Two players use a standard 52 card pack. Cards rank K (high) Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 A (low).
To be the first to score 121 points or over (twice round the British design of board) accumulated over several deals. Points are scored mainly for combinations of cards either occurring during the play or occurring in a player's hand or in the cards discarded before the play, which form the crib or box.
Board and Pegs
The score is kept by means of a board and pegs. Starting at one end of the board - usually to the left of the first dealer - players peg their scores as they occur using their two pegs alternately: the forward peg shows the player's latest score, and the rear peg shows the previous score.
When a player scores, the rear peg is moved in front of the forward peg by the same number of holes as the score to show the new total. This enables scores to be easily checked and acts as a visible statement of the progress of the game. Players peg up on the outside of the board and back on the inside. The winner is the first to peg out by exceeding 120.
The exact design of the board is not critical. The diagram shows the type of board most commonly used in Britain. In North America they come in a great variety of shapes. The essential feature is a track for each player with holes representing the numbers from 1 to 120.
The first deal is determined by cutting the cards. The player cutting the lower card deals and has the first box or crib. If the cards are equal - and that includes both players cutting a ten card (10, J, Q or K) - there is another cut for first deal. The deal then alternates from hand to hand until the game is over.
It is usual to play best of three games. The opponent of the first dealer in the first game deals first and gets the first box in the second game. For the third game - if a decider is needed - there is a fresh cut to decide who deals first.
The dealer shuffles, the non-dealer cuts the cards [but see variations], and dealer deals 6 cards face down to each player one at a time. The undealt part of the pack is placed face down on the table. At the end of each hand, the played cards are gathered together and the whole pack is shuffled by the new dealer before the next deal.
Each player chooses two cards to discard face down to form the crib. These four cards are set aside until the end of the hand. The crib will count for the dealer - non-dealer will try to throw cards that are unlikely to make valuable combinations, but must balance this against keeping a good hand for himself. Dealer, on the other hand, may sometimes find it pays to place good cards in the box - especially if they cannot be used to best advantage in hand.
Non-dealer cuts the stack of undealt cards, lifting the upper part without showing its bottom card. The dealer takes out the top card of the lower part, turns it face up and, after non-dealer replaces the upper part, places it face up on top of the pack. This turned up card is called the start card. It is not used during the play of the cards but in the show it will count for combinations as part of both players' hands as well as of the dealer's box.
If the start card is a jack, the dealer immediately pegs 2 holes - this is called Two for his heels.
Play of the cards
Beginning with the non-dealer, the players take turns to play single cards. You play your own cards to form a face-up pile in front of yourself, keeping them separate from the other player's cards. In this stage of the game the total pip value of the cards played by both players is counted, starting from zero and adding the value of each card as it is played. This total must not exceed 31. When no more cards can be played without going over 31, the count is restarted from zero. The pip values of the cards are:
Ace = 1; 2 to 10 = face value; jack = 10; queen = 10; king = 10.
As each card is played, the player announces the running total - for example the non-dealer plays a king and says "10", the dealer plays an 8 and says "18", the dealer plays a jack and says "28", and so on. If a card is played which brings the total exactly to 31, the player pegs 2 claiming Thirty one for two as he does so.
A player who cannot play without exceeding 31 does not play a card but says Go, leaving his opponent to continue if possible, pegging for any further combinations made (see below). Bringing the total to exactly 31 pegs 2, but if the total is 30 or less and neither player can lay a card without going over 31, then the last player to lay a card pegs one for the go or one for last.
The cards that have been played are turned over and a fresh round of play starts with the cards remaining in the players' hands in exactly the same way. The opponent of the player who played last in the previous round (scoring Thirty one for two or One for last) plays first in the new round. This second round of play starts again from zero and again continues until neither can play without going over 31. The last player again scores "1 for last" or "31 for 2", and if either player has any cards left there is a further round. Play continues for as many rounds as necessary until both players' cards are exhausted. Towards the end, it may happen that one player has run out of cards but the other still has several cards. In that case the player who still has cards simply carries on playing and scoring for any combinations formed until all his cards have been played.
Player A has king-king-2-2; player B has 9-8-7-6.
A plays king - "10"; B plays 6 - "16"; A plays king - "26"; B says "go"; A plays 2 - "28"; A plays 2 - "30 for 3". A pegs 3, namely 2 for the pair of twos and 1 for playing the last card of this round.
B plays 8 - "8"; A has no cards left so cannot do anything; B plays 7 - "fifteen two" (B pegs 2 points); B plays 9 "24 for 3 and 1 for last" (B pegs 4 points: three for the run 7-8-9 and one for playing the last card).
PlEASE NOTE: it is never possible to score "one for last" and "31 for 2" at the same time. They are alternatives. If you make exactly 31 for two points just peg those two points - you do not get an additional "one for last" in this case.
TACTICAL NOTE: It is often worth keeping low cards in hand for this phase of the game, especially when there is a strong possibility of being able to peg out before one's opponent.
Scoring during the play
A player who makes any of the following scores during the play pegs them immediately.
If you play a card which brings the total to 15 you peg 2 claiming Fifteen two.
As mentioned above, if you play a card which brings the total to exactly 31 you peg 2.
If you play a card of the same rank as the previous card (e.g. a king after a king) you peg 2 for a pair. Note that (for example) a 10 and a queen do NOT make a pair even though they are both worth 10 points.
If immediately after a pair a third card of the same rank is played, the player of the third card scores 6 for pair royal.
DOUBLE PAIR ROYAL:
Four cards of the same rank, played in immediate succession. The player of the fourth card scores 12.
