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Top 5 Cribbage Strategy Tips and How to Play

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Gain a Statistical Advantage While Playing Cribbage

Is winning at the game of cribbage a skill or is it luck? The statistical advantage goes to the player who understands and applies sound strategy, but even the best cribbage players in the world are going to have a tough time beating an opponent that is having a good run of luck. You might not want to bet the farm on your next game of cribbage, no matter how good you think you are. You can't beat luck!

It is possible to learn the basic playing and scoring instructions to a game of cribbage in only a few minutes, and after just a couple of runs at it, you might even start formulating your own strategies for future games. There are a good many players who have been pegging for years and who have never given it much thought.

There are a few easy-to-remember tips and strategies that should give you a fighting chance against a seasoned opponent, or a strong advantage over someone just starting out. Either way, it's always fun to know a tactic or two that your opponent doesn't.

Using the 5 tips featured on this page will give you a better chance, (statistically) to win your next game, and If you really want to step it up most serious cribbage players will agree you should start yourself a small library on the subject. You might even consider keeping a journal of your gameplay.

1. Deal First

One easily overlooked tactic, especially for rookie players, is to get the first deal. Everything else being equal you should win almost six out of ten games where you deal first.

The traditional cribbage custom is to cut low card, with Ace being the lowest, to see who deals first, while alternating the deal after that. The group I play with has always cut high card, with Ace being the highest card, to see who deals first, either is fine and works to the same outcome. If you are going to cut for first deal it may be wise to clarify whether you are cutting to high or low before the cut.

If you can manage to deal first in a game of cribbage you will have an advantage before you even begin playing. This advantage becomes of greater importance in a match with only a few games, such as best of three. At the very least don't overlook the importance of missing or passing your deal. - You should never pass your deal if you are trying to win at cribbage.

2. Learn How to Properly Count Your Hand

If you miscount any points while pegging, they are simply gone. This strategy is a matter of educating yourself by learning to recognize and properly count all of the possible point combinations associated with your hand.

It's unfortunate, but I suppose many people enjoy playing the computerized and online versions of the game so that they do not need to worry about accurate counting. In my opinion, the responsibility of accurate tallying and pegging is integral to the game.

In some regions, you'll find that the is played with what is known as "muggins", which makes it permissible for your opponent to steal away any points from you that you may have overlooked. Let's say you declare eight points and forget to take a point for the nobs and your opponent corrects your count to nine... they get the missed point.

The counting aspect of the game is very important and knowing how to count quickly and accurately will enhance your chances of winning.

3. Throw a 5 in Your Crib

One strategy that can gain you a couple of points is to throw a 5 card into your crib, unless it adds four or more points to your scoring hand. The basis for this is that no hand containing a five can score less than 2 points.

So if you have a five in your hand and are not sure whether to keep it or throw it into your own crib, a good strategy is to throw the five card into your crib. If the option is to keep the five or throw it into your opponent's crib, you will need to have a strong scoring hand of your own to justify that.

4. Watch Out For Runs When an Opponent Leads to You

When an opponent leads to you they are quite often trying to set up a run of three cards. This is especially true if an opponent leads an 8 or a 7 hoping you will play to 15 giving them an opportunity to bring in a 6 or a 9 for the run.

If at the end of the sequence you gain two points for the 15 and they gain 3 points for the run you are now fighting for a go just to break even, giving an advantage your opponent. Sometimes the best strategy is to simply take away an opponent's striking power even if it means playing around a couple of points.

5. Play Conservative

Playing cribbage with a conservative style and not gambling for a huge outcome every hand was probably the most successful single strategy I learned.

It's very easy to want to keep a potentially huge hand hoping for a very specific turn of the card, even at the cost of several points. How many times have you broken up a six point hand wagering it on the hopes of a ten, twelve or sixteen pointer? There aren't enough holes on the board for me to count that number.

