|Same situation as last month, but now we'll consider the
pegging: At 102-91* you're dealt
5-6-8-Q-Q-K. Suppose you keep 5-6-Q-Q
and cut a 10. Do you lead a Q
or the 6? If you lead a Q
and dealer takes 15-2 with a 5, what do
you play next?
Normally when playing defensively, I'd rather have three choices
than two later in the play, and would lead from a pair. But low
touching cards are dangerous — the last thing you want is to get
stuck with 5-6 as your last two cards. It could go
something like this:
Q 7 Q 2 (29-1) 6 3 5 4 (18-5)
Now if dealer has a four point crib, he can win with a dozen next
hand. If leading the 6 holds his pegging to four
holes or fewer, he needs 14+, a tall order.
In this situation it is not how many points you get but how few
your opponent gets. If he gets too many between his pegging, hand
and crib he won't need a lot to go out on with his first count. I
would lead the Q. Why? Because I have a 5
in my hand. The more of a particular card you have in your hand, the
less your opponent is likely to have one. Of course, he could have a
5 but that's the chance you take by playing the
percentages. If he did make it 15-2 I would play the other other
Q, making the count 25. After all, he could have four
points in his hand, and you want to minimize the pegging.
I lead from the "safe" pair of Q, but on a 15-2, I'm
avoiding trouble, hopefully, with the second Q for
My lead would be from the pair. There are five possible cards
that could score on the Q lead (5-5-5-Q-Q).
In leading the 6, there are seven possible scoring
plays (6-6-6-9-9-9-9). If the dealer plays a 5
on a Q lead for 15-2, I make count 25 with the
remaining Q. Might even get a go and close the count
with the 6 for 31-2.
A Q would be the percentage lead for holding down
dealer's average scoring, since it has the fewest immediate losers
(five) and leaves you with the ostensibly well spaced 5-6-Q.
The tricky thing, though, is that you can get really screwed this
way if dealer turns out to have one or two 5s, a run
containing a 5 or a 5-x-x-x hand. In
practice, a ten-card lead from a 5-6-x-x hand is
often an all-or-nothing lead: you'll often hold dealer to one or two
pegs, but also will often give up seven or eight. Still, with dealer
only -5, I'd go ahead and lead a Q. But if he was a
few holes further back, I'd play prevent defense and lead the
6, sacrificing more immediate pairs and 15s, but
leaving myself with the safer 5-Q-Q, which is not
likely to give big pegs if dealer can score on the 6.
In the event, dealer takes a 15-2 on my Q, and I
have to decide whether to pair it. The conventional wisdom would
have me drop the second Q, avoiding the risk of
getting tripled, or giving up a run to a 4-6 combo.
The conventional wisdom might be right — with a 10
cut showing, dealer could have ten point with something like
3-5-5-7 or 4-5-5-x, and the extra six points
could well kill me. But I've also gotten killed playing it "safe"
with this hand:
Q 5 (15-2) Q 6 (31-2) 6 6 (12-2) 5 7 (24-4)
Mitigating this is the fact that with 5-6-x-x
you're safe playing high against dealer's 5-x-x-x,
since your second ten-card can't get trapped into a run if you get a
go at 25 (this isn't the case if you start with 5-x-x-x,
which often argues for pairing dealer's 5 even on
defense). So over the board, I'd drop the second Q
and hope not to get trapped against a double run. But it'll be
interesting to see if the bots cause us to revisit how we play this
hand in the next few years.
If the play started:
Q 5 (15-2) ?
I would play another Q. There is nowhere to go
after the 25-2. In fact I would have led the 6 to
start with so that I wouldn't be left with a 5 and
6 at the end.
I would lead the 6. Knowing that the crib holds
8-10-K-?-?, I wouldn't mind seeing a 9
or 5 coming out of the dealer's hand. But I also have
safer replays of 22 or 20 if the 6 lead is paired or
But if the play starts:
Q 5 (15-2) ?
I'd play the other Q and give up the better chance
of 31 versus a possible triple. Again, mainly because the dealer's
position is short, needing more than a couple extra points. But any
responding play will be trouble if the dealer holds the 4-5-6
Simulating the win/loss percentages for the various leads, a
Q lead is clearly best. Interestingly, the 5
is second-best, winning about 5% less often, with the 6
a trifle worse. Dealer is still close enough to win with slightly
better-than-average cards and overly timid pegging on my part. So
we lead a tactically-superior Q.
Based on dealer's reply of the 5, of all the
possible hands dealer may have, about 7.5% of them are worth sixteen
points or more. The good news is that her average crib is about 3.4
points. Whether to play the second Q or pair the
5 is a very close call, but I give a slight edge to
refusing the pair. This is worse against double runs, but it keeps
you out of the triple, and nets out better against the most likely
dealer hands, namely 5-x-x-x and 4-5-6-9/x.
here for a
guide to cribbage notation and symbols.
Dan Barlow won the 1980 National Open Cribbage
Tournament, and made the 1985 All American Cribbage Team. His cribbage
strategy articles appeared in Cribbage World for many years, and
can be seen on the
ACC Web site.
He also provides strategy tips at
Gaming Zone. He has written seven books on cribbage, two of which have been glowingly reviewed in Games Magazine. All, including his latest book Winning Cribbage Tips, are available at
The Cribbage Bookstore.
John Chambers was one of the original founding
members of the ACC. He is a Grand Master, winner of seven major
tournaments, and author of
Cribbage: A New Concept, He also directs three annual
tournaments: the Ocean State Cribbage Classic, New England Peer
Championship and Charity Cribbage Challenge.
DeLynn Colvert is the world's highest rated tournament player. He is a four-time National Champion, author of
Play Winning Cribbage, and the ACC's only Life Master - Six Stars. He directs the Montana Championship and Montana Open, both held annually in Missoula, and
served for many years as President of the ACC and Editor of the monthly
magazine Cribbage World.
George "Ras" Rasmussen is a Life Master - Two Stars, a four-time All-American, the national Grass Roots Division 1 champion in 2009, a former state champion in Virginia, Montana and Washington, and holds a Gold Award and a President's Award. He also directs the Washington
State Championship, held each year in Centralia, WA. His articles on
cribbage are available on the
ACC Web site.
Michael Schell is a pioneer of modern cribbage theory, which synthesizes traditional concepts of expert play with new computer-informed insights and analysis. He has published Cribbage Forum since 2000. Schell holds a Bronze Award, is a Washington State Champion (2001), and was one of the principal architects of ACC Internet Cribbage.
Phyllis Schmidt is a charter member of the ACC, and has been
playing cribbage for about 40 years. She is a Life Master - One Star, a
Senior Judge, a National Champion (1992) and winner of the ACC Tournament of Champions (2005). She attends about 30
tournaments a year.
Peter Setian has played cribbage for over 20 years, and has
been a member of the ACC for about 14 years. During that time, he has
won seven major tournaments and earned his Life Master rating. He plays
in about eight tournaments per year, including the ACC Tournament of
Champions and the annual Grand National. He enjoys participation in
Grass Roots Club #72.
HALSCRIB is widely regarded as the world's strongest computer
cribbage player. Its opinion was solicited using a special analysis
version of the program. Since HALSCRIB only speaks binary, its thoughts
have been translated into English by Michael Schell and its creator, Hal Mueller, a retired mathematics professor and eight-time ACC tournament winner. For more information, see the
HALSCRIB home page.