Ask the experts, June 2006

You're pone at 29-20*: What do you keep from A-2-4-5-9-9?

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Dan Barlow:

My opponent gets way more 5s than he deserves, and I almost never get any. So I'm sure not going to donate this one to his crib, and I'm not keeping two points when I can keep six. I keep A-5-9-9.

John Chambers:

Naturally you have two choices. You can either discard the A-5 or the 2-4. If you discard the A-5 and then a tenth card is cut, your opponent is going to have at least two points in the crib that you know about, and the cut won't give you a point. I would discard the 2-4. The only obvious way to help this discard would be to cut a 3 or a 9. A 3 is only one card and you have two 9s. Keep the A-5-9-9, as there are four tenth cards which will help your hand compared to one card (the 3) which will help the crib.

DeLynn Colvert:

I would normally keep A-5-9-9, as the 5 hits 15 ten-cards in addition to the outstanding As, 5s and 9s. I see no reason to depart from that at this score.

George Rasmussen:

I need a dozen to get close to that Second Street critical position zone. (If not familiar with the Critical Position Zone concept), email Ras for details. The question is whether retaining A-5-9-9 or 2-4-9-9 is preferable. Either can produce the 12 points with a favorable starter card. The values of the two discard choices would make the choice for me. A-5 to opponent's crib averages 5.811, and 2-4 to opponent crib averages 5.207. That's more than a ˝ point difference on average. And the A-5 will never produce a zero crib. The 2-4 produces cribs of zero more than most of us remember. When dealer tosses two face cards, that 2-4 generally scores zero. Of course, you know that 2-4 is gonna bite you bigtime if you make that toss when the dealer tosses 2-3, the second most frequent discard made by dealer.

Michael Schell:

At 29-20* I'm -5 while dealer is +2. If I was further back  say 23-20*  I'd go for full defense and toss A-9 or 2-9, which average 4.55 and 4.70 points respectively in opponent's crib. 2-4 averages 5.33, a significant difference, but I'm guessing that the prospect of a 12 point hand getting me within shooting distance of the next positional hole (44) will count for more in the long run. So I'll keep the natural A-5-9-9, planning to lead a 9 if I get my cut, and the A if I miss it.

Phyllis Schmidt:

Keep A-5-9-9, planning to lead an A. 2-4 is a little iffy throw, but so is A-5.

Peter Setian:

I would be inclined to keep 2-4-9-9 and go aggressive when receiving at 29 points, to try and deal from 40* or more points. I would not throw 2-4. The second option would be to play total defense and throw A-9.


My winning prospects are not promising at under 30%. I project my opponent will win by counting out as dealer while I languish somewhere around hole 100.

The choices are between the obvious A-5-9-9 and 2-4-9-9, and the not so obvious A-4-5-9. When I play out the likely scenarios in my digital mind, I find that I win a few percent more games with A-5-9-9 than with either alternative (and a few percent is a pretty significant swing at this score!). It turns out that the forward chances I retain with A-5-9-9 and the prospect of a 12 point hand counts for more than the defensive value of the 2-9 toss compared to the 2-4 toss. In this case, anyway, the obvious choice is the right one.

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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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