It's fun to play cribbage lotto, but if you consider an average hand, or an average crib is typically somewhere around five points. then conservative play strategy should give you more control of the board, leave you open to less damaging situations, and give you a better opportunity to win at the game of cribbage.

Downloadable Printable Cribbage Board Project Templates

Cribbage boards are an excellent DIY project. Along with being a very affordable project i can be done finished in a short amount of time. As much fun as it can be to make and paint your own cribbage board establishing the hole placement can be tedious.

Proper hole placement is probably the number one reason people are put off from making their own cribbage boards. More than one cribbage board project has started out with the first few holes being perfectly aligned only to find out half way through the line was lost.

You can fix this by purchasing an expensive rigid template usually $30-$50, or you can try using a downloadable printable paper template to make your cribbage board. These are usually available for under $5.00.

Visit the Etsy Store Cribbage Boards FS and you'll find one of the better collections of downloadable, printable cribbage board templates available.

Do you have a cribbage strategy or do you just like to go for the big hand?

Eleanor on December 21, 2019:

Thanks for the tips. I play with my boyfriend and can’t see to beat him.

I find it depressing that I can’t seem to win. I will read up more on the

tips.

IamShea on March 30, 2013:

No strategy yet, I just learned the game. That's why I'm here.... great tips!

anonymous on March 20, 2013:

Hmm.still just learning. But yah, I like to put pairs in my crib hoping for the trio. And I never lead a five. Other than that, yeah I just go for the big points.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@hntrssthmpsn: Glad to hear your already familiar with some of the strategies. It may encourage someone else to give them a go. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@InSearchOf LM: I think you have a memory worthy of your next lens. I could picture myself at the lake house waiting to take on the winner.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@TaraWojt: Thanks for sharing and for the nice comments.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@AcornOakForest: I know what you mean and since it's often the social interaction that's the reason for playing we can lose focus on trying to win the game. Either way, it's lots of fun for me.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@microfarmproject: Time to take your crown as the cribbage champion in the family. Thanks for stopping by.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@serendipity831: So glad to hear the tips will be helpful. Keep the game going, before long you'll be the one to beat...

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@IMKZRNU2: Thanks for stopping by. Focusing on one new strategy at a time will get you extra points quicker than you realize.... "Hmmmm", just like everything else in life I think.

Bob Zau (author) on June 19, 2012:

@mbgphoto: It's hard to steer away from the big hands. Thanks for stopping by and for the blessing.

hntrssthmpsn on June 19, 2012:

My best friend and I have passed many an enjoyable afternoon hunched over the cribbage board. The five in the crib is my signature move. Years of playing one another, and that one still works like a charm ;)

InSearchOf LM on June 19, 2012:

This lens brought back some favorite memories of playing cribbage with my grandfather at my grandparent's lakehouse when I was a young teenager. He taught me how to play and we would sit for hours by the wall of windows facing the lake. I always loved getting a high count hand, but realized quickly that my grandfather would overtake my score by pegging. Such a fun game!! Great lens - I love how you used the small cards for pictures.

Tara Wojtaszek on June 19, 2012:

I used to love playing cribbage with my Dad when I was young but I haven't played in a long time. Some great information here : )

Monica Lobenstein from Western Wisconsin on June 18, 2012:

I'm guilty! I usually go for the big hand, but I do pay lots of attention to strategy during the pegging. Good tips!

microfarmproject on June 18, 2012:

Thanks for the tips...my kids always beat me.

Drake McSherry from Milwaukee, WI on June 18, 2012:

I just started playing recently and then stopped for a bit, so I'm a bit rusty. These tips will come in handy for when I get back into it. Thanks much. :)

IMKZRNU2 from Pacific Northwest on June 18, 2012:

I need to use a stategy more...You have given me some things to think about.

Mary Beth Granger from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA on June 18, 2012:

Love those big hands...but I realize they don't always equate to a win. Very well done and interesting lens. Blessed.

Bob Zau (author) on June 12, 2012:

I play for more pegging and less for big hands, like I used to do. It seems to be working in my favor.