Cribbage Rules & How to Play Without a Board

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Found your old cribbage board but don’t remember how to play anymore? Or do you know how to but is your game incomplete? Here, we will take you through all Cribbage rules and teach you how to play it without a board!

For those who don’t know Cribbage: it’s a card and board game that’s a perfect mix of strategy and luck.

The cards you receive is the lucky part. How you choose to play them is where strategy comes into play.

What makes this card game unique is that it’s scored with pegs that follow a scoring track on a special wooden board as shown below. However, in theory you can play it without. Below you’ll read how to.

We’ll just help you understand and enjoy the game, with or without the board.

Note: Partygamespedia is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Brybelly Cribbage Board Game Set | Traditional Wooden Board Game, Classic 3-Track Layout and Plastic Pegs | Standard Deck of Playing Cards | 15 in L, 3 1/2 in W, 1/2 in Thick, folds to 7 1/12 in

How to Play Cribbage

Cribbage is a card game that can be played by 2, 3, or 4 players.

You play Cribbage with a regular deck of 52 cards. The cards have a specific order based on their value. The order goes like this: King is the highest, then Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and Ace is the lowest.

Your main goal in Cribbage is to score points. You want to be the first player to get 121 points. Alternatively, you can play a shorter version of the game where the goal is to get 61 points.

You earn points while playing the cards and by making certain groups of cards.

Usually, Cribbage is played with 2 players. Therefore, we will consider the 2-player Cribbage rules as standard rules. Below, we’ll describe the rule changes for 3 to 4 player games.

Setting Up

Here’s how you start a game of Cribbage:

  1. First, determine the first dealer by letting each player pick one card from the deck. The one who picks the lower card will deal the cards first. If both pick the same card, you pick again. The person who deals changes each round.
  2. The dealer gives six cards to each player.

Cribbage Rules

After dealing the cards, start your game following these Cribbage rules:

1. Form the Crib

Both players look at their six cards and pick two to put aside, face down, in the middle of the table. These four cards will form the ‘crib’ and will be used later in the game.

2. Cut the Deck

The non-dealer cuts the deck and the dealer reveals the top card of the lower part of the deck. This card is called the ‘starter’, although it’s used at the end of a round. We’ll get to this later.

  • If this card is a jack, the dealer gets 2 points right away.

3. Playing cards

The non-dealer starts by playing a card face up, followed by the dealer. You take turns playing cards like this.

As you play, you add up the total value of the cards. For example, if you play a four, you say “Four.” If the next card is a nine, the total is “Thirteen.”

4. Scoring While Playing (Pegging)

You can score points in different ways as you play the cards:

  • If the cards reach the count of 15, that player scores 2 points.
  • Any player who completes a pair scores 2 points.
  • Any player who completed 3 of a kind scores 6 points.
  • Any player who scores 4 of a kind scored 12 points.
  • Any player who completes a run scores one point for each card in that run.

Keep score by jumping the pegs over one another the number of points you scored.

5. The Go

When you play cards, the total shouldn’t go over 31. If you can’t play a card without going over 31, you say “Go!”. The other player then gets 1 point.

They can keep playing cards as long as they don’t go over 31. If they reach exactly 31, they get 2 points.

After a Go, you start a new round of playing cards with the total back at zero.

6. Ending the Round & Counting Hands

After playing all the cards, each player counts the points in their hand, including the Starter card.

Note: The dealer does this twice, first for their hand and then for the Crib.

Here’s how you count the points:

  • Combinations of 15: Any combination of cards that adds up to 15 scores 2 points.
  • Pairs: Pairs score the same way as they do during play (2 points per pair).
  • Runs: Runs are sequences of three or more cards in order, like 4, 5, 6. They are scored as during play, but you can get extra points for double, triple, or quadruple runs.
    • Double Runs: If your run includes a pair, it’s a double run. For example, a double run of four, like 5, 6, 7, 8, 8, scores 10 points (8 for the two runs and 2 for the pair of 8s).
    • Triple Runs: A triple run, like 4, 4, 4, 5, 6, scores 15 points. That’s because you get 3 runs of three and 3 pairs.
    • Quadruple Runs: A quadruple run, such as 6, 6, 7, 7, 8, scores 16 points. This is 4 runs of three plus 2 pairs.
  • Flush: If you have four cards of the same suit in your hand, you get 4 points. If all five cards (including the Starter) are the same suit, you score 5 points.
  • Jack of the Same Suit as the Starter: If you have a Jack in your hand that’s the same suit as the Starter card, you get 1 point.

