9 Tips to Help You Master the Game of Cribbage

Mar 18, 2023

If you are new to playing Cribbage or recently dusted off your wooden cribbage board, it’s important to brush up on the rules of Cribbage to get back into the game. While the rules are imperative to your success, there are plenty of tips and tricks that can help you succeed. We’ve narrowed down our nine favorite tips for playing Cribbage!

9 Tips for Playing Cribbage

  • Deal
  • Terminology
  • Practice counting
  • Plan your lead
  • Stack your crib
  • Plan ahead
  • Prep for go
  • Pick your board
  • Enjoy it

Start Cribbage - Let’s Deal!

To start off the game, each player cuts a card. The player with the lowest card deals first hand. The number of cards dealt is based on how many players are in the game. For two players, each is dealt six cards, while three or four players are dealt five cards each. Each player looks at their cards and puts two of them face down into a crib.

Players continue to take turns, adding their points together until someone reaches 31 or close to it. The process is then repeated until someone has 121 points or 61 points, depending on what was decided by the players before the game. Most wood cribbage boards are designed for 121-point games and 61-point games.

Why you should deal first when playing Cribbage:

If you are new to playing Cribbage, it’s important to try and deal first. While this is overlooked by many players, dealing first gives you an advantage before the game has even started. Statistics show that you have a chance to win six out of ten games when you deal first. When the deck is cut, the low card decides who deals first.

Brush Up on Cribbage Terminology

One of the best things about playing Cribbage is the great terminology that comes with the game. All cribbage lovers know the terms and their meanings. Knowing them and, more importantly, what they mean, can help you get ahead in the game.

Most popular cribbage terminology:

  • Pone
  • Muggins
  • Skunk & double skunk
  • Corners & streets
  • Nobs
  • Cribbage flush
  • Stinkhole

Talk the Cribbage Talk

So, what do all those terms mean? Great question. The pone is the player who cuts the deck of cards and is to the dealer’s right. A muggins is taking points that your opponent misses. A skunk is when you’ve won the game with 31-60 points more than your opponent, and a double skunk is when you’ve won by 60 points or more.

When playing Cribbage, corners refer to the end of a row on the wood cribbage board. Rows are called streets. The first street is between points 1-30, the second street is between points 31-60, the third street is between points 61-90, and the fourth street is between points 91-120. Sometimes players will place a wager on the corners, though they are not part of official cribbage rules.

At the beginning of the game, the dealer turns up the top card, known as the turn-up card. A nob is the Jack of the turn-up suit. If you have this, you can score extra points. You also need this Jack to complete the perfect hand. A cribbage flush is four or more cards of the same suit. The stinkhole is the 120th hole on the wood cribbage board, a place you never want to be!

Practice Counting Hands and Combinations Before Playing Cribbage

While simple math is all you need, it’s imperative to practice counting your hands, runs, and other scoring combinations before playing Cribbage. Preparing for any hand and different point-scoring combinations ensures you don’t leave any points on the board and allows you to call muggins if your opponent isn’t as prepared, scoring you extra points!

Create a guide to help you learn the value of each combination or run. If you miscount your points, those points are gone forever, and as the game comes to an end, those points could be the reason your opponent wins.

Want to play Cribbage with the whole family? Playing Cribbage is about the numbers. Add your points up, and that’s it. The simple math allows Cribbage to be a family game and helps children practice their addition! You can also keep a guide near you for combinations. Here are some of the most popular runs and combinations and how many points they are worth! Runs go strictly by rank.

Most popular runs for Cribbage:

  • Hand totals 15 = 2 points
  • Hand is a pair = 2 points
  • Three of a kind = 6 points
  • Four of a kind = 12 points
  • Run sequence of 3 = 3 points
  • Run sequence of 4 = 4 points
  • Run sequence of 5 = 5 points
  • Flush = 4 points
  • Run of 3 with one card duplicated = 8 points
  • Run of 4 with one card duplicated = 10 points
  • Run of 3 with one card triplicated = 15 points
  • Run of 3 with two different cards triplicated = 16 points
  • Perfect Hand = 29 points

What is the Elusive Perfect Hand?

Yes! The perfect hand is real. This magic hand worth 29 points is the highest possible score in a cribbage hand. This perfect hand consists of all four 5s and a Jack. One of the 5s must be the turn-up card and the Jack must also be the same suit as the turn-up card. According to cribbage experts, the odds of having the perfect hand are 216,580 to 1. A few years ago, a woman in Massachusetts scored a perfect hand while playing Cribbage during a weekly game with friends.

Lead With a Pair

If you have a pair, leading from that pair is a great way to get the game started in your favor. By leading from your pair, your opponent will most likely play the matching card, and then you come back with the other half of the pair for a triple and score points right off the bat.

