Learn to Play Cribbage: Rules & Tips

Cribbage is a classic card game that has been challenging and entertaining players for centuries. Its rich history traces back to the 17th century, when it evolved from the game "Noddy," and it's traditionally credited to the English poet Sir John Suckling. As a distinctive card game that combines chance, strategy, and skill, cribbage remains a favorite among card enthusiasts. Perfect for two players, it's played with a standard deck of cards and a unique cribbage board used for scoring.

Learning how to play cribbage involves mastering a few basic concepts and understanding the flow of the game. It starts with dealing the cards, choosing the best combination to form your hand, and strategically discarding to your crib - an extra hand that could boost your points. As you play the hand by laying down the cards, you aim to form different combinations that score points, whether it's during the play or during the show - when hands are revealed and scored. The game's unique lingo, like "pegging" and "the show," adds to its charm, and nuances in strategy can take your play to the next level.

Key Takeaways

  • Cribbage combines strategy, chance, and skill, using a board for scoring.
  • Mastering the game involves creating card combinations and strategic discarding.
  • The nuances of play and specialized terms add depth and enjoyment to the experience.

Playing the card game Cribbage
Rule of Card Logo Icon
Players 2 Players
Difficulty 5/10
Recommended Age 8+
Game Category Trick-taking

Basics of Cribbage

Cribbage is a traditional card game that’s all about strategy, tactics, and counting.

Your main goal in cribbage is to score 121 points before your opponent does. You can also play a shorter version that goes up to just 61 points. Typically, cribbage is played with two players, but it can also support three or four in partnership.

Game Materials

To get started, you’ll need a standard deck of 52 cards—no jokers involved. The game’s setup also requires a cribbage board, a special scoreboard that comes with pegs for keeping track of points. The board has 120 holes in rows, plus one game-winning hole for each player to target that coveted 121st point.

Remember, hands in cribbage can hold some pretty strong cards, so choose your pegs, shuffle that deck, and get ready to count your way to victory.

Important Cribbage Terms to Know

  • Cribbage Board: A special scoring board used in Cribbage, usually with 120 holes plus a game-winning hole, used to track each player’s points.
  • Pegs: Small markers used on a Cribbage board to keep track of each player’s score.
  • The Shuffle: The act of mixing the cards before a hand is dealt in Cribbage.
  • Cut: Dividing the deck into two parts after shuffling and before dealing, usually performed by the non-dealer.
  • Lowest Card: Used to determine the first dealer in Cribbage; the player cutting the lowest card deals first.
  • The Deal: The distribution of cards to the players. In Cribbage, each player typically receives six cards.
  • The Crib: An extra hand that is formed from cards discarded by each player. It is counted as part of the dealer’s hand at the end of the play.
  • Starter Card/Cut Card: The card that is turned up after the deal, which can be used as part of each player’s hand and the crib during scoring.
  • Jack: Also known as “His Nobs” or “One for his nob,” it refers to a jack of the same suit as the starter card, which scores one point.
  • Heels: Scoring two points when the starter or cut card is a jack.
  • Hand: The cards held by a player, which they use to form combinations for scoring.
  • The Play: The phase of a Cribbage game where players alternately lay down cards and announce the running total.
  • 15: A combination of cards that totals exactly 15, scoring two points.
  • 31: Achieving a running total of exactly 31 during The Play, scoring two points.
  • Pair: Two cards of the same rank, scoring two points.
  • Pair Royal (Three of a Kind): Three cards of the same rank, scoring six points.
  • Double Pair Royal (Four of a Kind): Four cards of the same rank, scoring 12 points.
  • Run: A sequence of three or more cards in consecutive order, scoring one point per card.
  • Flush: Four or more cards of the same suit in a hand (not including the crib), scoring one point per card. In the crib, all five cards must be of the same suit to score a flush.
  • The Show: The phase after The Play where players reveal their hands and the crib to score points based on combinations.
  • Go: When a player cannot lay down a card without exceeding a running total of 31 during The Play, they call “Go.” This gives the other player the opportunity to continue playing cards if possible. When no more cards can be played without busting, the player who called “Go” scores one point.
  • Muggins: An optional rule where a player can claim points missed by an opponent during scoring.
  • Skunk: A term used when a player wins a game by more than 30 points over their opponent, indicating a decisive victory.
  • Double Skunk: Winning a game with the opponent 60 or more points behind. This is a rarer and more impressive feat than a standard skunk.

