|It's 119-118* when your opponent deals you A-5-6-9-9-K.
What do you keep?
I see two ways to go:
- 6-9-9-K, leading a 9. I'm temporarily
safe. His best plays, if he doesn't peg, are those that limit me to one
possible pegging card: a 3, Q or K.
Which is why I keep the K if I keep 6-9-9
- A-5-6-K, leading the A. There's a good
chance he has no A, I'm still alive if he does have one,
and I win if he plays a 4, 5, 6,
8, 9 or K on my A
At the table, I would probably go with 6-9-9-K. I like
the security of knowing he can't peg with his first card.
In this situation, I would keep the 6-9-9-K. Being my
lead I would play a 9. If your opponent pairs or makes it
15, you would play your respective 6 or 9
and win the game. I would not keep the A because your
opponent will have the advantage on pairing when the count gets close to
31. I also would not keep the 5 because it give you less
flexibility to play off if needed.
I keep the 6-9-9-K and lead a 9. The
6 and remaining 9 cover dealer's scores, and
the K is an "out card"!
If you were concerned with defense you would likely retain
A-5-9-K, giving the widest range of cards possible in the hand,
and make the defensive lead of the A.
But as pone needing two points, you need not be overly concerned with
defense. Dealer averages 3.4 to 3.8 pegs, and sometimes the best defense
in such situations is a good offense. So hold 6-9-9-K and
lead the 9. If dealer plays a 6 or 9,
you win the game by pairing. You also eliminate the two most dangerous
cards in that hand when you discard the A and 5.
By getting rid of the A you have eliminated the chance for
a small card trap. And the 5 is the most frequently trapped
card in cribbage! So you've minimized dealer's chance of scoring three
points prior to your score of two.
In situations like this my priorities are:
- Make sure I'll have enough points after the cut to count out if I
survive the pegging
- Give myself a covered lead. A low pair is ideal, since if dealer
scores on that, I'll triple him to win immediately. Also good are
combinations like 3-9, 4-7, and
5-K-K that let me retaliate for at least two points if dealer
scores off my opening lead
- Space out my cards as much as possible, and try to avoid liabilities
such as 5s and stray low cards that could get trapped
into runs or triples once the count exceeds 21
Let's examine this particular hand in light of these priorities. Any
four cards you can keep from A-5-6-9-9-K will get you two
points, so priority #1 isn't a problem. As for #2, if I keep 6-9-9
I'll have a completely safe lead of a 9. If dealer scores
on that I'll win immediately, and if he doesn't I'll have two cards left
that he can't pair (since he surely would have played a 6
or 9 on my lead if he had one. That brings me to #3, and
the question of what to keep with 6-9-9. I rule out the
5 immediately. It's too close to the 6, and
5s are just too damn dangerous in these situations (you
could get forced to lead one, dealer will be gunning for a 5
more than any other rank, etc.). Between the A and the
K I prefer the K. Dealer is likely to hold
an A if he is dealt one, but is not likely to hold a
K. And an A is vulnerable to being trapped into a
run with a 2-3 combo. The A does enhance my
chances of grabbing the first go, but this wouldn't get me over the line,
nor would it cost me the game if I failed to get it. No, I'll hold
6-9-9-K and lead a 9, planning to play my K
on a 5, 7, 8 or ten-card
reply. I'll lose if I give up a 31-2 to dealer's second card, but I think
that risk is more acceptable than the inherent risk of keeping a lone
A that's vulnerable to being paired.
I'll keep A-5-6-K, dumping the 9-9. This
keeps as many different ranks as possible. I'm going to try to peg two
before dealer can peg out.
I'd probably keep 6-9-9-K and lead a 9
for the only safe first play, and the least likelihood of getting into
pegging trouble. The dealer may only get the opportunity to pair his/her
own small card upon a go (because even 31 by itself won't be enough).
Any combination of four cards will be worth at least two points after
the cut, so my only real concern is pegging safety. I needn't take chances
to set up offensive pegging opportunities since it doesn't matter whether
I win by pegging out or by counting my hand. It's obvious to me that I
should start with 6-9-9, since I can lead a 9
and win immediately if dealer scores. As for the fourth card, the A
is the most dangerous since it can get paired or trapped into a run if the
count gets high (remember dealer will probably keep any low cards he was
dealt). The 5 is less dangerous in this particular case
since it's unlikely that I'll be forced to lead it. It could also win
quickly for me if I get the first go and dealer then leads a ten-card. But
I'm going to choose the K, a rank that dealer is unlikely
to have kept, and which is thus relatively safe from being paired.
6-9-9-K gives me comfortably spaced cards, and once the 6
is out of the way, there's very little risk of dealer trapping me into a
Chance of losing
This problem was submitted by Roland Hall, a Grand Master from Napa,
CA, who encountered it in a tournament game during the 2002–3 season. Like
most of the panelists, Hall decided to keep 6-9-9-K:
"I held it that way thinking it was my best chance to hold dealer
to two goes. But opponent had A-A-2-4, so...
9 4 9 2 6 A (31-2) K A (11-1)
...and I'm gone. On second thought, instead of defensive pegging,
I should have thought offensive pegging (figuring dealer to keep
low pegging cards), and kept A-5-6-K and led the
Cribbage is a great game."
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
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.
John Chambers was one of the original founding
members of the ACC. He is a Grand Master, winner of seven major tournaments,
and author of
New Concept, He also directs three annual tournaments: the Ocean
State Cribbage Classic, New England Peer Championship and Charity Cribbage
DeLynn Colvert is the world's highest rated tournament player. He is a five-time National Champion, author of
Winning Cribbage, editor of the monthly magazine Cribbage World,
and the ACC's only Life Master - Six Stars. He directs the Montana
Championship and Montana Open, both held annually in Missoula, and serves as
President of the ACC.
George "Ras" Rasmussen is a Life Master - Two Stars, a four-time All-American, the national Grass Roots Division 1 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 over 20 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
eight tournaments per year, including the ACC Tournament of Champions and
the annual Grand National. He enjoys participation in Grass Roots Club #72.
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.