A run or sequence is a set of 3 or more cards of consecutive ranks (irrespective of suit) - such as 9-10-jack or 2-3-4-5. Note that ace is low so, for example, ace-king-queen is not a run. The player of a card which completes a run scores for the run; the score is equal to the number of cards in the run. The cards do not have to be played in order, but no other cards must intervene.
cards are played in the following order: 4-2-3-5-6. The player of the 3 scores 3 for a run, then the player of the 5 scores 4, and the player of the 6 scores 5.
4-2-3-4-3. The player of the first 3 scores 3 for the run 4-2-3. Then the player of the second 4 score 3 for the run 2-3-4. The player of the second 3 scores nothing because the 3 does not complete a run.
4-2-6-5-3. The final 3 scores 5 points for a 5-card run. Nothing is scored before then, because there is no run until the 3 is played.
If neither player manages to make the total exactly 31, whoever played the last card pegs 1.
NOTE that to score for pair, pair royal, double pair royal or run, the cards must have been played consecutively during a single round of play. If one player had to say "go" while the combination was being formed, the combination is still valid, but if both players are unable to play, causing a new round of play to be started from zero, all combinations are started afresh.
Player A has 10, 10, 9, 6; player B has 7, 6, 5, 4.
A plays 9, B plays 6 (scoring fifteen two), A plays 6 (scoring two for a pair), B plays 5. The total is now 26; A has to say "go", so B plays 4, scoring three for a run, plus one for last. The A begins again with 10, B plays 7, and A plays the other 10, scoring one for last.
Player A has 10, 8, 7, 5; player B has 7, 6, 5, 4.
A plays 8, B plays 7 (scoring fifteen two), A plays 7 (scoring two for a pair), B plays 6. The total is now 28; neither can play, so B scores one for last. If A now begins again with a 5, A does not score for a run, because the 7 and 6 were played in the previous round of play (before the total was reset to zero).
Players now retrieve the cards that they put down during the play and score for combinations of cards held in hand. First the non-dealer's hand is exposed, and scored. The start card also counts as part of the hand when scoring combinations. All valid scores from the following list are counted.
Any combination of cards adding up to 15 pips scores 2 points. For example king, jack, five, five would score 10 points altogether: 8 points for four fifteens, since the king and the jack can each be paired with either of the fives, plus 2 more points for the pair of fives. You would say "Fifteen two, fifteen four, fifteen six, fifteen eight and a pair makes ten".
A pair of cards of the same rank score 2 points. Three cards of the same rank contain 3 different pairs and thus score a total of 6 points for pair royal. Four of a kind contain 6 pairs and so score 12 points.
Three cards of consecutive rank (irrespective of suit), such as ace-2-3, score 3 points for a run. A hand such as 6-7-7-8 contains two runs of 3 (as well as two fifteens and a pair) and so would score 12 altogether. A run of four cards, such as 9-10-J-Q scores 4 points (this is slightly illogical - you might expect it to score 6 because it contains two runs of 3, but it doesn't. The runs of 3 within it don't count - you just get 4), and a run of five cards scores 5.
If all four cards of the hand are the same suit, 4 points are scored for flush. If the start card is the same suit as well, the flush is worth 5 points. There is no score for having 3 hand cards and the start all the same suit. Note also that there is no score for flush during the play - it only counts in the show.
ONE FOR HIS NOB:
If the hand contains the jack of the same suit as the start card, you peg One for his nob.
It is impossible to score nineteen in hand or in box. If you think you have, then you should either stop playing or stop drinking. Nineteen is proverbially used as a term to indicate a worthless hand.
NOTE that when scoring a hand, the same card may be counted and scored as part of several different combinations. For example if your hand is 7 8 8 K and the start card is a 9 you score Fifteen 2, fifteen 4, and a pair is 6, and a run is 9 and a run is 12 - 12 holes to peg, with each of your 8s forming part of a fifteen, a pair and a run.
After non-dealer's hand has been shown and the score pegged, dealer's hand is shown, scored and pegged in the same way. Finally the dealer exposes the four cards of the crib and scores them with the start card. The scoring is the same as for the players' hands except that a flush in the crib only scores if all four crib cards and the start card are of the same suit. If that happens the flush scores 5.
Muggins (optional rule).
If a player, when scoring his hand or the crib, overlooks some points, then after the player has announced the total and scored it, his opponent can call "muggins", and peg the points himself. Some people apply the same rule if a player fails to claim a combination scored during the play. Some Americans call this version of the game "cutthroat" cribbage.
Winning the game
As soon as someone reaches or passes 121, that player wins the game. This can happen at any stage - during the play or the show, or even by dealer scoring two for his heels. It is not necessary to reach 121 exactly - you can peg out by scoring 2 more when you were on 120 and still win. All that matters is that your opponent's pegs are both still on the board.
Rules for 3 person Cribbage (for use on boards with 3 or more rows)
The players draw for first deal, and the deal rotates to the left for each successive hand. FIVE cards, instead of the customary six cards, are dealt to each player and one card is dealt to the Crib. After sorting their hands, each player then drops one card into the Crib. The four-card Crib belongs to the dealer. The player to the left of the dealer cuts the "starter" card.
The opening lead of one card is made by the player to the left of the dealer. As in the regular game, the cumulative total cannot exceed 31. When a player calls "GO," the next opponent must continue play if he can. If he does play, the third person must also play (if possible. The point for "Go" is always won by the person who played the last card.
All of the standard rules of play and scoring apply, as in two-handed Cribbage. Hands are counted in order, beginning with the eldest hand (player to the dealer's left), continuing left and ending with the Crib. Each player moves his/her pegs.
Rules for 4 person Cribbage (for use on boards with 4 rows)
Five cards are dealt to each player, one at a time. Each player drops one card into the Crib which goes to the dealer for that hand. It then rotates as the deal rotates. The Rules and play otherwise, are pretty much the same as those for the 3-handed game (see above).