Ask the experts, September 2007

You're dealer trailing 51*-68. You tossed 2 J from 2 4 5 6 J J. Pone cuts the 4 and leads the 2. What’s your play?

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Dan Barlow:

In basketball, the leading team often slows things down, using up most of the shot clock. In cribbage it's the trailing player who wants to make the game last longer, giving him more time to catch up. Here I'd play the 5, leaving me more opportunities to avoid a run in which we both peg a lot of holes.

John Chambers:

Play the 5, and try to keep your opponent from pegging. If your opponent's hand and crib aren't that good, your hand will put you in better position.

DeLynn Colvert:

I'm going to egg pone on with the 4. If she can score on that, she probably has too many points to make playing off attractive.

George Rasmussen:

In this case, play the 4 for a count of six. This will often create a pegging opportunity for dealer that will not be gained if you make the count 12 with the play of that J. If the 2-3 are held in same hand, most players will lead the 3 to force the 5 off the play and increase their chances of scoring 15-2 with the 2.

Michael Schell:

Going into the deal, I'm -19 to pone's +8. After the cut I have a 14 point hand, and uncertain prospects in the crib (4 cut to my 2-J: good sign  pone's leading a 2: bad sign). I'll assume an average crib, but give myself a six point credit for the better-than-average hand, and call it -13 to pone's +8. This still calls for defense, unless I think I can score lots of pegging points.

An interesting point is that most competent players will lead a 3 from a 2-3 combo, most exception coming when the 2 is duplicated (a pair, the cut or a discard). In this case, my own discarded 2 makes it less likely that pone has seen another 2, so I'm going to drop the J in hopes that she doesn't have a 3. This does keep alive the prospect of playing on later (as I'm retaining my three touching cards), but my principal motivation is a tactical one. I'm hoping pone has a weak hand with a couple of mid-cards, and wasn't helped by the 4 cut. If her cards stay slow long enough, I'll have time to get back into the game.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I play the 5. Any card can give up a 15-2. I have a good hand to count, but I must hold opponent back from getting too far down Fourth Street.

Peter Setian:

I would play the 4. If the pone has a 3, he/she will be in great shape no matter what. So if the run is played, I'd continue with the run as much as possible. If the run is not played, I'll turn to total defensive play, and hope the pone has a small hand (no 3).


Typical human players (of the non-expert variety) play aggressively when they're behind. This is not always the right strategy, and here is a case in point. Pone is not in such great shape that a run of sluggish cards won't knock her out of position! Better to play defensively and hope for her cards to falter. With a good, but not great, hand, I'll have little trouble getting into position if that happens.

Tactically, the 6 comes out a little better in my calculations than the 5. Dropping the 5 now has the advantage of keeping my remaining cards as spread out as possible. But pone seems more likely to have a 5 or 8 than a 6 or 7. If she does score 15-2 with a 7, I can break with the J, and the presence of my 6 makes her a tad less likely to be able to score 31-2 on top of that.

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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 MSN 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 five-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 Division1 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.

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