Getting Started

Ready to learn Cribbage? It’s all about the initial shuffle, deal, the crib, and cutting that starter card. Nail these steps, and you’re on your way to mastering one of the most enduring card games out there.

The Shuffle and Cut

Every game of Cribbage starts with a good shuffle. You or your opponent, who’ll be the non-dealer for the first hand, needs to shuffle the deck thoroughly. After the shuffle, offer the cards to your opponent to cut. Whoever cuts the lowest card has the first deal, so cross your fingers for an ace or a deuce.

Dealing the Cards

Now the dealer gets down to business and deals six cards to each player. Remember, the deal goes one card at a time, and it alternates between you and your opponent. Keep the order straight, and you’ll avoid any misdeals.

The Crib

After dealing, you and your opponent each choose two cards to discard into the crib. Think of the crib as an extra hand that scores points for the dealer at the end of the hand. Choose wisely — your discards can make or break a game.

Cutting the Starter Card

The non-dealer cuts the deck again to reveal the starter or cut card. If you’re lucky and cut a jack, that scores you two points for ‘heels.’ Either way, this card is a key part of calculating hands for points later, so keep an eye on it! The starter card can’t be a jack every time, but when it is, it’s a nice little bonus called nobs for the holder.

Playing the Hand

In Cribbage, the magic happens when you play your hand, where careful tactics and a sharp memory can give you the edge. Let’s dive into ‘The Play’ and ‘The Show’, where you’ll earn your points and, just maybe, outsmart your opponent.

The Play

Once the dealer has given you your hand of 6 cards, you’ll choose 2 to discard to the crib. Your opponent, also known as the pone, does the same. The dealer then cuts the deck to reveal the starter card, and if it’s a Jack, they immediately score 2 points — this is called “two for his heels.” Now, with the 4 cards you’ve kept, you’re ready for “The Play.”

You and your opponent alternately lay down cards, announcing the running total. Keep this in mind: if you make the total exactly 15 or 31, you peg 2 points. Pairs are worth 2 points, and if by some luck you make a pair royal (three of a kind), that’s 6 points. A double pair royal (four of a kind) scores you 12 points. Runs count for one point per card; so, a run of three scores 3 points, and so on.


  • You cannot exceed a total of 31.
  • You get 1 point for the last card if it’s not at 31.
  • If you can’t lay a card without busting the total, you say “Go,” but if your opponent can still play, they keep going until they too must pass.

The Show

After “The Play” comes “The Show.” The non-dealer shows their hand first. Combos in your hand can score in various ways:

  • Pairs: 2 points
  • Runs: Sequential cards (of any suit), counting 1 point per card
  • 15s: Any combos adding up to 15, scoring 2 points each
  • Flushes: If all cards in your hand are of the same suit, score 4 points; if the starter card is also the same suit, that’s 5 points!

As for the crib, it’s the dealer’s advantage as they get to count it as part of their hand—this is why it pays to be strategic about what you discard.

Counting aloud during “The Show” is the norm, so don’t be shy. Lay your cards down and explain how you’re scoring:

  • “Pair for two, and a run of three for five.”
  • “Fifteen for two, and a pair makes four.”

Every combo is tallied up, and you peg on the board the total score you’ve just proudly announced. The goal is to race up to 121 points.


In Cribbage, your main goal is to accrue points through various combinations of cards. The scoring system in Cribbage is unique and happens in two key phases: during the play of the cards and when showing the hands, including the crib.

