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How to Play Cribbage: Rules of Play

These are Walnut Studiolo’s completely opinionated rules of play for cribbage, a game that has been played since the 1600sand holds a special place in our hearts. Rules differ between families, and even regionally (we learned about “muggins” from a few Canadian players!). Geoff grew up learning to play it with his grandma and dad in Eastern Oregon, and Valerie and Geoff play it most days during lunch.

The length of the game of cribbage is just right, and it’s just the right mix of strategy and luck to fit any mood. Here are the basics:

    • Gather a cribbage board, 2-4 players, and a complete 52-card deck.
    • How to play cribbage with 3-4 players
    • King is high, Ace is low. Face card value is 10, Ace value is 1.
    • Set up the board with two like-colored pegs per track in the “Start” holes, one track per player (or team of two players). During scoring, each player uses the pegs to leap-frog their score down the track, so the peg in front is marking the score, and the peg in back is what the score was the last time the player scored points.
    • The game may be played once around, for a total of 61 points, or twice around, for a total of 121 points. Decide which before you start!
    • If a player misses counting his own points fully, the other player can call “Muggins!” and score the missed points for him/herself.
    • Ready to play? Deal 6 cards to each player, one at a time. Take turns dealing.
    • From his/her hand, each player selects two cards to discard to the “crib” (or, “kitty” if you prefer), and the four cards are placed face-down in front of the dealer. The crib is a 2nd hand that the dealer gets to count at the end (this is why it’s important that dealers take turns).
    • The non-dealer cuts the deck, and the dealer turns up the card from the top of the lower portion of the cut deck. This is called the “starter”. If the turned up card is a Jack, the dealer scores 2 points.

Phase I: Counting

o The players will alternate laying down cards face-up to count up to 31 and attempt to score points along the way, but the players still retain their cards.
o Play begins with the nondealer laying down the first card, and announcing the value of the card (“10”).
o The dealer then lays down a card, and announces the total value of the two cards together (“15”).
o Play continues alternately in this way until either a player reaches 31, or cannot lay down a card without going over 31. If the latter, the player must say “Go” and the other player pegs a point for each “Go”. For example, if the score were at 30 and neither player had an Ace, the last player to lay down a card gets 1 point.
o After reaching 31 or “Go”, the count begins again from zero until all the players’ cards are played.
o You get points in the Counting phase for tricks as follows:

      • A total of 15: 2 points
      • A total of 31: 2 points
      • “Go”: 1 point.
      • Pairs: if 2 of the same cards are played in a row, the player putting down the matching card gets 2 points. (For example, a King laid after a King was played). For 3 of the same cards, peg 6 points. For 4 of the same card, peg 12 points.
      • Runs: if 3 cards in sequence are played in a row, regardless of suit or order, the player can get as many points as there are cards in the run. For example, Player 1 plays an 8, and Player 2 plays a 6. If Player 1 then plays a 7, they can claim 3 points for a “Run of 3.”

Phase II: Showing

o The players now count the value of their 4 card hands, which are shown face-up after the count. Playing and scoring happens in strict order: 1. Nondealer, 2. Dealer, and 3. Dealer’s Crib
o In Showing, the Starter is the 5th card of both players’ hands.
o The player counts his own trick totals out loud, tallying the amount of points by pointing out all the combinations that make points, and saying the total at the end.
o Points are tallied as follows for these tricks, in the order that follows. The scoring is similar to the previous phase but with some differences:

      • Any and all combinations that total to 15: 2 points per combination. For example, a Jack and three 5s would be counted as “15, 2. 15, 4, 15, 6, 15, 8”, with 8 being the total number of points in the hand from the four different combinations of 15 that occur from the four cards.
      • Pairs: for 2 of the same card, count 2 points. For 3, count 6 points. For 4 , count 12 points.
      • Runs: for 3, 4, or 5 cards in score as many points as there are cards in the run (3, 4, or 5 points).
      • Flush: for 4 cards in the hand of the same suit, score 4 points. If the starter also matches suit for a Flush of 5, score 5 points. In counting the crib, Flushes can only be counted when there are 5, not 4.
      • Nibs: If there is a Jack is in the hand of the player that is the same suit as the Starter card, then the player can score 1 point for “nibs”.

o Combinations: oftentimes there are regular combinations of hands that have their own terminology, but broken down to their constituent parts, they are the same points as written above. For example, a hand of 8, 7, 7, 6, K would be called “a double run of 3”. This combination always adds up to 8 points, not including 15s or Nibs (2 x Runs of 3 + 1 x Pair). With 15s included, the total score for this hand would be: “15, 2. 15, 4, and a double run of 3 for 12 .” Here are the common combinations:

        • Double Run: K, Q, J, J = 8 points
        • Double Run of 4: K, Q, J, J, 10 = 10 points
        • Triple Run: K, Q, Q, Q, J = 15 points
        • Quadruple Run: K, Q, Q, J, J = 16 points


o When a player reaches the 61st or 121st point, landing in the game hole on the cribbage board, that player has won and the game is over. It does not have to be an exact combination to land in the game hole. If the player had one hole to go and scored 2, s/he would still win.
o If a player wins while the other player is so far behind that s/he has not rounded the last corner of the game board, then that player got “skunked”!

Bonus! Printable Cribbage Rules

Here’s a handy-dandy printable PDF “mini book” with basic cribbage rulesand a cheat sheet for cribbage on-the-go.

Handcrafted Unique Cribbage Boards

Check out our handcrafted Travel Cribbage Board, Cribbage Board Belt, and more unique cribbage boards on our website.

About Walnut Studiolo

Walnut Studiolo crafts original modern designs by hand in our Oregon workshop using only natural materials. We are a family-run company located on the North Oregon Coast. Learn more about us on our website: