The year in review: 2000-2001

Well, another year of competitive cribbage has come to a close. After honing my craft in Grass Roots play in 1999-2000, I decided to sample the ACC Tournament Trail in earnest last season, testing my skills against the world's toughest over-the-board players. I traveled to seven major tournaments, qualified in six of them, won one, finished fourth in another, and accumulated 518 Master Rating Points, putting me in the top 100 overall and earning a three-year invitation to the Tournament of Champions. My Grass Roots season got off to a less auspicious start when I qualified in just one of the first 17 tournaments. But things got better in the winter and spring, and I finished the year with a respectable 212 rating points — enough to place 64th nationally, but not enough to catch the red hot Nick Kenny, who succeeded me as club champion with 247 points.

The high point of the year was returning to the Washington State Championship in January 2001 following my near misses there in 2000. My cards were hot in the qualifying round as I won the Q-Pool and earned a first round playoff bye. Then I managed to prevail in five consecutive playoff matches, including a third round battle where my opponent missed a four-card pegging run on Third Street then fell three holes short at the end of the deciding game, and the final two matches in which I had to defeat two Grand Masters (Verne Nielsen and Rollie Heath) to take home First Place and the Champion's trophy.

 

 
My good luck carried over to the most prestigious cribbage event of them all: the ACC Tournament of Champions. Held every year at the Sands Casino in Reno, this invitational competition brings together the elite of North American peggers. The qualifying round was a nail-biting affair — late in the day I won a skunk by pegging out from 114*-89, the unlikely feat giving me just enough game points to reach the playoffs. Once there, I won five consecutive matches and grabbed Fourth Place before being bested by Dale Kochenburg, the eventual winner. Along the way, I had several exciting finishes, including the last game of my match against Bob Sommer. With the odds against me at 101*-115, I dealt myself A-2-2-3-5-6. Since A-2-3-6 isn't much better as a defensive pegging hand than A-2-2-3, I went ahead and tossed 5-6, figuring that if Bob did fall short, I'd have a good chance of going out this hand, thereby denying him a chance to peg out on the next deal.

Bob cut a 10 and led a 4, leaving me completely trapped. My 2 had the fewest losers (nine) of any of my cards, so that's what I plopped down. When Bob played an 8 next, I knew that he either had enough points to win, or else was not holding a 2, 3 or 9. The fact that he kept the count below 15 could have meant that he had no ten-cards, but it could also have been an attempt to entice an A, which would be entirely consistent with his leading a 4. So I decided to forgo the 15-2 and play my other 2, confident that Bob wouldn't profit from it. It takes discipline to voluntarily pass up a score in a situation like this, but I knew that giving up a two point peg this deep on Fourth Street could be fatal. Since I was holding a fourteen point hand, with prospects for a good crib, I felt that I could sacrifice a couple points for safety.

PONE  (115):
Sommer


4-4-8-8

 play:
   4  2  8  2!  8  A  4 (29-1)    3 (3-1)   
  crib:   9-K
5-6
cut 10  
A-2-2-3

DEALER  (101*):
Schell

Bob's second 8 made the count 24, presenting me with a choice between my A and 3. The A would cost me the game if Bob's last card was an A, while the 3 would lose against a 4. (Note that Bob already would have the game won with a 7 or 3, and if his last card was a 5 or 6, he'd reach the stinkhole regardless of which card I played now). There were three outstanding As and three outstanding 4s, so statistically my two options seemed to have equal risk. I decided to play my A because I had trouble imagining a six-card hand from which my opponent would have retained A-4-8-8 in this position, whereas it was easy to imagine hands from which he'd retain 4-4-8-8. My guess proved correct — Bob fell in the stinkhole as my crib put me out with one point to spare.

I had another big ending in the next match against Buzz Adams. At 104-96* I was dealt 7-7-7-8-8-K. Obviously I should hold 7-7-7-8 or 7-7-8-8, but which one? Either hand wins on a mid-card cut, but only 7-7-7-8 wins on an A cut, so that's what I kept. Sure enough, the cut was an A, notching the match and sending me to my biggest cribbage payday ever.

Not every dramatic finish went my way though. The toughest loss of year came in the last game of my quarterfinal match against Rosemary Hendricks in the Montana State Championship where I was unable to prevail from 117-107* — a failure that cost me a trophy board, several hundred dollars and at least 35 MRPs! See Ask the Experts, August 2001 for the gruesome details.

Tournament rules

There were many other memorable plays from last year, and I'll be writing about some of them in the months ahead. But I'd like to devote the rest of this article to the more esoteric topic of tournament rules. Here are a few scenarios that I encountered in sanctioned play. If you're new to the tournament circuit, or curious about it, this is a chance to see how the rules of play are applied in serious competition. If you're an old hand at ACC events, treat this as a quiz. Would you know how to handle these situations if they happened to you?

All rulebook references are to the ACC's Official Tournament Cribbage Rules (August 1998 edition, available online here), which governs Grass Roots and sanctioned tournament play in North America.

  1. I'm holding 8-9-9-10 as dealer. The play started:

    8  8 (16-2)  7

    On playing the 7, pone said "twenty-two". Can I play my 9 for 31-5?

