Strategies for Scoring in Cribbage
To win at Cribbage, you have to score points. In a game of Cribbage, you can maximize your opportunities to score points during play by focusing on a few things, such as choosing what cards to put in the crib, starting the play with the right card, and thinking ahead.
Choosing the right crib cards
The points scored in the crib go to the dealer, and the pone (non dealer) and dealer score points for making pairs, combinations of 15, and sequences in the crib.
Your first goal should be to keep the best combination for your hand; however, at the back of your mind, remember that you want to help yourself in the crib if you’re the dealer and avoid helping your opponent if he’s the dealer.
If you’re the dealer:
Try to throw away touching cards (a 6 and 7 or 9 and 10), a pair of cards totaling 5 or 15, or a pair of cards. Especially promising non-pairs to throw into the crib are combinations such as 7 and 8 or 2 and 3, because they offer possibilities in at least two directions. The least promising options are distant high cards, such as a queen and 9.
The most promising card to lay away is a 5, because it combines so well to 15 with court cards or 10s. Lay the 5 away if you have no more than one total of 15, unless the 5 fits into a sequence in your hand.
Throw cards totaling 15 into the crib.
As the pone, your want to keep a good hand together if you can:
Try to discard extreme cards — a high and a low one.
Try not to discard a pair or cards that add up to 15. Those are guaranteed points for your opponent.
When you have a choice between breaking up a pair of sequences and making another move, you should generally keep the sequences. However, disrupting the hand a little to ensure that you don’t pass your adversary something on a plate is sometimes worthwhile. For example, if you have 3, 2, K, 7, A, 8, you can keep K-A-2-3 for 5 points, but letting go of the 8 and 7 is too much. Keep 8, 3-2-A for 3 points, and discard the king and 7, which don’t hold much promise together. The best discard is a high card, such as 8 or 9, with another high card that’s not a 10, for fear of the run.
A sound strategy when playing the pone position is reversing the strategy you employ as the dealer.
Leading to the first play
After both players make their discards, you need to make some strategic choices in the play. As the pone, you need to lead the very first play. Here are two strategies you can choose from:
Restrict your opponent’s opportunities to score points. Try to lead a card with a value less than 5. At the same time, try to retain at least one low card for later on in the play so you keep the possibility of playing a card as the score moves toward 31.
Lead one card from a pair. You invite your opponent to score 2 points by pairing up your card, after which you can play the third card and collect 6 points of your own.
If you don’t have either of these options, lead your highest card and take it from there.
Thinking about the whole hand
It may sound pessimistic, but planning for the worst is normally the right approach. As both pone and dealer, consider what play you can make to retaliate if your opponent matches the card you play or takes the cumulative total up to 15. Try to have a point-scoring reply available in any situation.
For example, as the pone, if you hold 7, 9, 7, 2, lead a 7, hoping to play your 9 to form a sequence if the dealer makes 15 with an 8 or to play your other 7 to make a pair royale if the dealer plays a 7.
If you’re the dealer, pairing up the lead for 2 points is fraught with danger. You run the risk of allowing the pone to play a third card of the same rank to make a pair royale for 6 points.
So, if the pone opens by leading the Q, and you have K, Q, J, 6, you should play the 6 — not the king or jack — because of the risk of your opponent making a sequence. You probably don’t want to play the queen because of the chance of a pair royale coming up.
In the same defensive mindset, try to avoid playing a 6 on a 4 or vice versa, allowing your opponent to score 15 and make a run simultaneously by the play of a 5.
However, on a lead of the 9, when you have 9, 2, 4, 3, you should pair up the 9, because you can play the 4 to make 31 for 2 points if your opponent plays a third 9. Always try to keep the big picture in mind when making your scoring decisions. By keeping a defensive mindset, you can anticipate your opponent’s moves and switch over to offense with the flick of a card.
Always avoid taking the total to 21 if you can, unless you score points in the process by making a pair or sequence. For the same reason, in a different scenario, you may avoid bringing the cumulative total to 26.