Cribbage is a popular card game that has been enjoyed by millions of people around the world for centuries. It is a game of strategy, skill, and calculation, making it a favourite among card game enthusiasts. Cribbage has a rich history and a set of rules that are relatively easy to learn but offer a great deal of depth and complexity. In this article, we will explore how to play cribbage, understand its rules and objectives, delve into scoring strategies, and discuss the benefits of playing this timeless game.

How to Play Cribbage

Cribbage is typically played by two players, although it can also be adapted for three or four players. The game uses a standard deck of 52 cards and a cribbage board for scoring. The goal of cribbage is to be the first player to reach a certain number of points, usually 121 or 61 in a game of two players. The game consists of several rounds, and each round is divided into two distinct phases: the deal and gameplay, and the scoring.

The Basics of Cribbage

Before diving into the intricacies of cribbage, it’s important to understand the basics of the game. Each player is dealt a hand of six cards, and they must choose two cards to discard into a separate pile called the crib. The crib will be scored later in the game. After discarding, the non-dealer cuts the deck, and the dealer reveals the top card of the remaining deck. This card, known as the “starter” or “cut card,” will have a significant impact on the scoring opportunities during gameplay.

Understanding Cribbage Rules and Objectives

The main objective of cribbage is to score points through a combination of card combinations and strategic play. Players take turns playing cards from their hand onto a communal pile, known as the “play.” The value of each card played is announced and accumulated, with the total never exceeding 31. The player who cannot play without exceeding 31 scores no points for that round. Additionally, players aim to create specific combinations of cards, such as pairs, runs, and flushes, which contribute to their overall score.

The Deal and Gameplay

To start the game, the dealer shuffles the deck and deals six cards to each player. The players then select two cards from their hand to discard into the crib. After discarding, the non-dealer cuts the deck, and the dealer reveals the top card of the remaining deck, which becomes the starter. The non-dealer then starts the gameplay by playing a card onto the play pile. The players alternate turns, playing cards and keeping a running total of the value of the cards played. The total must not exceed 31, and players must play a card that keeps the running total as close to 31 as possible without exceeding it. The round continues until both players cannot play any more cards. The dealer scores first, followed by the non-dealer.

Scoring Strategies in Cribbage

Scoring in cribbage is based on various combinations of cards. Understanding these combinations and employing effective scoring strategies can greatly enhance a player’s chances of winning. Some of the key scoring opportunities in cribbage include:

Fifteens: A combination of cards that add up to 15 scores two points. For example, a player who plays a 10 and a 5 scores two points for making 15.

Pairs: Two cards of the same rank played consecutively, such as two 5s or two Kings, score two points.

Runs: Three or more cards played consecutively in any order score one point per card. For example, a run of 4, 5, 6 scores three points.

Flushes: If all the cards played in a round are of the same suit, the player scores points depending on the number of cards in the flush. A four-card flush scores four points, while a five-card flush scores five points. If the starter card is also of the same suit, the player scores an additional point.

These are just a few examples of the scoring opportunities in cribbage. Experienced players develop their own strategies to maximize their scoring potential while minimizing their opponent’s chances.

Exploring Cribbage Variations

Cribbage has several popular variations that add new dimensions to the game. Some of these variations include:

  • Three-Player Cribbage: In this variation, three players participate, with each player taking turns being the dealer. The scoring and gameplay follow the same rules as traditional cribbage.
  • Four-Player Partners Cribbage: In this variation, players form teams of two, with teammates sitting opposite each other. The gameplay and scoring are similar to traditional cribbage, with partners working together to maximize their team’s score.
  • Muggins: Muggins is a variation of cribbage where players can “mug” their opponents by claiming points that they have missed. If an opponent fails to score points for a certain combination, the player can announce “muggins” and claim the points for themselves.

These variations add excitement and variety to the game, allowing players to explore different strategies and dynamics.


Number of Players in Cribbage

Cribbage is traditionally played by two players, but it can be adapted for three or four players with slight rule modifications. While two-player cribbage is the most common, three-player cribbage introduces a unique dynamic, as players take turns being the dealer. Four-player partners cribbage further enhances the social aspect of the game, as players team up and strategize together.

The Cribbage Board and Scoring System

Cribbage utilizes a specialized scoring system represented by a cribbage board. The board consists of a series of holes and pegs, with each player having two pegs to keep track of their score. The board is divided into sets of 60 holes, with the last hole often marked by a different colour or symbol to indicate the game-winning point. Players move their pegs along the board, advancing one space for each point scored. When a player reaches the end of the board, they reset their score to zero and move their peg along the second row of holes, indicating their total score.