Scoring During Play

15Cards totaling exactly 152
PairTwo cards of the same rank2
Pair Royal (Three of a Kind)Three cards of the same rank6
Double Pair Royal (Four of a Kind)Four cards of the same rank12
RunA sequence of consecutive cards (e.g., 3 cards)3
Run of FourA sequence of four consecutive cards4
Run of FiveA sequence of five consecutive cards5
31Playing a card that brings the total to 312
GoUnable to play a card without exceeding 311 (if last to play)
NobsPlaying the jack of the same suit as the starter card1

Scoring the Hands and the Crib

After the play, it’s time to score your hand, and if it’s your deal, the crib as well. You score combos in your hand and the crib similar to during play, with a couple of additions. Each combination that sums to 15 earns you 2 points. Pairs are 2 points, pairs royal are 6 points, and a double pair royal is 12 points. For runs and flushes (all cards in the hand are the same suit), the score is the number of cards in the sequence or flush. The jack of the same suit as the starter card scores you 1 point, known as “nobs”. And if you’re lucky enough to have a flush in the crib, the starter card must also be of the same suit to score. During this phase, accuracy counts because in traditional play, if you miss points, your opponent can call “muggins” and steal them! So, take your time, count carefully, and squeeze every point you can out of your cards.

Advanced Play

When you’re looking to up your cribbage game, it’s all about mastering advanced strategies and exploring different game variations to keep your opponents guessing.

Strategy Tips

Counting Cards: Keeping a mental tally of the cards that have been played is crucial. You’ll know which cards are left and this can greatly influence your decisions. For example, if you have a 5 in your hand, and three 5s have already been played, you know it’s safe from pairs.

Offensive and Defensive Crib: Pay attention to whether you’re the dealer when deciding what to put in the crib. If it’s yours, toss in cards that could yield a high score, like pairs or sequences. If it’s not, make it as unattractive as possible.

  • Playing for Runs: A sequence of three or more cards can score big. Try to build runs in your hand, and be aware of opportunities to extend runs during the play.
  • Pairing: Scoring a pair for two points can be a simple way to add to your overall score. Look for chances to form pairs, but also be cautious as your opponent may try to form a “pair royal” (three of a kind) or “double pair royal” (four of a kind) for more points.

Control the Board: Aim for target scores like 15 or 31 during play to maximize control and limit your opponent’s scoring chances.

Remember the Cribbage Board: The board is not just for keeping score but visualizing your strategic position in the game. Try to stay ahead of ‘street’ to maintain the advantage.

Cribbage Variations

  • Three-Player Cribbage: Each player is dealt five cards and one card is thrown into the crib. You need to adjust your tactics knowing there are more cards in play.
  • Four-Player Cribbage: Played in pairs, this version requires teamwork and a slightly altered strategy, like setting up your partner for scoring combinations.

Online Cribbage: You’ve got access to a multitude of online cribbage games which can have slight variations in rules and strategies. It’s a great way to practice your skills and try different strategies against a wide array of players.

Winning the Game

Playing Cribbage, your ultimate goal is to be the first to score 121 points. You’ll track these points on a board that has 60 or 120 holes for each player, completing two circuits to win. There are multiple ways to pile up points through gameplay, including combinations of cards that make 15, pairs, runs, and flushes, among others.

When you’re close to winning, keep an eye on your opponent’s pegs. If you can outpace them and cross the finish line first, you’re the winner! Hitting the 121-point mark means you’ve just won yourself a game of Cribbage.

But there’s more to it. Ever heard of a skunk? In Cribbage culture, it’s a term that comes into play when you beat your opponent by a considerable margin. If you finish the game and they haven’t passed 91 points, that’s a skunk. It’s a bit like winning with a cherry on top!

Here’s a quick breakdown of winning scenarios:

  • Cribbage Victory: Reach 121 points before your opponent.
  • Skunk Victory: Win with your opponent not exceeding 90 points.
  • Double Skunk: An even more impressive feat, leaving your opponent behind at 60 points or fewer.

Remember, Cribbage isn’t just about luck; it’s also about strategy and counting your cards right. Sharpen your gameplay, and those 121 points might just be yours for the taking!

Cribbage Etiquette and Terms

When you’re getting ready to play Cribbage, remember that good sportsmanship and familiarity with the lingo will make the game more enjoyable for everyone. Here’s a quick rundown of the essential terms and points of etiquette.

Firstly, muggins is a rule you can invoke; if your opponent forgets to count some points, you can call out “Muggins” and claim those points for yourself. Just be aware that not all games use this rule, so check with the other players first.

In terms of announcing your points, do so clearly and tally your score accordingly. Knowing the proper language and calling out your points is a crucial component of the game.

And that’s it! Grab a deck, shuffle up, and deal yourself a good time. Just remember to count your points correctly, or someone might just “muggins” you!

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