Remember, the non-dealer counts their points first, then the dealer counts theirs, and finally the dealer counts the Crib.

This order can be important, especially near the end of a game, as the non-dealer might win the game before the dealer gets a chance to count their points.

7. Winning the Game

The first player to reach 121 points (or 61 points in a shorter game) wins.

If you reach this score while counting your hand or the crib, you win immediately, even if the other player hasn’t counted their points yet.

The Cribbage rules of a 3-4 player game are a bit different. In the next section, we’ll describe the differences that you should keep into account.

How to Play Cribbage with 3-4 Players

A Cribbage board has three pegging tracks. When playing with three players, each player chooses a track of their own.

When playing with four players, opposite players are partners and peg on the same track.

In addition, the Cribbage rules of a 3-4 player game are a bit different. These are the differences:

  • Dealing cards: Dealer deals 5 cards to each player instead of 6.
    • With 3 players, the dealer also deals one card to the crib.
  • Forming the Crib: All players pick one card for the crib instead of 2.
  • Cut the Deck: The player to the dealer’s left cuts the deck.
  • Playing Cards: The player to the dealer’s left plays the first card.

All other rules are the same as described in the ‘2-player’ sections above.

In the next section, we’ll talk about how to keep score without a board and offer some strategy tips for Cribbage.

Cribbage Without a Board

Lost some pegs? No space for a board? Don’t worry, you can play Cribbage both with and without a board and pegs. As long as you have playing cards, you’re good!

  • Use Paper and Pen: The simplest way is to use a sheet of paper and a pen. You can draw two columns, one for each player, and mark points as you score.
  • Digital Apps: There are smartphone apps available for scoring in Cribbage, both for Android and Apple. These apps can keep track of your score and even help with counting combinations.

Strategy Tips

There’s a chance you love this game but lose too often. This could mean that your strategy is not right. Here’s some tips to improve your gameplay:

  • Salting the Crib: As the dealer, you want to “salt” the crib with good cards, but don’t weaken your hand too much.
    • If you’re not the dealer, avoid giving away strong cards, especially fives and pairs.
  • Leading with a Pair: Leading with a pair can be a smart move. If your opponent plays the matching card, you can play your second card for a pair royal (three of a kind).
  • Avoid Leading with 5s: Leading with a 5 can be risky since the opponent can make a 15 easily.
  • Low Cards: Save low cards like aces and twos to help you make a 15, a Go, or a 31 later in the game.
  • Safe Lead: A 4 is a safe card to lead with, as it can’t make a 15 on the opponent’s next turn.
  • Counting to 21: Be cautious when the count is around 21, as your opponent can play a 10-value card to make 31.
  • Counting Hands and Cribs: Practice makes perfect. Learn the common combinations and their scores. The more you play, the quicker you’ll get at counting hands and cribs.
  • Watching the Opponent’s Play: Pay attention to your opponent’s plays. This can give you clues about their hand and help you make better decisions.
  • Play to Your Strengths: If you’re good at quick mental math, use that to your advantage in tracking scores and predicting the opponent’s moves.

Remember, Cribbage is a game of both skill and chance. While these strategies can help, there’s always an element of unpredictability in how the cards are dealt.

Wrap Up

Cribbage is always a hit. It’s trickier than many card games, making it a fun challenge to master.

Cribbage games last a while, making them great for playing with stakes. Everyone can put money into a pot, or come up with fun tasks for the losers. Playing for more than just pride adds to the excitement!

If you’re a big fan of Cribbage, you might also enjoy these other card games.

Other Fun Card Games

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