and card) player.

For this, I will use the standard coin and add the real world dynamics that it must land either on heads or tails. Landing on the edge is not a valid option.

First, I will keep it easy. If I flip the coin, what are the odds (probability) that it will land heads up? The odds are 50%. The calculation is the sum of desired outcomes (1-heads) divided by the number of possible outcomes (2-heads or tails).

1 / 2 = 50%

Now for a more difficult example, If I flip this same coin 4 times what are the odds of it coming up heads exactly twice? Is it 50% or is it something like 50% * 50% * 50% * 50% = 6.25%. Got you thinking haven't I?

To compute the odds (probability), we must figure out all possible outcomes that could occur from flipping a coin 4 times; these I list below:
HHHH
HHHT
HHTH
HTHH
THHH
HHTT*
HTHT*
THHT*
HTTH*
TTHH*
THTH*
HTTT
THTT
TTHT
TTTH
TTTT
There are 16 possible outcomes. I put an '*' next to each where exactly 2 heads appear. There are 6 of these where there are exactly 2 heads.

Using the calculations, the odds (probability) of exactly 2 heads appear if we flip the coin 4 times is the number of desired outcomes (6) divided by the number of possible outcomes (16):

6 / 16 = 37.5%

You need to understand this theory as it can be used to help you decide what to hold and/or discard.

Some players say that some players are lucky because they get a lot of cuts for the hand and/or crib.. In reality, many 'lucky' players have the skill of understanding the probability theory.

These suggestions for improvement come from many sources, including, but not limited to the following:

"Play Winning Cribbage" by Delynn Colvert (the undisputed top player in North America) "Cribbage: A New Concept" by John Chambers The Cribbage Forum web site hosted by Michael Schell Hints from some of the top American Cribbage Congress Players My personal experiences

Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in any of the publications listed. These techniques work for me and for many others; your results may vary.


Cribbage Hint #5 - Leading the 5 as the First Card


Like many of you, I was taught that as the non-dealer, you never lead a 5 as the first card. This is true for nearly all situations.

The first situation, I am holding a 5 and three 10-value cards and I need one more point to win than I am holding. Example, I am holding 5-10-10-J and any card is cut that does not increase the value of the hand. I am stick with 8 points. I need 9 points to go out my opponent needs 4 or more points to win (they are in hole 117 or less). You lead the five. In the majority of cards, if you lead the 5, you will get at least 1 go. You may even pair their next lead. There are only a few combinations in which you will not get a go. If you lead a 1- value, there are many combinations in which you will not score a point as the pone.

I have used this many times, only once have I not scored a point. If you try this and you opponent is at hole 118 or higher, you should lose as your opponent most likely will play a 10 value as 15 for 2 (he is now at 120) and automatically will get either a go or last card for the win.

The second time, that as the non-dealer you lead a 5 is when your opponent is not at an end-game position and you hold three 5s and a 10 card. Even though you most likely will give up 4 points, if your opponent is holding combinations from 2s through 6s, they will peg a lot of points on runs. I once go stuck when my opponent had 3-3-4-5.

This was my misplay: (P)-J (D)-3 for 13 (P)-5 for 18 (D)-4 for 22 [3 points to the dealer for the run] (P)-5 for 27 (D)-3 for 30 [3 points for the dealer for the run] (P)-go [1 points for the dealer for the go] (P)-5 (D)-5 for 10 [3 points for the dealer for the pair and last card]

The dealer pegged 10 unanswered points because of my misplay.

Another GameColony.com player (Wiske) agreed with this Moojus tip, adding:
"I have found that there are times that leading a 5 can be effective. You are Pone and are holing a 5 and three different face cards. If you lead the five and the dealer scores a 15-2, you have a 75% chance of pairing their card. You also eliminate the possibility of getting your 5 trapped at the end of the hand. If the dealer has a five, he will not pair it, fearing you will come back with a pairs royal scoring 6 points. If the dealer does not score a 15-2 you have lost nothing. Granted that this does not always work but the odds are with you.Obviously this is a tactic you should not use too often, especially against the same player."



