# Cribbage Scoring

## Table of Contents

Years ago, when my grandfather taught me to play Cribbage, I was fascinated by the way scoring worked. Particularly how you could use the same card to score points in multiple ways. It felt like I was getting away with something. Later, when I learned about combinatorics, I started to appreciate the math of it as well.

Now my grandpa is long gone, and the game has taken on additional
significance. For Grandpa, Cribbage was not just a game—it was **the**
game. He played it constantly. If you spent time with him, you were
either hiking in the mountains or playing Cribbage. Playing the game and
learning more about it helps me keep his memory alive.

What follows is a description of how points are scored in Cribbage, along with some tips and tricks I learned to make the process easier. This is not a manual on how to play the game (for that, see the links below), but scoring is the most difficult part of the game. If you can figure that out, the rest will be easy.

## Game Mechanics #

While this isn’t meant as a rulebook, understanding a bit about how the
game is played will help the rest of this make sense. A Cribbage game
normally has two players, the **dealer** and the **pone**. A game
consists of several rounds, and each round progresses through these four
stages:

- Deal
- Six cards are dealt; both players discard two to a pile called the
**crib**. - Starter
- The dealer cuts a starter card from the deck and turns it over.
- Play
- Opponents alternately play one of their cards, announcing the running total of card values they as do (aces = 1, face cards = 10). The count restarts whenever the total reaches 31 (or as close as possible without going over). This continues until all cards have been played.
- Show
- The pone first scores their hand, then the dealer scores their hand and the crib.

## Scoring #

In Cribbage you can score points in every stage of play but the deal. The first player to reach 121 points immediately wins the game.

### Starter (“His Heels”) #

After the cards are dealt and both players discard to the crib, the dealer turns over the “starter” card. If the card is a jack, the dealer scores two “for his heels.”

### Play #

During the running total of the play stage, players earn points for reaching 15 or 31 exactly, runs of three or more, pairs, and being the last to play.

Category | Points | Comments |
---|---|---|

“Go” (last to play) | 1 | Only if the total is not 31 |

Fifteen | 2 | |

Thirty-one | 2 | Instead of “Go” |

Pair | 2 | |

Pair royal (three of a kind) | 6 | Three distinct pairs, 3 ✕ 2 = 6 |

Double pair royal (four of a kind) | 12 | Six distinct pairs, 6 ✕ 2 = 12 |

Run of n (at least 3) | n | One for each card in the run |

For example, in the following sequence, the pone scores a total of 7, and dealer scores 6:

**P**: 6♣️ (6)**D**: 4♥️ (10)**P**: 5♣️ (15; scores 2 for the fifteen and 3 for the run)**D**: 3♠️ (18; scores 4 for the run)**P**: 3♥️ (21; scores 2 for the pair)**D**: J♦️ (31; scores 2 for reaching 31)

### Show #

The hand and crib are, with one exception, scored identically. Each of the four cards in a hand or crib is scored in combination with the starter card. Points are scored for cards totalling fifteen, runs of three or more, pairs, a flush, and “nobs.”

Category | Hand | Crib | Comments |
---|---|---|---|

Nobs | 1 | 1 | Having a jack matching the starter card’s suit |

Fifteen | 2 | 2 | Two points for every combination of cards adding to 15 |

Pair | 2 | 2 | |

Pair royal (three of a kind) | 6 | 6 | Three distinct pairs, 3 ✕ 2 = 6 |

Double pair royal (four of a kind) | 12 | 12 | Six distinct pairs, 6 ✕ 2 = 12 |

Run | n | n | One for each card in a run of at least 3 |

Flush, not including starter | 4 | 0 | All suits in hand matching |

Flush, including starter | 5 | 5 | All suits in hand / crib and starter matching |

For example, a hand with 5♣️, 7♥️, 8♥️, K♠️ with a starter of 9♦️ scores:

- 4 for fifteens (5♣️ + K♠️, and 7♥️ + 8♥️)
- 3 for a run of three (7♥️, 8♥️, 9♦️)

for a total of 7 points.

It’s impossible for a hand or crib to score 19, 25, 26, or 27. Players with zero points often jokingly claim to have scored 19. My grandpa would say, “One more and I’d have twenty!”

The largest possible score is 29 from four variations of 5♥️, 5♠️, 5♦️, J♣️ plus 5♣️ for a starter:

- 16 for fifteens
- 12 for a double pair royal
- 1 for nobs

## Tips and Tricks #

Counting proficiently mostly boils down to practice. Particularly for counting fifteens. While pairs of cards adding to 15 are easy enough, larger numbers of cards are trickier (e.g. 1, 3, 3, 8, 9, which has two fifteens: 1+3+3+8 and 3+3+9).

My best advice for larger groupings of fifteens is to notice that there are only three pairs of numbers that add to fifteen: 5+10, 6+9, and 7+8. Look for cards that add to 5—10 and see if you can combine them with one other card or group adding to that same range. In the example above, you’ll notice that 1+3+3 = 7, which works with the 8, and 3+3 = 6, which works with the 9.

Pairs and runs are much easier to spot, and even better, there are a few patterns you can easily memorize:

Pattern | Score | Example | Explanation |
---|---|---|---|

Double run of three | 8 | A♥️, 2♠️, 2♥️, 3♣️ | 5♣️ | 2 runs of three and a pair |

Double run of four | 10 | 2♠️, 2♥️, 3♣️, 4♠️ | 5♦️ | 2 runs of four and a pair |

Triple run | 15 | 2♠️, 3♥️, 4♣️, 4♦️ | 4♠️ | 3 runs of three and a pair royal |

Quadruple run | 16 | 2♠️, 2♥️, 3♣️, 3♠️ | 4♦️ | 4 runs of three and two pairs |

Just remember if you spot one of those patterns, don’t stop counting. It could also contain fifteens or nobs.

The last two categories, flush and nobs, are easy enough to see, but also easy to miss—mostly because people forget to look. The cure is a mental checklist. Every time you count, run down the list: fifteens, pairs, runs, flush, nobs. If you always do it the same way you’re less likely to forget.

Finally, if you’re playing against a computer, make sure the app makes you count! And for extra incentive try the optional Muggins rule, which allows your opponent to take any points you’ve missed.

## Further Reading #

Hopefully this has inspired you to learn to play Cribbage. These links should get you started: