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The year in review: 1999-2000
Now that the 1999-2000 cribbage season has wound down (it runs from August 1 to July 31 here in North America), I thought I'd present a few personal highlights — and lowlights — from the past year. Perhaps we'll both learn something from them.
Remembering the 'burbs
Some of my fondest cribbage memories come from my time on Burbs Cribbage Ladder. Now sadly defunct, Burbs was far and away the strongest, most professionally run cribbage ladder on the Internet. The level of playing skill and sportsmanship was top-notch, and the six-stake format made for some long and interesting matches. So long, Burbs. You were loved by those that knew you!
I joined Burbs in February 1999 and reached First Place the following December, setting a ladder record for winning percentage along the way. One memorable sequence occurred during the deciding game of a match against an expert player from Georgia. I'd gotten off to a fast start, building up a thirty point lead halfway through the game. Then my opponent cut the last 7 to A-7-7-7, giving him a 24 point hand — just enough to get into position on Fourth Street. The score was 103-96* when I was dealt 4 4 9 J Q Q. Hoping to bust his crib, I broke up my pair of Qs to make the safest possible toss: 9 Q. The cut was a J, and my opponent ended up with only a two point crib (he'd tossed 2-4). At the end of the deal I was at 109, while he was at 111.
I dealt myself 3-5-7-8-9-Q, and tossed 5-Q. The cut was the 10, giving me six points in my hand and at least four in the crib. Since I was guaranteed at least one pegging point as dealer, I was virtually certain to win if pone didn't count out first. So when he led a 4, I was thinking dee-fense.
I had to decide between playing the 7 or the 8, either of which would give up a score on six different cards. (The 9 would be an inferior choice, giving up a score on seven possible cards, including the four outstanding 2s). I chose the 8 for two reasons:
Pone did play a ten-card on my 8, and I ended up shutting him out in the pegging, winning the game and the match by a single point.
A few things are worth noting here. One is that playing anything other than the 8 on my opponent's 4 lead would have cost me the game. I also would have lost if I'd greedily tossed 9-J (instead of 9-Q) back at 103-96* (it would have given up two more points in the crib). Finally, my opponent still could have won the game by following Rasmussen's dictum to reverse the play order in endgame situations where you must peg as pone. Here that means leading a ten-card, not the usual 4, from A-4-x-x:
Leading the J also works:
Now I had a choice between playing the 4 or the 5. Either one was "safe" in that I could retaliate with a 31-2 if it was paired. Since you're supposed to keep your touching cards in offensive pegging situations, I played the 5, figuring that if I didn't score here, I still had the 3-4 combo to work with. Unfortunately, it didn't work out.
By playing the 5, I set myself up to score on a 3, 4 or 5 reply (nine cards). I'd be unable to score on an A, 2, 6, 7 or 8 (eighteen cards). If he got a go or a 31, I'd lead the 4 (to disguise my last card) and would win if he then replied with a 2, 3, 5 or 8.
However, the odds were a bit better if I'd made the counterintuitive move of playing the 4, splitting my touching cards. That would have enabled me to score on a 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 reply (seventeen cards total, compared to nine for the 5 play). Only an A, 7, 8 or 9 reply (thirteen cards) would let him off the hook. In that event, I could still lead the 3 on the second play series, hoping to win on a 5 or 7 reply — not as good a prospect as leading a 4 from 3-4, but more than offset by the better chance of scoring on the first play series.
So I fell in the stinkhole, while dealer counted out with his crib. I ended up losing the match by one game — very frustrating, considering that I had inferior cards throughout the match, and could have come away with a great victory.
Here are a couple of endgames I played in this year's Washington State Championship, presented each year by George Rasmussen and his colleagues in the town of Centralia. After missing qualifying in the main event by a single game point, I was playing in the consolation tournament, needing to win my last two games to reach the playoffs. For my next-to-last game, I drew Hal Lamon from Sea-Tac Peggers in Federal Way. The score was 113-111* when Hal dealt me 2-4-7-8-J-K. I tossed J-K, and managed to cut a 6, giving me a seven point hand. Needing to peg one point to win, I led the 2, hoping Hal would reply with a 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9, any of which would allow me to score (leading the 4 would only have allowed me to score on a 2, 3, 4, 7, 8 or 9 reply).
Hal played a K however. I played my 4 and he dropped an A, making the count 17.
What to play next, the 7 or the 8? The obvious choice was the 8, bringing the count closer to 31, and avoiding the prospect of giving up a 31-4. But I had a better idea.
Hal's play of a K on my 2 lead suggested that he was not holding a 5 through 9 (any of which would ordinarily be preferred in response to a 2 lead). When he dumped the A on my 4, it implied that his last two cards were either two low cards, one low card and one ten-card, or two ten-cards. In the latter two cases, it would make no difference what I played here, but in the first case it might. By making the count 24, I gave myself the chance to steal last card if his last two cards totaled seven or less. I dismissed the risk of giving up a 31-4 because I doubted Hal had a 7, and because if I failed to peg one point I was surely going to lose anyway.