Almost every skilled cribbage player will do this if they are able to. If you don’t have a pair, lead with a low card such as two, three, or four, to prevent your opponent from making 15 on their second play.

Other ways to bait your opponent:

Learning how to bait your opponent into helping you score more points is a crucial cribbage tip. Try baiting your opponent into creating runs during the game. For example, if you lead with your seven, your opponent could play their eight, and you can play your nine for three points. While you don’t know what your opponent has in terms of cards, baiting them into helping you gain more points is one of the best strategies to help you win.

Stack Your Crib With Good Cards

Your crib is essential to your success when playing Cribbage. The crib consists of discarded cards, which the dealer counts for extra points at the end of the hand. Padding your crib with some of your better cards can add up to significant points. You can add two cards in a sequence, pairs, or 5s into your crib to help save points.

If you have higher scoring cards, such as a King or Queen, you can throw those in there as well. Remember that once your cards are in the crib, they are no longer in play and will not be exposed until the hand is over.

Try giving away your least valuable cards to your opponent’s crib:

One risky move when playing Cribbage is discarding cards into your opponent’s crib. This requires extensive thought and strategy to ensure you aren’t giving away your points to your opponent. Your goal is to leave your opponent with a weak crib.

If necessary, the best thing to do is throw two cards that don’t work together or add to any scoring combinations. This means avoiding pairs, any cards that can add to five or 15, and low or middle cards. A general cribbage rule states that you should never destroy a good hand just to prevent a good crib.

Strategize and Plan Ahead

While much of playing Cribbage is a mix of numbers and luck, it’s important to realize that strategy will help you win. By focusing your attention on how you want to play each hand, you can trap the dealer, bait your opponent, and stack your crib. While this type of strategy takes time and practice, the more you play Cribbage, the more you will learn how to utilize these tips and win!

Why you shouldn’t save your 5s:

You want to play your fives early to avoid them being trapped later in the game. Fives are coveted in the game, and the dealer is always looking for them. While giving up a five and allowing a potential score of 15 is a risk, the dealer more than likely has cards that would put them over 15 and cost them three points.

This allows you to get rid of your “problem” card first and cost the dealer some points in the process. While this may not always work, if you are playing Cribbage defensively, leading with your five is the way to go!

What is Go, and Why Do You Need to Plan for It?

A go is the last card played closest to 31 without going over and without hitting 31 exactly. The player whose turn it is has no legal plays left as all remaining cards would put them over the count, and so they yell, “go!” and their opponent is allowed to play any cards they have left without exceeding 31. The player that calls go plays first in the next sequence.

If you have low cards, keep them for go:

Once the go is completed, the count resets to zero. If you score the go, you get two points added to your score. Keeping your lower scoring cards allows you to play the last card with a better chance of not going over 31. While you don’t need to keep all your low cards for this, having a few in your arsenal is worth it.

Pick the Perfect Wood Cribbage Board

Picking the perfect wood cribbage board may not feel like a tip, but choosing the right size based on where you are playing will make a world of difference. Are you often traveling on a plane? Camping? Constantly on the go? There are different size wood cribbage boards, so knowing which ones will work best for your needs is important.

Different size wood cribbage boards:

If you are constantly traveling, a pocket- or travel-sized wood cribbage board is perfect. If you prefer staying in, a full-size wood cribbage board would be ideal. If you play Cribbage every chance you get, buy one of each so you are always prepared!

If you are struggling to find the perfect full-size wood cribbage board, look for one that honors your most recent trip to South Carolina or a scrimshaw board if that’s more your style. Wood cribbage boards are stunning pieces, and every cribbage lover should have at least one to show off.

Hand-crafted gifts are a wonderful choice for a close friend or family member. Wood Chart is filled with stunning pieces of handmade art. By focusing on providing exceptional quality and attention to detail, they have continued to set themselves apart. Wood cribbage boards have continued to gain traction over the years for being both practical and eye-catching. So whether you are decorating your house with one of our wood maps or trying to hold onto the memories of your summer with our Cape Cod wood cribbage board, we have you covered.

Have Fun with Cribbage!

Don’t forget the most important tip of all, having fun! Playing Cribbage can get competitive very quickly! There are many different cribbage tricks and endless tips to help you perfect your game and win. It can feel overwhelming, so don’t forget to have fun. After all, games that involve screaming muggins and skunk are meant to be a great time!

So, are you ready to play Cribbage? Start a cribbage club? Take on other family members with your new knowledge and tips? We know you’re ready! Cribbage has continued to be popular by remaining consistent since its inception. Knowing how to strategize and plan each hand in your favor is a skill that takes time to master. If you are looking to buy a wood cribbage board for the first time or are adding to your collection, think about commemorating your latest trip to the Great Lakes or that amazing family vacation to Ireland.

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