Monday, January 17, 2011

Boardless Cribbage

I don't remember who taught this to me, and I haven't consulted any reference books about it, but from memory here is a little two-player game, requiring one standard deck of playing-cards, that you may even be able to teach to someone who is too old and set in his/her ways to learn Cribbage (which, I find, is impossible to teach to anybody above college age--only kids are dumb enough not to realize how hard it is).

Somebody shuffles the deck (after Jokers are taken out), then deals to each player a stack of 12 cards face-down, followed by one card face-up on the table.

Beginning with the dealer's opponent, the two players take turns drawing a card off their piles and laying it face-up, arranging the cards around the initial card in a 5 x 5 square. It doesn't matter whether the opening card ends up at the center of the grid, or at one corner, or anywhere else, as long as all cards end up in the same 5 x5 square.

As they lay down their cards, each player is trying to give himself points while preventing his opponent from getting any. For the dealer, points come from combinations of cards in each vertical column (N-S); his opponent's points come from card-combinations in the horizontal rows (E-W), or vice versa as the players arrange between themselves.
  • Each combination of cards in a single column or row that adds up to 15 (counting A's as 1 and K's, Q's, and J's as 10), gives the relevant player 2 points.
    • For example, the combination 5, 7, 8, 10, J would have 6 points worth of 15's: 2 for the 5-10 combination, 2 for 5-J, and 2 for 7-8.
    • The combination 5, 5, 5, Q, K would have 14 points in 15's: 2 for each 5-Q combo, 2 for each 5-K, and 2 for the 5-5-5.
  • Each pair is worth 2 points; and so 3 of a kind = 3 pairs for 6 pts.; 4 of a kind = 6 pairs for 12 pts.
  • Each "run" of three or more cards in consecutive denominations (A is always below 2) is worth 3, 4, or 5 points depending on how many cards are in it.
    • And so the combination 6-7-7-8-9 would have the following points: 6 for the 15s (6-9, 7-8, 7-8); 2 for the pair (7-7), and 8 for the runs (6-7-8-9 with each 7), for a total of 16.
    • Because "double runs" come up so often, it may be helpful to remember that a "double run of 3" (such as 6-7-7-8) is worth 8 points, counting both the runs (6-7-8) and the pair (7-7), but not counting 15's.
    • Following the same principle, a "double run of 4" (such as 6-7-7-8-9), counting the pair, is worth 10 points.
    • Other pair-run combination one sometimes sees include a triple run (such as 5-6-6-6-7) for 15 points, and a quadruple run (e.g., 4-4-5-5-6) for 16 pts.
  • A flush (all 5 cards the same suit) is worth 5 points.
    • A 4-point flush, excluding only the starter card, may also be allowed if both players agree on it.
  • A jack of the same suit as the initial card laid down by the dealer, and in the same row or column, is worth 1 point ("knobs").
    • If the starter card itself is a jack, the dealer can claim 2 points for knobs.
When all 25 cards have been played, both players count the points in each of their rows or columns. The player who scores the most points in total, wins. In the event of a tie, the dealer wins... but the other player gets to deal next time!

With both players' consent, you can add an extra element of jeopardy to the game: If you can show your opponent that he overlooked any points while scoring his hand, you can add the the points he missed to your total.

IMAGES: Some of the numerous designs for cribbage boards, in case you ever feel brave enough to experience the full richness of cribbage. Note the board shaped like the number 29. This is a reference to the highest-scoring single hand that is possible in cribbage, with 8 pts. in 15's from different 5-5-5 combinations, 8 pts. in 15's from J-5 combinations, 12 pts. in pairs from different 5-5 combinations, and 1 pt. for "knobs" because the Jack is of the same suit as the starter card; 8+8+12+1=29. I have personally had this hand at least once. That much, at least, I have achieved in this life!

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