Ask the experts, January 2002

The score is 89-86*. Your opponent dealt you A-5-6-8-J-J. You kept 5-6-J-J and cut the wrong 10. The play started:

J  9  ?

What's your play?

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Dan Barlow:

Why is opponent offering me a three-card run? If he were closer to winning I would guess he's baiting me because he has a 2 or two As, and wants those holes, even at the expense of giving me three holes. But here I don't think his hand is good enough (and I haven't helped his crib much) if he has a 2 or two As, to justify this sacrifice. My guess is he has something like 9-10-10-J, rightfully fears pairing my J, and assumes I don't have the fourth 10. So I'm playing my other J, taking my go, and pegging four holes with my other two cards — I hope.

DeLynn Colvert:

The dealer more than likely does not have a 5. I am playing offense (with a wary eye on a possible sixteen hand for the opponent). I would play the J for 29 (probably a go). If opponent leads a ten-card, play the 5 (odds are he cannot pair it), holding 6 for last — and a possible 31 if he holds that sixteen hand.

George Rasmussen:

Make the count 29 with the remaining J. It is most likely that your opponent has cards of high values with no cards less than a 6. On a J lead, your opponent would more likely play the 2 for a count of 12 if the plan was to score 31-2 from the 2-9 magic eleven rather than drop the 9 on the J. In making the count of 29, you retain the 5-6 to play on your opponent's next lead, which is very likely to be a 9 or ten-card. When one sees this play, the other hand will often look like these examples: 6-9-9-10, 6-9-10-J, 9-9-10-J, etc.

Michael Schell:

Often the "safe" play here is to dump the 5, rather than playing high, which leaves you stuck leading from 5-6 if dealer gets a go or 31. But with my opponent starting out with a ten-hole positional deficit, and with a 10 cut showing, I'm more concerned about her a high double run (and a potential sixteen or seventeen hand) than about her having an A or 2 in combination with a 9 and some other dyad capable of trapping my 5-6. Accordingly, I'm going to make the "aggressive" play and drop my J. If dealer does have a barnburner hand, this gets me a go (which might come in handy given my own modest positional surplus), prevents my J from being trapped into a run on the next play series, and gives me a shot at pegging two or even four points if dealer plays two successive ten-cards.

Phyllis Schmidt:

Play the 5. Don't want to have 5-6 remaining in my hand.

Peter Setian:

Unless I'm missing something, this seems to be a very standard play of the second J for 29. Even if one thought the dealer was "leading on" for 31 with a deuce, let them have it (9-2-x-x with a 10 cut can't be threatening from 89* after pegging). Also, considering the cards shown, pegging trouble with 5-6 left seems much less likely than a single J left in your hand.


Based on dealer's 9 reply, I reckon her five most probable hands are 6-7-8-9, 2-3-4-9, 2-4-4-9, 2-2-4-9 and 2-6-7-9, none of which are particularly valuable. More valuable, but only 35-40% as likely, are 5-9-10-J, 8-8-9-10, 8-9-9-10, 8-9-10-10 and 9-9-10-J. Also valuable, but only 15% as likely, is 9-10-10-J.

Using 26-theory, my prediction at the start of the deal was that I would win as pone two deals hence at 125 (with only four points to spare). Dealer would be back at 111*. If dealer has one of the big hands here, her projected end of game score improves, but only to 117*. If my goal is to minimize dealer's most likely maximum pegging points, then the play of the 5 is best, with a most likely maximum of four pegs given up. My own most likely pegging result is just one point though. The J, in contrast, gives up a most likely maximum peg of seven pegs, but gives me a most likely maximum gain of five points. Since this is better balanced than the 5, and since the J reduces dealer's overall probable pegging points by a slim margin (.03 points), I'll go with the J instead of the 5.


Dan Barlow won the 1980 National Open Cribbage Tournament, and made the 1985 All American Cribbage Team. His cribbage strategy articles appeared in Cribbage World for many years, and can be seen on the ACC Web site. He also provides strategy tips at MSN Gaming Zone. He has written seven books on cribbage, two of which have been glowingly reviewed in Games Magazine. All, including his latest book Winning Cribbage Tips, are available at The Cribbage Bookstore.

DeLynn Colvert is the world's highest rated tournament player. He is a five-time National Champion, author of Play Winning Cribbage, editor of the monthly magazine Cribbage World, and the ACC's only Life Master- Six Stars. He also directs two annual tournaments in Missoula, MT, and serves as the ACC's President.

George "Ras" Rasmussen is a Life Master - Two Stars, a four-time All-American, the national Grass Roots Division1 champion in 2009, a former state champion in Virginia, Montana and Washington, and holds a Gold Award and a President's Award. He also directs the Washington State Championship, held each year in Centralia, WA. His articles on cribbage are available on the ACC Web site.

Michael Schell is a pioneer of modern cribbage theory, which synthesizes traditional concepts of expert play with new computer-informed insights and analysis. He has published Cribbage Forum since 2000. Schell holds a Bronze Award, is a Washington State Champion (2001), and was one of the principal architects of ACC Internet Cribbage.

Phyllis Schmidt is a charter member of the ACC, and has been playing cribbage for about 40 years. She is a Life Master - One Star, a Senior Judge, a National Champion (1992) and winner of the ACC Tournament of Champions (2005). She attends about 30 tournaments a year.

Peter Setian has played cribbage for about 22 years, and has been a member of the ACC for about 14 years. During that time, he has won seven major tournaments and earned his Life Master rating. He plays in about 12-16 tournaments per year, including the ACC Tournament of Champions and the annual Grand National.

HALSCRIB is widely regarded as the world's strongest computer cribbage player. Its opinion was solicited using a special analysis version of the program. Since HALSCRIB only speaks binary, its thoughts have been translated into English by Michael Schell and its creator, Hal Mueller, a retired mathematics professor and eight-time ACC tournament winner. For more information, see the HALSCRIB home page.

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