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  • Writer's pictureJon Mullett

The Key to Being Good at Cribbage - Playing the Odds

Updated: Jun 26

There may be a component of luck in cribbage but to be consistently good it comes down to the decisions you make. To make good decisions, statistical comparisons, or playing the odds on what cards to keep and what cards to throw in the crib can make the difference between winning and losing.


What’s a statistical comparison?

Cribbage comes down to a series of decisions that a player makes in a game - what cards are kept in a hand and which are thrown into the crib. To make decisions, a player compares card combinations and chooses which cards to keep. Doing this based on statistical odds can give a player the advantage. Not only should a player make decisions based on point potential in their hand, but also the point potential of the crib (and who’s crib it is (the dealer or the pone). Picking the statistically correct combination of cads gives players an advantage in the long run.


In theory, the smart way to play any hand is to give you the chance to generate the highest number of points, while also considering potential points in the crib. If it’s your opponent's crib, players should factor cards given to the crib and make their decision while considering point potential in the crib as well. You want to maximize your point potential while minimizing point potential for the opponent. In other words, a player wants to maximize their net point potential (your hand - opponents hand = net points). This can be complicated.


What to Discard?


Here’s an example. You’re the pone (non-dealer), and dealt the following cards: J, 10, 9, 8, 8, 5. What do you keep in your hand and what do you throw in your opponent’s crib? (for simplification, the suite of the cards is not considered).


Do you throw the J, 5 to keep the double run in tact? Do you throw the 8, 8 to keep both 15’s? Or is it something in between? Here are the options:


Option A (Discard J, 5):

If you throw the J, 5, it gives you the best chance to score the most points, generating 10.3 points on average. Preserving the double run t gives you a 13% chance to score 16 points or more. However, it doesn't account for points in your opponents crib. At minimum, you are giving your opponent 2 points and the potential for many more. Since there are more cards that equal 10 in the deck, throwing a “5” dramatically increases your opponents chance to score 15’s.


Option B: (Discard 8, 8C):

If you throw the 8, 8, your opponent gets 2 points. You have 7 points before the flip but a net of 5 points (7 pts - 2 pts in opponents crib = net 5 pts). Throwing 8, 8 gives you the highest potential point total, however, it doesn't account for the crib. Not only is it a pair, but gives your opponent a better chance for a double run or trips.


Option C: (Discard J, 8):

Do you throw the J, 8? You give your opponent zero points while returning 5 points in your hand. Both option B and C give you a net of 5 points but there are other factors at play. Your potential point total is a bit less than Option B (16pts vs 15 pts), but that total is nominal (1 point) and the potential for point totals in your opponent’s crib is much higher.


Option C provides the best discard combination to maximize your point total, while minimizing your opponents’ potential points in the crib.


SAME HAND, YOUR CRIB

Let’s use the same card combination (J, 10, 9, 8, 8, 5) but assume it is YOUR crib this time.


In this case you want to maximize points in your hand while also getting the most points in your crib (most net points). The option in this scenario is to discard J, 5. Throwing J, 5 gives you a double run in your hand (8 pts) and two points in your crib with a high potential for more 15s. Remember there are more cards in the deck that equal “10” than any other card (10, J, Q, K) therefore the odds of a ten being in the crib (or cut card) are high.


There are a variety of online cribbage decision calculator’s that help you determine the best combinations of cards to throw/keep, such as https://cliambrown.com/cribbage/. Understanding the various card combinations and the net points you earn (on average) can help you play the odds, which in turn can help you make better decisions.


Good luck, and happy pegging.


Jon Mullett


https://www. cribbageking.com

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