Ask the experts, January 2005

You're pone at 16-8*. You're dealt 2-3-6-8-10-J. What do you toss?

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Dan Barlow:

I save my points and toss the risky 6-8. Why give up a chance at a decent hand only to find dealer tossed Q-K? If he has 7-7 and tosses it, I fall behind. But if I cut a 2 and score ten points while his crib has all even numbers, I'll be in excellent shape. What isn't risky? 6-J? Then I have to worry he tossed 4-5. There's plenty of time to come back if you get burned.

John Chambers:

In this situation I would discard the 6-8. With this discard your opponent will either need to discard a 7 or have a 7 cut as the starter or both.. That's possible but not likely. On the other hand you need the points to get into position for your three counts, especially if you get a cut that doesn't help your hand.

DeLynn Colvert:

I toss 8-J. I like the 2-3-6 combo (magic eleven), and leading the 3 keeps the 15-2 likely, plus a 31-2 as probable follow up.

George Rasmussen:

I like my position. Dealer is slightly short, and I want to keep dealer short after this hand. I'll make the safest discard in the hand. There goes the 6-10.

You could argue in favor of the 8-J, as 2-3-6-10 has slightly better pegging potential than 2-3-8-J. Even so, I'll go with the smaller crib average. I can't afford to toss that 6-8 and hold four points in this situation. Dealer could have an average hand, and I can't take a chance on getting burned by a large crib. Some would ask: "You're playing board position on Street One?" You ought to be playing board position while your pegs are in the starting box!

Michael Schell:

This is a classic "play on or play off" type of question, and to resolve it we must use board strategy. To review, as pone I have the positional advantage if I am at least as close as ten points to a positional hole that dealer has not yet reached. The first positional hole is at 18 (the others being 44, 70 and 96). Dealer is not yet there, and I'm within ten holes, so I have the positional advantage. My positional surplus is the difference between my score plus ten (ten being average scoring for pone) and the positional hole, in other words, 8. Dealer's positional deficit is the difference between her score and that same positional hole, namely 10. Since my surplus is roughly the same as my opponent's deficit, I should favor balanced play, other things being equal.

Over the board, I would note that 2-3-6-10, 2-3-8-10 and 2-3-8-J each keep 2 points, while giving up 4.6, 4.6 and 4.3 points respectively in the crib. A 1-in-4 shot at His Nobs is worth about the same as a 1-in-13 shot at three points, so 2-3-8-J nets better than 2-3-8-10 at -2.3, though I think 2-3-6-10 is also a legitimate contender since the 2-3-6 magic eleven pegs four points against x-x. Nevertheless for pure balanced play, all three choices are inferior to 2-3-10-J, which keeps 2 more points (in reality 2¼ more on average) while giving up 5.9 points dealer's crib for a net of -1.9.

Furthermore, "other things" are not equal, now that I've seen this poorish collection of cards (even the aggressive 2-3-10-J maxes out at eleven points on a right 2 or 3 cut). So I'm just going to hold my nose and toss the dangerous 6-8.

Lots of players would discard defensively here on the theory that since two points is all we need to get to the positional hole, there's no reason to risk giving up a shitkicker crib. The problem is that limping along with a two- or four-point hand (the probable result of holding something like 2-3-8-J) will leave me in marginal position, vulnerable to falling short of subsequent positional holes, especially if my opponent is competent enough to discard and peg defensively. It's like those NFL playoff teams this year who got too conservative on offense down the stretch and ended up missing long field goal attempts. Giving myself a little breathing room on offense is good insurance against being slowly bled to death if my cards falter a little, and should be worth the extra risk. At least I'm retaining a good safe pegging hand, so it's unlikely that I'll get nailed in the pegging and in the crib. I think in the long run, the balanced if risky 2-3-10-J will win a bit more often than the prudent but timid 2-3-6-10 or 2-3-8-J.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I'll throw 6-J. I'd rather hold just two points now and hopefully break up the crib. I can turn it on next deal if I need to.

Peter Setian:

In this conservative position, I would definitely not discard 6-8. I would toss 6-J. Now all cut cards (except a 6) will provide a modest hand of four to eight points, which should be enough to retain "dealer's control" from a good board position (dealing from 20*–25*).


With average scoring I'll be at hole 111 with opponent dealing from hole 109* on the ninth deal. The discards of interest are 6-8, 6-10 and 6-J. Obviously keeping the J will deny opponent one point for nibs about 25% of the time (for a net swing of 2 holes), whereas keeping the 10 will gain five points with a 9 starter (three for run and two for 15) about 9% of the time. The alternative to these two safe plays is the aggressive 6-8 toss, which risks giving up a big crib, but is more likely to keep me in position.

The game will likely end on deal 9, 10 or 11. My best chance for a win is to count out on deal 10 or peg out on deal 11. Calculating the overall winning chances for the three discards, it appears that the choices come out very close. But on average I should win about 57% of the time by discarding 6-8, which is a little better than I'll fare switching to defensive play this early in the game.

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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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