Mastering Cribbage Strategy

Cribbage is a game that rewards strategic thinking and careful calculation. While luck plays a role in the cards dealt, experienced players develop strategies to optimize their gameplay. Here are some key strategies to consider:

  • Discard wisely: When choosing cards to discard into the crib, players should consider keeping cards that complement each other and have the potential to create scoring combinations.
  • Play defensively: In cribbage, players can strategically play cards that are less likely to form scoring combinations for their opponents. By doing so, they can minimize their opponent’s scoring potential.
  • Count cards: Keeping track of the cards that have been played can give players an advantage, as it helps them deduce which cards are still in play and plan their moves accordingly.
  • Aim for 31: When playing cards onto the play pile, players should try to keep the running total as close to 31 as possible without exceeding it. This can limit their opponent’s scoring opportunities while maximizing their own.

These strategies, coupled with a deep understanding of the scoring combinations, can give players a competitive edge in cribbage.

Steps on How to Play Cribbage

To start a game of cribbage, follow these steps:

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards thoroughly.
  2. Determine who will be the dealer for the first round. The non-dealer will be the first to play.
  3. The dealer deals six cards to each player.
  4. Both players choose two cards from their hand to discard into the crib.
  5. The non-dealer cuts the deck, and the dealer reveals the top card, which becomes the starter.
  6. The non-dealer plays a card onto the play pile, and the players take turns playing cards.
  7. Keep a running total of the value of the cards played, making sure not to exceed 31.
  8. Score points for combinations of cards during the gameplay and after the play ends.
  9. The roles of dealer and non-dealer switch for the next round, and the game continues until a player reaches the agreed-upon winning point.

The Importance of Playing Strategies

Developing effective playing strategies is crucial for success in cribbage. By employing smart strategies, players can maximize their scoring potential, minimize their opponent’s opportunities, and make the most of the cards they are dealt. A well-thought-out strategy takes into account various factors, such as the cards in hand, the cards played by the opponent, the scoring combinations available, and the overall game situation. By continuously refining their strategies and adapting to different game scenarios, players can become skilled cribbage tacticians.

Benefits of Playing Cribbage

Cribbage offers numerous benefits beyond its entertainment value. Here are some of the key benefits of playing cribbage:

  1. Mental stimulation: Cribbage requires players to think strategically, calculate scores, and make decisions based on the cards played. This mental exercise helps improve critical thinking, memory, and analytical skills.
  2. Social interaction: Whether playing with friends, family, or fellow enthusiasts, cribbage provides an opportunity for social interaction and friendly competition. It can strengthen bonds and create lasting memories.
  3. Stress relief: Engaging in a game of cribbage can be a great way to unwind and relieve stress. It offers a break from daily routines and allows players to focus on the game, diverting their attention from everyday worries.
  4. Timeless appeal: Cribbage has stood the test of time, remaining a beloved game for generations. Playing cribbage connects people across different ages and backgrounds, bridging generational gaps and fostering a sense of tradition.

Why Cribbage is a Timeless Game

Cribbage’s enduring popularity can be attributed to several factors. First and foremost, its blend of strategy, luck, and skill appeals to a wide range of players, making it accessible and enjoyable for both casual and competitive gamers. Additionally, cribbage’s relatively simple rules make it easy to learn, while its scoring system and combinations offer depth and complexity for those seeking a challenge. The social aspect of cribbage, coupled with the nostalgic charm of using a cribbage board, further contributes to its timeless appeal. Finally, cribbage’s ability to bring people together, whether in person or online, fosters a sense of community and shared experiences.


What are the basic rules of cribbage?

The basic rules of cribbage involve two players, each receiving six cards and discarding two into the crib. Players take turns playing cards onto a play pile, aiming to reach a total value of 31 without exceeding it. Scoring occurs during gameplay and after the play ends, based on combinations such as pairs, runs, flushes, and fifteens.

What is the 31 rule in cribbage?

The 31 rule in cribbage states that the total value of the cards played must not exceed 31. If a player cannot play without exceeding 31, they score no points for that round. The player who last played a card without exceeding 31 scores a point.

How many cards do you give out for cribbage?

In cribbage, each player is dealt six cards at the beginning of each round. The players then choose two cards each to discard into the crib, leaving them with a hand of four cards to play with.

In conclusion, cribbage is a captivating card game that offers a perfect balance of strategy, skill, and luck. With its straightforward rules and deep scoring system, cribbage provides an engaging experience for players of all skill levels. By understanding the basics of cribbage, the rules, and objectives, players can embark on their cribbage journey with confidence. Exploring different strategies and variations of the game adds depth and excitement to the gameplay. Cribbage’s timeless appeal, social interaction, and mental stimulation make it a game worth embracing. So gather your cards, set up the cribbage board, and immerse yourself in the intriguing world of cribbage. Enjoy the thrill of counting points, forming combinations, and outmanoeuvring your opponents in this classic card game that has stood the test of time.