Strategy in cribbage is required at two phases of the game, discards and play. In cribbage for two players, you are dealt 6 cards and must discard 2 cards into the “crib”. Then the “starter” is cut, and becomes the 5th card for each hand, including the crib.
You should first look for the 4 cards that by themselves score the highest. Those points will be guaranteed unless the opponent wins the game first. Look for what would be scored with a favorable starter. Then consider the other 2 cards, and whether they score points or are close together for a possible run in the crib, and whether the crib belongs to you or to the opponent.
This can be a complex choice, but CribAcademy offers “Tap the table for suggestion”. Try this out and you will begin to see a pattern to the choices, even if only subconciously. CribAcademy will choose the highest average net score resulting from the choices. But remember, cribbage is a race to the finish hole. So at the end of the game, CribAcademy will choose the discards that offer the best chance of scoring enough to win.
Sometimes you will hate to discard 2 cards to your opponent’s crib that score or are near each other for a possible run. But if not doing so destroys your hand, usually it is the best choice. If you have a big lead and don’t want to take a chance on a big crib score catching up, particularly near the end of the game, then break up your hand.
Play to 31
Once the starter is cut play begins with the non-dealer, adding the pip values (10 for face cards) until no one can play without exceeding 31; then starting over until all cards are played. Choosing the right card to play can be a complcated choice. Usually you will take a score for 15, 31, or a pair or run. But pairs and runs can be costly, if the opponent can play the 3rd or 4th pair or continue the run. Again, consider the danger if you are near the end of the game or have a big lead.
Seldom is it good to lead a 5, since there are so many 10 counts out there. Often playing highest card is best, or if you have 2 or more low cards, a card under 5. Try to avoid 21, and 20 unless you have multiple face cards. Sometimes playing to the high teens can lead to a score if you have some low cards, since the opponent must play a card.
CribAcademy does a trial play of all the possible hands in 2-player, and a random sample in 3 and 4-player. It uses a fairly simple strategy for playing the opponent hands, and picks your play with the highest average score. Again, consider your board position before a risky play.
Preparing for Tournament Play
In tournament play, there are penalties for mistakes in counting and moving your pegs during play, and for failing to count points at the end of play. (called “Muggins”). CribAcademy scores automatically, so those penalties do not apply. In our opinion, while important in tournament play, they are not strategy but merely bookkeeping.
You should score your hand to yourself before you ask CribAcademy to do so. CribAcademy shows the pegging for the last street on the face of the table, and moves completed or nearly completed streets to the small board. Thus you can see at a glance the relative position of the players. This will help in deciding when to play aggressively or conservatively.