Cribbage Hint #6 - Learn to Read Your Opponent's Cards


Learn to read your opponent's cards.

Even though cards are random, cribbage players try to hold cards in which they can earn/score points. This is key to understanding how to best play your cards. You can use this understanding to either try to trap a card your opponent has or play to avoid getting a card of your trapped.

For this example, the pone is holding 5-J-J-Q while the dealer is holding 3-3-4-8. The play proceeds as follows:

(P) Q
(D)8 for 18
(P) J for 28
(D) 3 for 31 [2 points for the dealer]
Before playing my third card, I need to think about the cards that the dealer is most likely to hold based on those that I have seen. I see the dealer has already played an 8 and a 3, logically the cards the dealer is most likely holding include: 4,3,2,5,6,7,8,9,A. Most likely, the dealer is not holding any 10 value cards. If the dealer is holding 2,3 or 3,4, or 4,6 and I lead my remaining J, then the dealer traps my 5 for a run of 3. If the dealer has a 5 then he traps my 5 for a pair. In this case, I play the 5 to avoid the run trap. For me, (in most cases) it is better to give up 2 points than the POSSIBILITY of 3 points.

I encountered this pattern three times over the past several days, twice as the dealer and once as the pone. Both times as the dealer, my opponent did not lead the 5 and I trapped their 5 as I was still holding 3-4. As the dealer, I played the 5 and avoided the trap. It is NOT luck to avoid the trap! It is a skill to recognize potential hold cards and avoid the trap. It is NOT luck to trap the 5, it is a misplay.

Think about this theory, when you see that you opponent has played a 2 and a 6 or a 2 and a 7. Remember you must always make the determination of play based on the board positions. This hint works for me and your results may differ.


Hint #7 To Pair or Not to Pair -- Regardless of the Odds


It is better to give up 3 points than it is to give up 6.

The only ‘safe’ pair occurs when you pair (match) your opponents last playable card; that is their fourth card or there is insufficient points under 31 such that your opponent cannot play a third match for pairs royal.

The most frequent misplay that I see my opponents make is the needless taking of a ‘pair’ for 2 points with the score such that your opponent can ‘trip’ you (play a third card) for pairs royal and 6 points. When you take a pair, you must have a valid reason for taking the pair. The most valid reason for taking a pair is that if it will not hurt me if my opponent has a third one and scores 6 points. One should not take a pair just so that your opponent does not have the opportunity to score a run. Remember, it is better to give up 3 points than it is to give up 6.

As a rule of thumb, unless you are also holding a pair, do not pair a first card play by the pone (non-dealer) of a 2, 5, or Jack. The majority of pones only lead from these cards when they are holding a second one for backup. With the most frequent discard being the King, it is less dangerous to pair the King lead; another lead that is sometimes safe to pair is the 4. Some good players will lead from the lone Jack since they realize that most players will not pair the Jack lead since they expect there to be a backup.

Although the odds seem to be in your favor when you pair….even so, the question still remains - Can I afford to give up 6 points to my opponent? The answer in most cases is no. Even though I do not want to give up 3, 3 is less damaging than 6.

I will use a Delynn Colvert 'Theory of 26' position example. Using his theory, a target hole is 70. That is you want to reach hole 70 for your next deal. I am the dealer at hole 47; you are the pone and you are leading and at hole 58. If I pair your card and you trips is for 6 points (pairs royal), you are then at hole 64 and needs just 6 holes in the remainder of the play and the counting of your hand to attain hole 70. Most likely you will be passed hole 70. If you passes hole 70 at this point of the game, then most likely you will win. If I do not pair you, then you must get 12 points in the remainder of play and hand count to reach 70. BTW: The average is 10 for the non-dealer. If you are at hole 69 or less, then I have a very good chance of winning the game (even though I am behind at this point).

