Ask the experts, October 2006

A classic decision. On the game's first hand you deal yourself A-4-5-8-Q-Q. What do you keep?

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Dan Barlow:

I toss A-8. I'm keeping the maximum points, and the card that helps A-8 the most, a 6, helps my own hand, 4-5-Q-Q, even more.

DeLynn Colvert:

I keep the 5-8-Q-Q, and toss the A-4. Why? I want the 5 to score a 15-2 if a ten-card is lead, and empirical knowledge sez an A-4 works better than a 5-8 in the crib. Peg on. An A-8 discard ain't all that bad either.

George Rasmussen:

In this case, play the discard averages. A-4 to own crib averages 5.416 and 5-8 averages 5.564. Although I have not done the research, I believe there is also slightly better pegging potential with A-4-Q-Q than with 5-8-Q-Q. I would go with 5-8 to my own crib. The numbers favor it!

Michael Schell:

A-4, 5-8 and 5-9 all return about 5.4 points in your own crib, so the choice comes down to pegging. I've seen pone lead enough ten-cards in my life that I think having a 5 in hand is worthwhile if I'm not specifically playing off. Thus with A-4-5-x-x and a stray mid-card, I'll retain the 5 with an 8 or a 9, tossing myself the A-4. However 5-7 is different. The possibility of a crib run raises its average to 6.0, clearly superior to A-4, so in that case I like to toss myself the 5-7.

Based on the above, I'd keep 5-8-Q-Q from this particular hand.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I toss 5-8. I'd keep my six points, and a 5 in the crib isn't too bad.

Peter Setian:

I would discard A-4 to my crib. Not even considering the possibility of holding a more defensive pegging hand, I choose A-4 over 5-8 (or 2-5) simply because there's a better chance of your discard being matched by the opponent for a 6 or 10 point crib. What's the chance the opponent will discard a 5?


I have the positional advantage and with an average hand see no need to do anything drastic. I will choose the discard that maximizes my hand, crib, while minimizing opponent's pegging. I will base my decision on the following numbers:

Keep  Toss 


  Own crib    Opp. Pegging  Optimal 
A-4-Q-Q    5-8 7.83   5.54   -1.67 11.70
5-8-Q-Q     A-4 7.65   5.21   -1.85 11.01
4-5-Q-Q A-8 8.26   3.77   -1.96 10.07

My choice is clear, and I will be surprised if any of the humans differ. I would discard 5-8.

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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 (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 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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