Cribbage is a very English game, invented in the 1630's by Sir John Suckling, a soldier, poet and games master. He was inspired by an older game called noddy, but “cribbidge” caught on so well that it eventually became “Britain’s national card game” and was the only betting game allowed in pubs without a permit. A meticulous writer and gambler, Sir John’s rules were “compleat” and long standing. English settlers brought it to the new colonies, where it was adopted by sailors and fishermen, and also to Canada, where it is still prominent.
The US Navy embraced cribbage enthusiastically, at first in Atlantic waters, but an incident in the Yellow Sea, aboard a Pacific Fleet nuclear attack submarine (USS Wahoo) in WWll raised the passion to a higher level of distinction. A couple very unusual games made one board so iconic that commander and hero Rear Admiral Richard O’Kane’s personal cribbage board has since been ceremoniously passed from the oldest (active) submarine to the next oldest. On May 3rd, the traditional ceremony was held to pass Kane's lucky board over to the commander of the new guardian submarine, the USS Olympia.
Cribbage is unusual, not because it combines Strategy and Chance, many games have that, but the method of play is unique. Per W.B. Dick, it requires “only an occasional moment of transient mental effort…,” a reference to choosing which card to pass to the dealer at the beginning. Thereafter, logic will either help or not help, depending on that interfering little brat called Chance. The variety of combinations, coupled with playing off opponent hands, make this always a compelling game. And as we all know, Chance plays for both sides.
Be first to reach a designated number of points on the board, usually 121. One of the lesser objectives is getting to 31. If that cannot be exactly obtained, the person who gets closest to 31 gets a point. This raises an old adage, updated by J.P. Wergin: “Closeness only counts in Horseshoes and Cribbage.”
Other than that initial bit of mental effort, it’s mostly simple math:
- Know which card combinations add up to 15 (5+10, 6+9, 7+8, 6+1+8 ….).
- Know which cards in your hand are playable up to 31. (If the count is 28, you can only play a 3, 2, or Ace.)
Teasers for the curious
You may get a flush or a pair, but it's not like poker. You may get a run, but it's not like Rummy. You will score your hands and maybe have teams, but it's not like bridge. You will use a board, but it's not like checkers, Clue, Risk or Go. There are cards and pegs, but it’s not like Uno or Mastermind. There are no bids, tricks, pawns, tiles, dice or gambling.
That's why a 2-hour class is a good idea. Last semester was our first at two hours, petitioned by the Cribbage for Fun players (previous Beginner grads). Two hours was perfect for them, but even greater for the Beginner group. At the end of 8 weeks, they were able to join with the Fun players, and since then have also been a regular part of CBS: Cribbage Between Semesters.