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The deal

Cribbage uses a standard 52-card deck of cards. The jokers are removed; the suits are equal in status. The players cut for first deal, with the player cutting the lowest card (the ace counts as one, and is the lowest card) dealing first. If the cutters tie, the cards are re-shuffled and re-cut. Cards are dealt so that each player ends up with four cards after the crib is formed, and the crib should also have four cards. For two players, each is dealt six cards. For 3 players, each is dealt 5 cards and 1 card is dealt to the crib. For 4 players, each player is dealt 5 cards and the players sitting opposite each other are on a team.

The crib

Once the cards have been dealt, each player chooses four cards to retain, discarding the other one or two face-down to form the "crib" that will be used later by the dealer. At this point, each player's hand and the crib will contain exactly four cards.

Example crib

Player Cards dealt Discarded Hand
  5 ♠   4 ♠   2 ♠   8 ♦6 ♥   8 ♣   8 ♦   8 ♣     5 ♠   4 ♠   2 ♠   6 ♥
Bob   10 ♠   6 ♦J ♥4 ♥   K ♣   7 ♣     10 ♠   K ♣   6 ♦J ♥4 ♥  7 ♣  
Crib   10 ♠   8 ♦   K ♣   8 ♣  

The starter

After the crib is laid away, the non-dealer (pone) cuts the undealt portion of the deck, and the dealer reveals the top card of the bottom section, called "the starter" or "the cut", placing it on top of the deck face up. If this card is a Jack, the dealer scores two points for "his heels". The starter is not used in "the play" phase of the game, but is used later for making various card combinations that score points during "the show".

The play

"The play" (often called "pegging") starts with non-dealer (pone). Each player lays one card in turn onto the table so that it is visible, stating the cumulative value, or count, of the cards played so far. (For example, the first player lays a 4 and says "four", the next lays a 7 and says "eleven", and so on). Face cards are worth ten; aces are worth one. The other players continue to lay cards in turn without exceeding 31 until no cards can be played. The count must not exceed 31, so a player who cannot lay a card without bringing the count above 31 passes by saying "Go". The remaining player must lay a card if able to do so without exceeding 31. The last player to lay a card scores one point for the "Go" or two points if 31 is reached exactly. The count is then reset to zero and play resumes, starting with the player who passed by saying "Go". Players repeat this process until all cards have been played.

In addition to scoring one or two points for the last card, players can score additional points during "the play" according to the following rules:

  • Fifteen
    • For adding a card that makes a cumulative total of exactly fifteen, score 2 points
  • Run (sequence)
    • For completing a run of three cards, regardless of the order in which they are laid (e.g. a 6, then a 4, then a 5 is a run of three even though they were not laid in order), score 3 points
    • For completing a run of four, score 4 points
    • For each extra card of a run, score 1 additional point
    • Note that runs are independent of suits, but go strictly by rank (9, 10, J or J, 9, 10 is a run, but 9, 10, Q is not). Aces are always counted as one and can be a run of (A, 2, 3) but never (Q, K, A)
  • Pairs
    • For laying a card of the same rank as the previous card, score 2 points
    • For laying a third card of the same rank, or "triplet", score 6 points, because triplets make 3 sets of distinct pairs each worth 2 points
    • For laying a fourth card of the same rank, or a "double pair", score 12 points, because double pair make 6 sets of distinct pairs each worth 2 points

If a card completes more than one scoring combination, then all combinations are scored.

Example of "the play"

  5 ♠   4 ♠   2 ♠   6 ♥
Bob 6 ♦J ♥4 ♥  7 ♣  
Player Card Cumulative Points Earned
Bob J ♥    10
Alice   5 ♠       15 2 points (fifteen exactly)
Bob  7 ♣       22
Alice 6 ♥     28 3 points (run: 5, 6, 7)
Bob "Go"
Alice   2 ♠       30 1 point (for "Go" < 31)
Bob 6 ♦     6
Alice   4 ♠       10
Bob 4 ♥     14 3 points (pair & last card)

The show

Once the play is complete, each player in turn receives points based on the cards in their hand. Starting with the non-dealer, players' scores are calculated. The starter card turned up at the beginning of play serves as a fifth card shared in common by all hands; thus each player’s score is based on their own four cards along with the starter card. Scoring combinations are the following:

  • Fifteen
    • For each separate combination of two or more cards totaling exactly fifteen, score 2 points
  • Runs
    • For a run of three consecutive cards (regardless of suit), score 3 points
    • For a run of four consecutive cards, score 4 points
    • For a run of five consecutive cards, score 5 points
  • Pairs
    • For a pair of cards of a kind, score 2 points
    • For three cards of a kind, score 6 points
    • For four cards of a kind, score 12 points
  • Flush
    • For a flush, where all four cards in the hand are of the same suit, score 4 points, this is the only rule that does not apply to the Crib hand
    • For a flush when the starter card is also of that suit, score 5 points
    • For holding the Jack of the same suit ("His nobs") as the starter card, score 1 point

Common combinations are often scored as a group. For example, a run of three cards with an additional card matching one of the three in value, e.g., 2–2–3–4, is termed a "double run", and scores eight according to the above rules, three for each of the runs and two for the pair. Even more valuable are "triple runs" (three three-card straights including a three-of-a-kind, e.g., 2–2–2–3–4, that score fifteen) and "double-double runs" (four three-card straights including pairs, e.g., 2–3–3–4–4, that score sixteen). Combined runs may also include fifteen-twos. A 24 hand, a large commonly seen, can comprise a double-double run and four fifteen-twos. Two examples are 4–4–5–5–6 and 6–7–7–8–8.

The dealer's hand is scored last and then the cards in the crib are revealed. These cards, in conjunction with the starter card, are scored by the dealer as an additional hand. The rules for scoring the crib are the same as scoring a hand, with the exception of the flush; a four-card flush in the crib is scored only if it is the same suit as the starter card (for a total of five points).

Example scoring during "the show"

5 ♥
  5 ♠   4 ♠   2 ♠   6 ♥
Bob 6 ♦J ♥4 ♥   7 ♣  
Crib   10 ♠   8 ♦   K ♣   8 ♣  
Player Cards Points Scoring Action
Bob J ♥5 ♥ 2 Combination equal to fifteen
6 ♦5 ♥4 ♥ 2 Another combination of fifteen
4 ♥5 ♥6 ♦   7 ♣   4 Sequence of four for a run
J ♥ 1 Jack same suit as the starter card
Total 9
Alice 6 ♥   5 ♠   4 ♠   2 Combination equal to fifteen
6 ♥5 ♥   4 ♠   2 Another combination of fifteen
  4 ♠     5 ♠   5 ♥6 ♥ 8 Two 3-card runs and a pair
Total 12
  10 ♠   5 ♥ 2 Combination equal to fifteen
  K ♣   5 ♥ 2 Another combination of fifteen
8 ♦   8 ♣   2 Pair of cards of same rank
Total 6

After the dealer's crib is scored, the second player becomes dealer. Similar to the first round, the next round starts with the deal.

Winning the Game

When a player reaches the target score of 121, the game ends immediately with that player the winner. This can occur at any time during the cut, the play or the show. If during the show the non-dealer (pone) hand gives a point total that sets the score to 121 (or higher), the show phase ends, the dealer does not get to count their hand nor crib. Example: The game can end on a cut of a Jack ("his heels") for the dealer.