Cribbage Hand Evaluator: a review

Hand Evaluator 1.2
By Max Kassler. Published 2000. Requires Windows 9x or later. Freeware, available for download from Games! by Max
A number of Cribbage Forum articles have been devoted to the mathematics of discarding. A common theme in them is the analytical value of average hands, expected averages and other measures of a hand's scoring potential. It's simply impossible to adequately study discarding without them. But the trouble is, they require a lot of arithmetic. Even with the aid of a computer spreadsheet, calculating these figures is a tedious, time-consuming task.

Well, things just got a lot easier. Max Kassler, an enterprising Cribbage Forum reader, has created a Visual Basic program that performs these calculations automatically. It's called Cribbage Hand Evaluator, and it's available for download free from Kassler's Web page. This small program will run under any 32-bit version of Windows, including Windows 2000. The workings are simple. When you launch it, you're presented with the following screen:

First, enter a six-card hand by clicking on the appropriate boxes. Next, go to the YouAre menu and select either Dealer or Pone. The AveCribSource menu lets you choose whose discarding statistics to use (available options are Hessel, Colvert, Rasmussen and Average of Above). Once you've made your selection, go to the Evaluator menu and choose Calculate. The program will rank each of the fifteen possible discards by expected average, displaying the following information for each one:

  • average hand
  • Anderson average
  • Chambers average
  • average crib
  • expected average

For example, suppose you're playing at MSN Gaming Zone one evening, when on the game's opening hand you "deal" yourself the following:

4 5 6 10 10 J

It looks like you could toss yourself 4-6 or 10-10. Which is better? After thinking it over, you toss 10-10, but afterwards you find yourself wondering if this was really the best play. Well, let's run it through the Hand Evaluator, using Hessel's crib averages:

Keeping 4-5-6-J gets an average hand of 9.96. The 10-10 toss gets 4.73 in the crib for an expected average of 14.69 points. 5-10-10-J gets an average hand of 10.67, and the 4-6 gets 3.87 in the crib for an expected average of 14.54 points. So tossing 10-10 outscores tossing 4-6 by a small margin — not enough to be decisive, but considering that 4-5-6-J is a much better pegging hand than 5-10-10-J, the fact that it averages out better too makes it a pretty compelling keep.

Cribbage Hand Evaluator is a tremendous timesaver for cribbage analysts, and no serious student of the game should be without it. Although I still keep my aforementioned spreadsheet handy (since by manually listing the hand and crib score for each possible cut, I get a more complete picture of exactly how the candidate tosses will perform), I now rely on Kassler's program for most of my analysis.

The current version of Hand Evaluator is 1.2. If you've downloaded an earlier version, I highly recommend you obtain the update, which fixes some bugs and lets you save evaluation results to a text file.

In addition to Hand Evaluator, you can also download a Cribbage Solitaire game from Kassler's Web page. It's a handy tool for practicing discarding as dealer. In it you're dealt a series of six-card hands, and your task is to maximize your scoring between hand and crib (there is no pegging, and it's always your crib). The program evaluates your score after the toss, and even lets you compete with the computer itself using the same cards. There is an option to display the same analysis that Hand Evaluator provides, using any of the three available crib average sources. If you find the computer agrees with your choice 95% of the time or more, then you truly have an excellent feel for discarding!

- Originally written October 2000. Note that version 1.3 of Hand Evaluator was released in August 2001

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