|A pause in our usual problems of strategy and tactics for a
more philosophical question. It's the first game of the night at
the Grass Roots club, and with the score 31*-46 you deal
Q. What do
The chances of scoring 29 have gone from astronomical to about
2%. And while 9-J is more likely to help my crib than
9-Q, it may not help it at all —
and even if it does help the crib, it probably won't affect the
outcome of the game. Weigh that against the fame I achieve, not only
in my club, but nationally, for scoring a 29 hand, the prize money,
the applause, my name in lights, my name in Cribbage World, my photo
in the Faces in the Crowd section of Sports Illustrated, a
possible mention on SportsCenter, even a slight chance of being
Time's Person of the Year, and this is a no-brainer. I go for it.
I always try for the 29! They are so rare, and I love to brag about
the two I have scored. Three is a better brag!
I would play the
That leaves a 9-Q for the crib. I would play this
hand that way, because I have never scored a 29 in 60+ years of play. 9-J to crib has slightly better chance to
work than 9-Q. Even so, go for the 29!
Yes, this scenario is from one of my games from the past Grass
Roots season. Although 9-J
returns one point more in the crib
than 9-Q, most players would surely go for the
"once-in-a-lifetime" 29 hand instead.
A 29 hand is a prized novelty to many in the cribbage community —
but it's nothing more than a novelty, unless the game takes
place at one of the casinos that offer a tidy cash prize for one.
That isn't the case here, nor is it the case that the game is
"meaningless": neither me nor my opponent have been eliminated from
qualifying in this Grass Roots tournament (it's the first game, and
these tournaments are nine-game round robins with no playoffs). In
fact, the cards have just handed me an opportunity to pull myself
back into a game that I've been losing badly. Cutting the last
5 will do the trick regardless of my toss. But if I
throw 9-J, a simple ten-card starter gets me 20 or 22
points plus an excellent shot at a multiple run in the crib —
exactly what I need to make up my 13 point positional deficit.
Winning this game could make the difference between qualifying and
not qualifying, with prize money and rating points at stake. Both
are tangible measures of cribbage accomplishment and good play, the
sort of things that ought to mean more to an expert player than
cutting a rare hand through pure luck.
But there's more to this than mere self-gratification. A modern
cribbage expert should be committed to good cribbage. That
means approaching the game intellectually and unemotionally,
considering each discard or pegging decision as a matter of craft,
and regarding every game or tournament as an aesthetic whole. There
is beauty in well-played cribbage, and the ultimate respect for the
game lies in this this recognition. As a bonus, this philosophy can
help you stay focused and free from negative influences such as
defeatism or the distraction of mathematical curiosities. Going for
a 29 here would be fun, much more so if you hit it. But it would be
bad cribbage, and bad cribbage is offensive to a modern
In the event, my opponent did cut the
that would have given me 29 if I'd held the J.
But my 9-J
in the crib combined with his 2-10 for eight points,
four more than I'd have had tossing 9-Q. I won the
game, went on to qualify that evening, and finished the season Club
Any patzer can hold for the 29 hand here. Do you have what
it takes not to?
Anytime I have a chance at a 29 hand, I take it. You don't get that
This is a different thought process from the past. Normally it's
critical in this position to maximize the crib with 9-J,
for the better chance of points to pull off the difficult game. (A
20 point hand alone will likely not be enough). I would probably go
for the 29 hand for bragging rights and/or a good skunk can. But
other situations that may steer me away from the 29 hand attempt
would include a late season Grass Roots night where you're in a
tight club race for the top.
I use board position to determine whether I should play offense
or defense to maximize my winning chances. That's my
philosophy. Retaining the J in hand
increases its average value by ¼
point (due to His Nobs), but 9-J
in the crib performs about a point better there than
9-Q. I will keep
Q and increase my overall winning chances by about
1.5%, leaving other "philosophical" concerns to the carbon-based
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.
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.