Ask the experts, April 2004

You're pone at 100-91* and get dealt 5-6-8-Q-Q-K. Three questions:
  1. What do you toss?
  2. Suppose you keep 5-6-Q-Q and cut a 10. What do you lead?
  3. If you lead a Q and dealer plays a 5 for 15-2, do you pair it?

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Dan Barlow:

What do you toss?
Six points is plenty to get me to a winning position, so I toss the K. Having declared that six points is enough, I don't need to keep the 6 rather than the 8 simply because the cut might be a 4, improving my hand. I need to keep the one most likely to help dealer. I would rather give dealer the 6 than the 8. If I toss him the 8 I'll cut a 7, and if I toss him the 6 I'll cut a 9. I'd rather he had 6-9 than 7-8, so I toss 6-K. My sense is that this is a slightly better defensive toss than 8-K, and I am in full defensive mode here.

Suppose you keep 5-6-Q-Q and cut a 10. What do you lead?
A Q — not in hopes of tripling, but because I want three different choices for my next play (I am in full defensive mode here).

If you lead a Q and dealer plays a 5 for 15-2, do you pair it?
No. (Did I mention that I am in...?)

John Chambers:

You are the non-dealer with 21 holes to go. You are already in position. You don't need the points. The dealer has 30 holes to go. That's a long three counts. I would discard the 6-K at this point. In this position I don't like to discard 5s, 7s or 8s. I would lead a Q. If your opponent does make it 15, I would play off because you are already in position and don't need to risk that position. If you are going to lose, let the hands beat you — not bad discarding or poor pegging.

DeLynn Colvert:

Board position dictates defense here. You need 21 in three deals, so a six hand should cement the win. I would discard the 8-K, lead the Q, then lay off the 5 response (if any). Lay low on the pegging.

George Rasmussen:

I like this position very much as pone. I'm willing to play a zero hand in this area of the board. In this case, I would play the static averages and discard the safest choice to dealer crib. Safest discard (that with the lowest average) in this hand is 6-K. I'm very pleased to be able to retain 5-8-Q-Q. Lead a Q. Since I played maximum defense on discard, I will also play maximum defense on pegging. I won't pair the 5 if dealer takes 15-2 on my Q lead. I will make the count 25 with my remaining Q. This keeps me from getting tripled, and having discarded a 6 makes it less likely that dealer will score 31-2 on the count of 25.

Michael Schell:

Dealer is -5, so I'm a clear favorite to win on the back end if I play defensively and toss 6-K, which averages only 4.1 points in my opponent's crib. Is it worth giving up 5.9 point instead to toss 6-8 and keep 5-Q-Q-K? I'll get sixteen points on seven different cuts. With average pegging I'll peg out as dealer next hand, assuming my opponent hasn't gone out first. Let's say there's a 50% chance of winning frontwise on a 5 or J cut, and perhaps a 25% chance on a Q cut (which gives me a 14 hand). Nothing else gets me close enough to win on anything but a longshot (like tripling a Q). That adds up to roughly 8% in added frontwise winning chances making the aggressive play.

A good rule of thumb when dealer is close to the Fourth Street positional hole is to assume that each extra point you give him adds 7% to his frontwise winning chances. He's five holes back, so the real margin is probably 5-6% in this case. 5-Q-Q-K has slightly worse distribution than 5-8-Q-Q, and is thus a little more dangerous in the pegging. Adding that to the crib differential, I'll guess that the aggressive play will give up two points more on average than the defensive play. That comes to 10% or more added to my opponent's frontwise chances, while I'm adding only 8% to my own. Although the real mathematic relationships here are considerably more complex than I've allowed, this is nevertheless a reasonable thought process to go through over the board in situations like this. It would lead me to keeping the defensive 5-8-Q-Q in this case.

5-6-Q-Q is a reasonable alternative to 5-8-Q-Q, returning ˝ a point more in the hand while giving up only .1 point more in the crib. Getting a couple extra points here is not a totally frivolous objective. I really want to go out with my two counts as dealer next hand, and the more I score now, the more insurance I have against rotten cards later, and the more leeway I'll have to break up my hand to hold defensive pegging cards. With 5-6-Q-Q I would definitely lead a Q. Give me 5-5-6-Q or 5-6-6-Q instead here, and I would lead a 6 to try to forestall a pegging disaster. In all cases the idea is to make a reasonably safe lead that leaves me with a variety of remaining ranks.

After dealer's 15-2 I would drop the second Q. This keeps me from getting tripled, and on a go I can safely play the 6. This does get me killed against 5-6-6-7, but that's less likely than running into 5-5-x-x or 4-5-6-x.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I would toss the 8-K, I would lead a Q, and if my opponent 15s it, I would not pair the 5. Stay away with a ten-card and hope he only gets a go on the last card played.

Peter Setian:

Conservatively, I would throw 6-K, keeping the 8 for another "get away" card. If I had 5-6-Q-Q, I would not pair the 5, only because if the dealer says go at 25, I will limit the dealer to only two more go pegs — no runs. And the crib should be soft with 6-K-x-x (with no 5s likely).


I predict that I will win with six holes to spare while dealer will end up at hole 115* on average, including pegging. On this deal my first priority is to balk dealer in the crib and later in the pegging. 5-6-Q-Q does slightly better in the pegging, and the 8-K toss is significantly better than the potentially dangerous 6-8 toss.

After the 10 cut, on Fourth Street my first priority is to not lose if dealer has a big hand. Leading a Q I could actually lose to 5-5-5-x, so I'll lead my 6, which will give up a few more pegs on average, but fewer big pegs over time.

If the play does start:

Q  5 (15-2)

I would not pair dealer's 5 but would instead make the percentage play of the Q:



5       3.20 
6 4.04
Q 2.74


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.

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 Cribbage: A New Concept, He also directs three annual tournaments: the Ocean State Cribbage Classic, New England Peer Championship and Charity Cribbage Challenge.

DeLynn Colvert (1931–2019) is the highest rated tournament player in the history of organized cribbage. He was a five-time National Champion, author of Play Winning Cribbage, longtime editor of the monthly magazine Cribbage World, and the ACC's only Life Master - Seven Stars. He also directed two annual tournaments in Missoula, MT, served as the ACC's President, and was one of the game's most affable emissaries. It's scarcely an exaggeration to say that Colvert's career defines modern cribbage.

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.

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