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 1600s and 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. [For 3 players: 5 cards to each and 1 card face-down to the table for the dealer’s crib. For 4 players: 5 cards each.]
    • 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. [For 3 or 4 players: discard 1 card to the crib.] 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 [total].” 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 rules and 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:

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9 thoughts on “How to Play Cribbage: Rules of Play

  1. I also learned to play along with my three brothers from my grandparents. I’m in my 60’s and still enjoy the game. Always nice to have a pocket size board to carry with me. I’ll always get one out when I’m sitting out at a outdoors patio bar hoping to attract a player. Still play with my brothers, nephews and nieces when we get together. I also have a collection of boards new and antique. My oldest brother has the board that my father made from a ships plank when he was in the navy during WWII. A great an old game that I hope will not fade away. Thanks for my new travel board that I will be taking soon to a jazz weekend in Colorado Springs, CO. Hope to attract new players and friends while enjoying an adult beverage and some nice weather on the patio there. Thanks again for a well made and beautiful travel board.

  2. HI. and Help sort a dispute please.
    4 player crib with opposite partners. Playing the rules of exact peg out or in the hole to win.
    When scoring at the end of a hand, if you and your partner need, lets say 8 points to win, if they have 10 points and effectively bust, can the other person (partner), still count their hand?
    My father in law says no. If your partner busts, then you both bust and cannot count your hand. I think otherwise.

    Thank you

    1. That’s a great question, Barry. We don’t play by “exact peg out” rules so it’s difficult to answer. We checked the American Cribbage Congress Tournament Rules (, which I would consider to be the gold standard, and their rules say simply “Be the first player to score 121 points” and doesn’t address this issue at all. This leads me to believe that it is as we play, which is the “first past the post” wins. I would consider an exact peg out as “house rules” and anything goes with house rules so long as all players agree. If the players don’t agree, perhaps you then refer to the official rules — in that case, if you were playing at our table, we would have said the first player who had enough points to meet or exceed 121 won.

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