Although Hal lost this game, he was victorious in his last game, and advanced to the playoffs. I was having trouble in my last game though, facing a 94*-109 score to a strong opponent. I dealt myself 2-3-4-5-6-7 and tossed 2-3. Pone cut a Q and led a 6. Since I had no safe alternative, I went ahead and paired it. Pone said "good play" and paused to think. Since he obviously wouldn't be worrying too hard about his next play if he had enough points in his hand to go out, I knew right away that he was short. After a few moments, he dropped a 5.
What would you play in this situation? Any card you put down will score two or three points, but will also give pone, who only needs twelve to win, a chance to retaliate. A good technique in these cases is to simply count the losers (the available cards that let your opponent score). Since pone did not triple my 6 or take a 15-2 with a 3, let's assume he has neither a 6 nor a 3. Accordingly:
The 5 and the 7 are roughly equal in safety, each having six losers. Preference should then go to the play with the best offensive value, which means making a run with the 7, rather than a pair with the 5. Unfortunately, the pressure of the moment caused me to miscalculate: I neglected to see that a 9 would score a 31-2 on my 5 play, so I only counted the two remaining 5s as losers. Mistakenly regarding it as the safer play, I duly plunked down my 5.
Pone's eight point hand got him to 119. I counted twelve for my hand and flipped over the crib. He'd tossed 3-8, giving me six more points, enough to get to 117. On the next deal he pegged a 31-2 to win.
Consider what would have happened if I'd played the 7 instead of the 5:
My pegging points would have given me more than enough to go out.
This one mistake — on the play of a single card — proved very expensive, as I fell one game short of the playoffs, going home with only the memories.
I had better success in Grass Roots play, which I participated in for the first time this season. Grass Roots is the local component of sanctioned cribbage in North America. It revolves around weekly nine-game tournaments, with two additional eighteen-game tournaments (one regional, one national) thrown in each year. You're in direct competition with players from your locale, and in indirect competition with all other Grass Roots players. Rating points awarded to tournament winners are used to determine club championships as well as national rankings, Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards, and eligibility for the invitational ACC Tournament of Champions, held every year at the Sands Casino in Reno.
I signed up with Club #108, based in Seattle under the capable leadership of Lowell Bailey and Patrick Ward. I got off to a fast start in the fall, fell upon hard times in winter, then rode a remarkable streak of good cards in the spring to reach 218 rating points on the season — enough to notch the club championship and a trip to Reno.
Here are a few endgame discarding situations that I encountered during the season. See if you can find the right toss, keeping in mind you're holding for specific count as pone:
Here's the ending of a game against the man who finished second in the club standings. I was sitting in the stinkhole, with him six points out and dealing. I picked up 2-6-7-8-10-Q. Since you're not guaranteed to peg a single point as pone, your first priority in situations like this should be to keep enough points to count out. That means holding either the 2-6-7 or the 7-8. I prefer not to hold a 6 in positions like this (if you get trapped with it at the end of the play, you can give up a 15-6), so I kept the 7-8, accompanied by the well-spaced 2 and Q. The Q would be serve as my "out" card if I got into trouble. It looked even better as an out card when the starter was another Q.
Sounds like an easy win for me, right? Well, I managed to lose this game, and I did so in an instructive fashion.
I led the "safe" 2, since it only lets dealer peg on three cards. After all, leading the 8 (or the 7) would let dealer peg on six cards. Perfectly logical...if I'd been four points out. But since I was only one point out, I had no reason to fear giving up a 15-2 on an 8 lead. I'd simply pair dealer's 7 and win immediately! The only real loser on an 8 lead was another 8. That's no more dangerous than leading the 2, and it would have left me with the flexible 2-7-Q, instead of the bunched-up 7-8-Q. Moreover, if the 8 lead was paired, I could then break with the 2, whereas if my 2 lead was paired, I'd have no reply that didn't risk giving up a pair or a 15-2. In the event, leading the 8 and breaking with the 2 would have won this game:
Although the 7 lead is mathematically as safe as the 8, the 8 is preferable since it gives you a opportunity to win if dealer replies with a 5. Granted that's not too likely here, but it's a lot less likely that dealer would play a 5 on a 7 lead.
I'll close with a game from a Grass Roots tournament held in March. The score was 106-73* when I was dealt 2-3-4-5-K-K. Normally I would hold 3-4-5-K from this hand, but in this case I was looking for offense, so I held 2-3-4-5 instead. Although this keeps only four points — the fewest of any of the alternatives — it actually returns the highest average hand:
I imagined cutting a 2, 3, 4 or 5, then pegging the difference against dealer's ten-cards:
The K-K toss gives up at least two points in the crib, but I was willing to take that risk: it was the last game of the tournament, and a skunk would guarantee me First Place. As it turned out, dealer had tossed himself 5-Q from 5-6-7-7-8-Q. When I cut a 9, giving him a sixteen point hand, he probably thought he had a good shot at winning the game if he could peg a few points. Unfortunately for him, he led me into a run situation.
So I got First Place, with an eighteen point card (I'd won eight of nine games, including two skunks). My only loss of the evening? By a single point. A single lousy point that separated me from a Grand Slam, a framed certificate and a $100 check from the American Cribbage Congress. Did someone say this was a fickle game?
- August 2000
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