Ask the experts, September 2006

You're pone at 52-43*: You're dealt 6-6-7-7-10-10. What do you keep? Would it matter if skunks didn't count?

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Dan Barlow:

I keep 6-6-7-7 under any circumstances, at least until we're well onto Fourth Street.

DeLynn Colvert:

Being the aggressive sort, and being early in the game, I always try for the killer cut, holding 6-6-7-7, skunk or no.

George Rasmussen:

First, let me tell you that only in rare situations would I consider the value of a skunk win. Playing for a skunk win in an offensive manner without proper regard for discarding and pegging situations often results in a loss. I am going to play for the win.

My position is relatively good if I can keep dealer crib small. Dealer has minimal position to deal on Third Street (if you're not familiar with board positional strategy, check many prior responses to Ask the Experts questions on this Web site, buy and read DeLynn Colvert's book and pay particular attention to the chapter The Twenty-six Theory, or contact Ras about critical position zones). Although the pair of 10s is not a particularly dangerous pair, it does guarantee a minimum of two points in opponent's crib. If a zero crib is possible, that's what I want in this situation. With this toss, I'm committed to defensive play throughout this hand. So the choice comes down to the 6-10 or the 7-10.

I know that many folks are into "even discards" to opponent's crib, as they believe even cards are less likely to score than odd cards. The numbers don't support this in many cases. 6-10 averages 4.224 to opponent crib, while 7-10 averages 4.171. They are very close in producing small cribs. 6-10 results in a crib of two or less points 39.125% of the time while 7-10 scores two or less points 37.871%. In playing those numbers and a desire to keep that crib small, the 6-10 looks to have a slightly better chance of doing that.

Is that all there is to it? If holding 6-7-7-10, do you lead the 6 to break cards in sequence? Remember we are playing maximum defense here. If holding 6-6-7-10, do you lead the 7 for the same reason? Are there those who, after deciding on defensive play on this hand, would lead the 10? If so, where do they go when dealer plays that 5 for 15-2? Just want to demonstrate the kinds of thoughts that should enter into the decisions that you make as a game progresses.

Michael Schell:

I'm starting the deal +18 to dealer's -1. Dealer only needs to make up a one point deficit to assume the positional advantage, unless I can get near the next positional hole (70) with a lucky cut (i.e., an 8, 5 or maybe a 2). I give myself "half" credit for cutting a 2 (since I'd still need to peg a few) and thus will estimate this kind of success as 10 shots in 46. The cost is tossing 10-10, which gives up about 1.8 points more in my opponent's crib than 6-10 or 7-10, and keeping an inferior defensive pegging hand. Let's say the cost is about two points to my opponent.

So, is a 10-in-46 chance of gaining immediate Third Street position worth a two-point sacrifice on the back end? The traditional view is that it isn't, and that you should play toward your best chance, which in this case means playing defensively. HALSCRIB, though, has taught me that the traditional approach is often too conservative in situations like this. I'm guessing that 6-6-7-7 gives me an extra 10–15% chance of slamming the door shut on my opponent, and that this offsets the 10% or so that I'm taking off my back-end chances by risking a big crib. The way to test this for sure would be dozens or hundred of playouts from this point forward, testing each proposition against the same random sequence of dealer hands and subsequent deals. I'll leave that effort for a capable bot with lots of time or processing power. Meanwhile I'll give 6-6-7-7 a whirl.

I expect that the choice is close enough mathematically that with skunks in play, even if one is only worth an extra half game, it would definitely be worth going for it with 6-6-7-7, in hopes of getting near 70 this deal and seeing dealer falter despite the 10-10 toss.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I'm trying 6-7-7-10, and planning to play defense. I'm not going too far without a good cut, and the cut either way would help me and hopefully keep my opponent back. I don't see myself handling this differently if skunks count.

Peter Setian:

Hmmm. It would depend on my prior hands. Just kidding!

Certainly if skunks counted and I needed a skunk, I would have to take more chances and throw 10-10 to try and deal from close to 70* points with a favorable cut. If skunks don't count (or I don't need one), the play could go either way (6-10 or 10-10). I probably lean on the defensive discard of 6-10.


Too bad for those disciplined, experienced human players who resist temptation and toss the safe 6-10 or 7-10. It turns out that the "novice" keep of 6-6-7-7 wins a few percent more often. 10-10 is not great to give to your opponent, but it's not in the same category as 7-8 or a pair of 5s. Often dealer will toss mid-cards instead and miss your pair, and besides, the occasional bonanza you'll get on a favorable cut (and remember you have three good ranks to aim for) makes up for the extra losses you'll incur when the bonanza winds up in the crib.

The big difference comes when the game is over in four more deals. Tossing the 10s significantly increases the possibility for such a quick finish, and in that scenario my wins increase by 10% with losses increasing by only 5% with the 10s toss. Even if the game lasts five more deals, I'll still win 12% more often by discarding the 10s. Add to this the 2% gain in skunks with the aggressive toss, and 6-6-7-7 is the clear choice.

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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.

DeLynn Colvert is the world's highest rated tournament player. He is a five-time National Champion, author of Play Winning Cribbage, and the ACC's only Life Master - Six Stars. He directs the Montana Championship and Montana Open, both held annually in Missoula, and served for many years as President of the ACC and Editor of the monthly magazine Cribbage World.

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 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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