Why do I suck so much at cribbage?

I was futzing around in Pogo this past week, and one of the badges that you could earn was in Cribbage. I figured I’d give it a shot, since I’d never played the game before. I tried it against the computer, and got my ass handed to me over and over again. Seriously, I think I won one game the whole time, and it was close. Most of the time, I got skunked. It seemed like a fun game, but somehow either I got the worst luck on earth or I’m missing some key point of strategy.

My goal was to try to not break up runs, pairs, or combinations of 15 when I put stuff in the computer’s crib, and to put those things in my crib whenever possible. It just seemed like every time the computer had a hand, it would have about 8 combinations of 15 in there, and every card I passed to them was the exact wrong one. Was I just unlucky?

Oh, and what on earth is His Nobs? I could never figure it out, and the rules I read on the Pogo site didn’t spell it out.

His Nobs is in two parts–if you have the Jack that matches the suit that’s turned up as the common card, you get 1 point. If you have the crib and a Jack gets turned up as the common card, you get 2 points.

Hard to tell about your play strategy without having sample hands that we can comment on (what you kept vs. what we would). I tend to prioritize cards that will yield points during the play, and not just the count off at the end. I also don’t tend to consider pairs sacred, and will easily split them up if I think there’s a good chance my discards (alone or in combo) will be more likely to yield additional points to my opponent. Sometimes it’s luck (good or bad) and sometimes it’s experience, but the savvier you get, the more you’ll see there are fewer hard-&-fast rules.

I’m also more inclined to avoid putting 10+5=15 combos in my crib, since you will very rarely have a good player give you either. Anything that’s zero points but promises a run is more likely to go in my crib, since his discard might inadvertently help you. Putting pairs in your crib is OK, but I prefer having them for play, when you’re more likely to yield the 6pts there than w/a random discard.

I would suggest paying attention to what the computer gives you when the crib is yours and comparing those cards with the card he kept. That might help a little (until you start playing with another actual person).

Definitely my favorite game, period.

“Nobs” is holding a jack of the same suit as the upcard. “Heels” is when you score 2 for turning up a jack.

There’s a lot of strategy in cribbage, and I don’t even know where to start. A lot of it is percentage play, don’t pass cards that could potentially end up in runs or 15s, watch your lead, try to figure out what your opponent is doing (Is he leading a 10 waiting for you to throw a five on top, only to pair it? Or is he hoping you throw out another 10 for pair and he’ll score 6 for pair royal (three of a kind) and then perhaps another 1 for “Go” or 2 for 31 if he has the ace and you can’t move (likely)).

Watch your opponents hand and try to guess, as the cards come out, what he is likely to be holding. Pegging points are often what separates decent players from very good ones. Don’t become careless with your pegging. If somebody leads a 10, you can usually bet that his hand contains either: a 5, another 10, nothing but 10-point cards, probably in a double run (e.g. 10-J-J-Q). Of course, when you start playing people who know your strategy intimately, they might mix it up just to keep you on your toes, but most of the time, that’s what a lead of 10 means. Use that information to your advantage.

As for discards, the general rule is to throw out what will help yourself and least likely to help your opponent. Throwing points into your own crib is often a good idea, touching cards is good, pairs and 15s are okay, etc… For the opponent, generally don’t throw out points (unless you have good reason, and “gifts in crib” are occasionally sound plays), try not to throw out touching cards (6-7 for instance, as they lead to big double or triple runs) or cards that are even two removed from each other. Don’t worry about taking suit into consideration for any of these–flushes in the crib are pretty rare, and even flushes in hand are often not worth the trouble. It’s usually better to go for the double runs that give you lots of “outs” to make.

Once you get comfortable with the crib and pegging, you’ll need to learn how to control the tempo of the game. You don’t always want to go for maximizing your hand score. Sometimes, you want to minimize the opponent’s hand score. Remember, one rule that vitally alters strategy is the fact the opponent always counts first, so if he makes his 120 before you do, it doesn’t matter if you would have had the highest score. Always keep that in mind.

The best resource I know of for these sorts of things is http://www.cribbageforum.com. Have a look around there and you should be able to find something that will help you.

Are you letting the computer score your hand and crib at the end of the play, or are you forced to compute it yourself? I have found that part of getting a feel for the value of various card combinations comes from having “done the math” enough that you begin to instinctively know what combinations are more valuable and/or more likely.

For example, what would you do after being dealt the rather nice hand of 22344K? Before you answer, the factors you should always consider are:

  • Is it my crib, or the opponent’s?
  • How far ahead/behind am I?
  • Is either of us close to winning (over 100 points)?
  • Do I need to worry about my opponent winning in the play?
  • Do I need to worry about having to win myself in the play (e.g., it’s my crib and the opponent will score first, and he’s already at 110 points)?

All these should affect your strategy and choices.

When I first started to played Cribbage on my Palm T3 I would lose 65% of the time playing at the beginner level, even after 4-5 weeks of playing regularly on my subway commute. Then I played a different version on my PC that forced me to compute my own hand values, with my opponent pegging anything I missed or miscounted (“Muggins”). After a week or so of this my play improved dramatically, and I now beat that ol’ Palm T3 program on the most difficult setting over 65% of the time.

I got the badge! neener neener neener!

I just play against the computer, and learn that way. It took me a while to get the hang of what was going on, but now I can win about half the time. I also take into consideration what the goal of the badge is. This weeks was “2 for 31”, so I always kept Aces, twos, and threes to give me a better chance of being able to get 31 on the last card. It’s not my favorite game, by far. I only play it when a badge is involved, but I love Canasta.

If you’ve just started playing the game, it’s far too early to know whether you suck at cribbage. It takes awhile to get the feel of the game.