In-depth: Cribbage Pt. 2 – The Endgame

This is a continuation of my previous Cribbage post. In this part I’d like to talk about the endgame. When you and the opponent are both over 100 points strategies shift, and a lot of people don’t pay attention and end up losing games or not giving themselves all the chances they should to win.

For example, let’s say you and your opponent both have 111 points. During the play opponent plays a Six and you have one in your hand. Do you pair it? The answer is: it depends. It depends on two things: who dealt, and how many points you have. The key point is that in this situation the non-dealer gets to count first, but the dealer then gets to count three times in a row (his hand, the crib, and first in the next hand). So in order to win the non-dealer has to go out before the dealer counts (occasionally the dealer will have such bad hands that you can win even if you don’t go out, but that’s the exception). Looking at the game from that perspective guides your play at the end.

Let’s get back to the question of whether to pair the Six. If you’re non-dealer and you’ve got 10 points or more than you definitely do not want to pair. You’ve got enough to go out on your count, so the only way you can lose is if the dealer pegs out during the play. Don’t give him the chance at a three of a kind for 6 points! But let’s say you only have 6 points in your hand. Now you do want to pair the Six, because you need some more points to go out. Remember, if you don’t go out before dealer counts you’re probably going to lose, so giving him the chance at three of a kind doesn’t really matter; you were going to lose anyway if you didn’t go for it.

If you’re the dealer you have one goal: keep the opponent from scoring anything during the play. If he has the 10 points he’s got it anyway and it can’t be helped, but don’t make it easy for him in case he doesn’t.

It’s pretty clear cut when you both have 111, but it gets murkier with different scores. Let’s say you’re the non-dealer and you’ve got 108 and after the cut you’ve got 8 points in hand. Dealer has 104. Now it becomes trickier, because while you know you won’t have enough to go out unless you get some help in the play, you don’t know if dealer is going to have enough or not. He needs 17 and he could have it or not. So do you play aggressively and try to get the extra 5 points you need during the play, or sit back and make sure you don’t help the dealer out? In this case what you need to do is watch the dealer’s cards. If his first two cards are 4♠ J and the cut is 7 he doesn’t have a great hand (8 points maximum), so he’s probably not going out this hand. You can play passively and hope to take the game next hand. But if he starts with 7♣ 8 with that same cut card he may have a barn burner and you need to take more drastic steps to try to win now.

But endgame strategy isn’t limited to just the play, it can affect your throw as well. If you’re the non-dealer and dealer has 117 points you know you’ll have to go out on your count or lose the game. Let’s say you have this hand:

2♠ 2 4♠ 4 9 10

What do you throw?

Well, it depends on your score. If you have 115 or more obviously you just keep 6 points (the pair of Twos, a Four, and the Nine) and be done with it. And if you have 110 you can keep the same cards since a Two, Three, Four, or Nine will give you the 12 points you need to win. But if you only have 104 you need to keep the Twos and Fours. You’ll only have 4 points, but a Three on the cut will give you 18 points and victory. If you keep anything else the most you can score is 12 and that’s not enough to win. You have only one way to win and that’s by cutting a Three. And remember, the odds aren’t actually that bad. I’ve been in this exact situation and gotten the card I needed, and it’s one of the sweetest moments you can have in Cribbage!

None of this endgame stuff is overly complicated; it’s just something many people don’t look at when they get to that situation. Just take a look at the score and your hand and try to figure out if you need extra points or you need to avoid giving your opponent the chance to get them. Think about who gets to count first, how many points you and opponent need, and how likely you are to get to 121 first.

I hope these points were helpful or at least interesting! Questions and comments are always welcome and thanks for reading!

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