Table Top Cribbage

This page is based on a contribution from Bill Whitnack of Vernon, BC, Canada, who writes: "I don't know where this type of cribbage originated, but I learned it a few years ago on the west coast (Surrey), BC, at our horseshoe clubhouse, after our horseshoe pitching was finished for the evening. I find it very interesting and entertaining, and in fact, some people that do not like to play cards will play this game. May you get many fifteen twos, and have lots of fun".

Outline

Table Top Cribbage is a game based on Cribbage scoring. Cards are played to a 5 by 5 layout; one player or team tries to form rows which score as highly as possible as cribbage hands, the other does the same with the columns.

Players and Cards

There are two or four players. Four people play as partners, two against two, with partners sitting opposite each other. A regular deck of 52 cards is used, with no jokers.

The Deal

If there are four players, deal six cards to each player. If there are two players deal twelve each. These cards must be placed face down in front of each player in a stack. Players must not look at any card before their turn to play. After the cards have been dealt to the players, the next card from the deck is placed face up in the middle of the table, and a coin is placed on top of it to mark the center of the layout. The balance of the deck (27 cards) is out of play - it is placed face down to the left of the dealer. Turn to deal passes clockwise after each hand.

The Play

The play consists of playing the dealt cards to form a five by five square layout centered on the card with the coin. The player to dealer's left begins, and the turn to play passes clockwise. At your turn, you turn up the top card of your stack, and place it face up on the layout. The card must be played on an empty space, and it must touch at least one card already in the layout, either side to side, end to end, or corner to corner. Cards cannot be placed more than two spaces away from the center card, as then they would be outside the limits of the final layout.

The cards are turned one at a time - when placing a card you are not allowed to know any of your own future cards or those of the other players. In the four player game, partners may confer on where each of their cards should be placed, but in case of disagreement, the final decision rests with the decision of the player whose turn it is. In the partnership game it is particularly important that you are not allowed to know your own next card when advising on the placing of partner's card.

Here is an example of a game after three turns. East dealt and turned up the diamond8 in the center. South played the club5, West the heart3 and North the diamond7.

North
West wrongOKdiamond 7OKOK East
wrongOKOKheart 3OK
wrongOKdiamond 8 (center)club 5OK
wrongOKOKOKOK
wrongwrongwrongwrongwrong
South

East can play the next card in any of the spaces indicated with a tick. The next card cannot be played north of the diamond7, because that would be too far from the center card. It cannot be played in the south row or west column of the layout (positions marked with a cross) because then it would not be next to any other card in the existing layout.

The Scoring

The partners (or player) facing the ends of the layout (North-South in the diagrams) will score for cribbage combinations in each of the five columns, while the partners (player) facing the sides of the cards (East-West) will score each of the five rows.

The counting of each row and column is done as in normal cribbage. The scoring combinations are:

15:
Any combination of cards adding up to 15 pips scores 2 points (pictures counting 10 and aces 1).
Pair:
A pair of cards of the same rank scores 2 points. Three cards of the same rank contain 3 different pairs and thus score a total of 6 points for pair royal. Four of a kind contain 6 pairs and so score 12 points.
Run:
Three cards of consecutive rank (irrespective of suit), such as ace-2-3, score 3 points for a run. Ace always counts as low. A row such as 6-7-7-8-8 contains four runs of 3 (as well as four fifteens and two pairs) and so would score 24 altogether. A run of four cards, such as 9-10-J-Q scores 4 points (this is slightly illogical - you might expect it to score 6 because it contains two runs of 3, but it doesn't. The runs of 3 within it don't count - you just get 4), and a run of five cards scores 5.
Flush:
If all five cards of a row or column are the same suit, 5 points are scored for flush. Four card flushes do not count in Table Top Cribbage.
There is of course no score for heels, nobs, 31 or last.

It is easiest to peg running scores on a cribbage board, but they can be written on a score pad if you prefer.

Here is an example of scoring:

NorthRow score
for
East-West
Westclub 9club 7heart 3spade 7club 812East
spade acediamond kingspade jackheart 2club 37
diamond 10heart kingheart 9 (center)diamond 2club 54
spade 3diamond 7spade 10spade 2club 45
heart aceheart 7heart jackclub aceclub 64
Column score
for
North-South
488613
South

For this layout, North-South score 39 and East-West score 32.

Declaring a Winner

The game is usually played to 121 points; that is, deals are played until one or both players (or teams) have scored 121 or more points. The player (team) with the more points at that time is the winner of the game. The five hands for each team are scored simultaneously, not one after the other, so there is no question of one player winning the game with 121 points just because the other player hasn't counted as yet, as can happen in regular cribbage. All hands must be counted after play has finished. The target total score of 121 can be varied by agreement among the players prior to the start of the game.

Strategies

The aim of the game is to get a large score in your rows (columns) and at the same time to try to limit the enemy's score. High opposing scores can often be "blocked" by playing an inconvenient card in a row (column) that threatens to produce multiple runs, multiple fifteens, etc.

As in regular crib, there is luck in the run of the cards, but with a some close attention, players can influence the outcome by watching the opposition's combinations as well as their own. When possible, it is good to start several potential high scoring rows for your side, so that the opponent(s) will find it difficult to block all of them.

Variation

Howard Ship describes CrossCrib®, a commercial variation on Table Top Cribbage that he picked up from a game review in The Game Report.

The rules are similar, but with the following modifications:

  1. Both players get 14 cards (not 12). On two of their turns, they must put a card face down into the crib instead of playing it to the layout. Each player must put exactly two cards into the crib, which will be scored for the dealer.
  2. Cards need not be placed adjacent to other cards, just anywhere within the 5x5 grid.
  3. You can form a flush with only four cards.
  4. At the end of each round, both sides count up their points (including the crib for the dealer). These are the hand points.
  5. Whoever scored the more hand points gains the difference between the two scores as game points. So if I score 37 hand points and you score 32, I will get 5 game points. Thus, only one player will score game points in each hand.
  6. The first player to accumulate 31 or more game points wins. This usually takes at least 5 hands.

The addition of the crib brings the game to a new level since getting the timing just right on when to ditch a card into the crib can be delicious agony.

Other Table Top Cribbage web pages

Archive copy of Bill Whinack's page on Table Top Cribbage.