Now a reason to pair. I am the Pone at hole 62. You are the dealer at hole 65. I hold 2-3-4-8 (discarded K-9). The seven is cut, I am holding 7 points. Hole 62 plus 7 is 69. If I do NOT pair, I will be short and most likely will lose the game. Even if you trip me for 6 points, I will exceed hole 70 and have an excellent chance of winning. This is an example of when 2 points to me is worth more than 6 points to you.

Some players say that some players are lucky because they get a lot of cuts for the hand and/or crib.. In reality, many 'lucky' players have the skill of understanding the board position.


Hint #8 Partners Cribbage Online or Face-to-Face?


'Pairs' aka 'partners' aka 'doubles' cribbage can be fun. It can be a more sociable cribbage version that one-on-one.

In over-the-board or face-to-face games, I have experienced a lot of 'cheating' with this version. Cheating with partners can be subtle or blatant. The cheating ranges from the way players hold their cards in their hands to the inclusion of certain words (non-cribbage words) into the discussion.

In internet play with partners, there are two clear avenues for cheating. One, the injection of agreed upon 'words/phrases' in the type chat -- subtle cheating. Or using a telephone or a separate Instant Messenger to discuss the cards that are held -- blatant cheating.

Because of multiple uncontrollable easy opportunities for cheating, I, personally, will not consider playing pairs online.


Hint #9 End Game Strategies and the "Out Card"


End Game Example (Posted by mbova (VIP) 8 Sep 2006 8:56pm EDT)
---------------------------------------------
Game is 116 all. I am the pone, I have 23345T, I throw the 2T, maybe I should have thrown the 45 and played more defense since I was first to count. Mistake #1
I lead a 3, dealer plays a 4.
I like playing the 5, if the dealer comes back with a 6, 2, 3, A all very possible. I come back with 3,3,3(4) or ?. I play the 5(12-3) 119.

Dealer plays a 5 118-119. Uh oh. Ok if I play the 3 he already played a 4, I play the 3, I forgot that 3+4+5+5+4 = 21 ERRRRRR
Dealer plays J 31 120-119 I play 3 Dealer plays last card. I kick myself.

---------------------------------------------
This is a great example to show a couple of end game strategies and explain the 'out card'.
In games where the ending is close, you want to hold an 'out card'. This is a card that is far away from the other three as possible. This helps to get out of run situations.
Each player should have a different strategie when the score is tied and close to the end. In this game the score was 116-116.
The Dealer's strategie is to play offensive and take every possible point. The dealer knows that he is in a bind hereand unless he pegs out, the pone (non-dealer) will win this game 95% of the time. This means that the dealer will break up his hand to hold pegging cards, that is low-value cards or cards that touch each other (such as 6-7).
The Pone's strategie is to keep enough points to win, and reduce the opportunity for the dealer to peg.
Given the cards the Pone was dealt, I would hold 2-3-3-T and lead the 3. This covers any reply by the dealer for a 10-value, a 9, or a 3.
The play may then be as follows.

P plays 3; count is 3; Score 116-116
D plays 4; count is 7; Score 116-116
P plays T; count is 17; Score 116-116
D plays 5; count is 22; Score 116-116
NOTE: Dealer must force a run to win, so they play this card, the 5, forcing the pone to play their low-card(s). P plays 2; count is 24; Score 116-116
At this point, the pone does not know what the dealer has; we know the dealer has a J and one other card that was not described, the pone's last card is a 3. Given the remaining cards of the two players, the dealer cannot win.
It is this type of thought and understanding that makes some folks 'luckier' than others. There is definitely strategy in this game of cribbage.

I hope that some of you are able to use my hints.

These suggestions for improvement come from many sources, including, but not limited to the following:
  • "Play Winning Cribbage" by Delynn Colvert (the undisputed top player in North America)
  • "Cribbage: A New Concept" by John Chambers
  • The Cribbage Forum web site hosted by Michael Schell
  • Hints from some of the top American Cribbage Congress Players
  • My personal experiences

    Happy Pegs,
    Bob 'Moojus' Milk


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