Ask the experts, January 2009

PONE  (86):

4-?-?-?  (?-?)

   4  ?   
  crib:   ?-?
cut:  J           
3-5-10-10  (7-9)
DEALER  (96*):

Follow up to the December 2008 question. At 94*-86 you tossed yourself 7-9 from 3-5-7-9-10-10. Pone cuts a J, moving you to 96*, then leads a  4. What's your play?

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Dan Barlow:

Since it's possible I'm not getting close to home, I don't want pone pegging. He may have led from A-4, so I don't want to play a 10. If I play the 3 or the 5, pone will become suspicious and play off. However, if I've played the 3, he can play off with a 8 and still score 15-2. So I play the 5. If he scores 15-5, I'll have to hope my pegging is enough to get me close enough to win. It just might be.

John Chambers:

In this situation I would play the 5.  If he plays the 6 for 15-5, you can play the 3 for 4 holes. Your opponent, after he pegs, is only at the beginning of Fourth Street. You would have moved closer to 121. Your opponent would need an extremely large hand for the pegging to have helped. You will be at least to hole 108 with your crib and your first count.

DeLynn Colvert:

I play the 3, hoping for a run sequence, and also trying to triple pone's 10 at the last. This mostly depends if I need a skunk or not. If no skunk is needed, I would play defense and drop a 10.

George Rasmussen:

Pone is at 86 and needs a minimum of ten to deal. I'm disappointed, since I missed a 14 point hand, and now have eight points instead. A 7-9 to crib and a J on deck does not impress me either on potential crib score. Since I want to get down the board, I will play the 3 on a 4 lead. If pone's 2 is played, I'll take the run of four with the 5, keep the 10-10 intact. If my 3 is paired, I will play 5 for 15-2. If my opponent plays an 8 for 15-2, then I've certainly figured out that I have a bust crib. All of these decisions would be unnecessary had I just made the correct decision as to the discard of 3-7. Admittedly sometimes we make this game more complicated than it needs to be!

Michael Schell:

At the start of the deal, pone was at par while I was -2. The cut moved me to par, but only added two points to my hand while missing most of my known crib potential. Pone doesn't look to have mid-cards based on her lead, so I might have caught one in the crib, but I'd need to catch two to have more than five points. So the forward chances don't look so good if I play off here. I'd like to stay on the fence, but pone's lead forces me to choose between the conventional 10 reply (which gives up two points to a magic five) or playing on with the 3 or 5 in hopes of getting into decent position for my first count.

It's a tough call. In pondering the pegging scenarios if I mix it up with the 3 or 5, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get more than two or three extra points out of it, whereas pone might get three, four or five extra points. I worry about the scenario where my extra couple of pegging points moves me to around 109 or so, not enough to go out next deal with average cards, but enough to get close to peg out as dealer on the second deal hence. Might my opponent have already gone out by then if she pegs too much here and has something like 4-5-5-6? I'm guessing that this scenario tips the balance toward conservative play. I'm dropping a 10 here and hoping that if it does give up two points, that pone is still sitting with only eight or ten in hand, and that I'll retain decent back-end chances going forward.

Phyllis Schmidt:

I play a 10. If I had three small cards, I would play for the run. But only two small cards leaves you at a disadvantages for pegging. It could give your opponent a better position when dealing next.

Peter Setian:

I would play the 3, with plans to follow up with the 5 on any "pegging" cards by pone (including an 8 for 15-2, to try and cash the pair of 10s at the end). Furthermore, if the pone does have an 8, their hand won't count more than six or seven points (unless flushed)  if pone plays into the "pegging run" and has good cards, the crib should have at least two points.


I would play the 5.  It offers the best chance of winning outright on the next deal or of pegging out on the deal after.  Note that if Pone declines the tempting 6 or 3, then I still have a chance of pairing my 10s.  Here are the winning percentage numbers upon which my decision was made:

Play          %
Next deal
Peg out
3     37.6   39.0
5     39.0   40.2
10 33.3   36.0

Click here for a guide to cribbage notation and symbols.


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, 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 longtime 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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