  2. You're playing at a tournament where the Muggins rule is in effect. This allows you to claim any points your opponent is entitled to but fails to peg. Well, almost any points, because there is one major exception. Do you know what it is?
  3. My opponent is dealing the cards when I reach for my thermos, accidentally hitting one of the cards while it's in the air. It lands face up on my side of the table: a K. Does it go into my hand?
  4. It's the qualifying round of the Washington State Championship. Muggins is not in effect. After picking up the crib, my opponent examines the cards briefly, then, after claiming no points, throws them face down on top of the deck. When I retrieve them to look for myself, she objects. Is she required to show me her crib? Am I entitled to a penalty if she doesn't?
  5. It's the first deal of the game. I'm pone holding 2-J-J-K. I cut a J, and the play starts:

    2  K  K (22-2)  4  "Go"  (26-1)    J  5 (15-2)

    Is there anything wrong with this picture?

  6. I'm dealing on Third Street when I flip over my crib and see that it consists of 2-6-A-3. The starter is a 6. I advance my pegs forward seven holes, then, while my finger is still on my forward peg, I pause to re-examine the cards. A kibitzer leans over my shoulder and says "How many point do you have, Mike?". I realize that my crib is really worth nine points (I'd missed the A-2-6-6 fifteen combination), but by now my opponent has gathered the crib cards from my side of the table, and is shuffling them into the deck. Can I still take the extra two points?
  7. I'm pone and have already discarded to the crib. My opponent goes to make her toss when, realizing she is about to drop three cards into her crib, picks them up then rediscards two of them. What happens?
  8. My novice opponent cuts an 8 to 6-6-7-9. When she goes to count her hand, she thinks for a bit, then announces "twenty-one". In moving her pegs around to Third Street though, she becomes confused, missing five holes and pegging only sixteen. What happens?

Answers

  1. I'm holding 8-9-9-10 as dealer. The play started:

    8  8 (16-2)  7

    On playing the 7, pone said "twenty-two". Can I play my 9 for 31-5?

Yes. If my opponent misstates the count, I can either accept the count as stated, or correct it. If I misstate the count, I am allowed to correct it myself, but only before my opponent plays a card (Rule VII, Section 4).

In this case I was dealing with a rather crotchety player from my home state, so I asked him to repeat the count to ensure there'd be no argument over what he actually announced. When he impatiently replied "I said twenty-two", I had no compunction about playing my 9. It turned out he was holding a 6, so by misstating the count he denied himself a shot at a four-point peg. This, in combination with the 31-5 I pegged, allowed me to notch a skunk.

  1. You're playing at a tournament where the Muggins rule is in effect. This allows you to claim any points your opponent is entitled to but fails to peg. Well, almost any points, because there is one major exception. Do you know what it is?

The exception is His Heels. You cannot claim the two points for a J starter if dealer fails to peg it. Incidentally, you're also not allowed to claim Muggins on penalties, backward pegging, and so forth (Rule X, Section 2.c).

Muggins is the only optional rule in the ACC rulebook. Its use is at the discretion of the tournament director, and must be announced in advance. Tournaments in the northeastern US often employ it, while those in other regions usually do not. On the West Coast, where I play most of my cribbage, the prevailing feeling is that Muggins slows down the play too much, since it prompts players to double- and triple-check their hands before scoring them in order to avoid the double penalty of an undercount.

Whether or not Muggins is in effect, you are always entitled to a penalty if your opponent overcounts a score. In this case your opponent must back up the requisite number of points, and you receive an equivalent amount as a penalty.

  1. My opponent is dealing the cards when I reach for my thermos, accidentally hitting one of the cards while it's in the air. It lands face up on my side of the table: a K. Does it go into my hand?

Probably not. Despite the fact that Rule IV, Section 3.a says "If the dealer exposes a card or cards while dealing, the cards shall be redealt" (emphasis mine), and Rule IV, Section 2.c says "The pone shall not reach for nor touch the cards before the distribution is completed except to use the hands or arm as a backstop to prevent cards from falling off the table while being dealt", it is nevertheless customary for judges to order a redeal whenever a card is accidentally exposed in the deal, even if it's the result of interference from pone. I think the "no fault" approach is the right one (else you'd have endless arguments over who interfered with the cards), but unfortunately the rules as they're currently written are ambiguous on this point. Perhaps a small revision is in order for the next edition of the rulebook.

  1. It's the qualifying round of the Washington State Championship. Muggins is not in effect. After picking up the crib, my opponent examines the cards briefly, then, after claiming no points, throws them face down on top of the deck. When I retrieve them to look for myself, she objects. Is she required to show me her crib? Am I entitled to a penalty if she doesn't?

Yes, my opponent is required to show me the crib regardless of whether she claims any points (in fact, the rules specify that crib cards are to be placed face up on pone's side of the board after any points have been pegged — Rule IX, Section 2.d). But no, I am not entitled to any penalty for her failure to do so.

In my experience, there are a lot of tournament and Grass Roots players who do not know that they are required to reveal the contents of a bust crib. Therefore, if this happens to you in sanctioned play, my advice is just to politely point out this rule to your opponent. If they don't mend their ways, you can then complain to a judge or the tournament director on the second infraction.

You may be wondering why this is an issue at all if the dealer claims no points and Muggins is not in effect. Well, there are two reasons why I always like to look at my opponent's crib. One is to garner whatever tidbit of information I can on my opponent's discarding habits. Another, more important, reason is that requiring the crib to be exposed in all cases is a natural check against a particular form of cheating. Suppose your opponent (perhaps accidentally) deals six cards to you but seven cards to herself. Upon examining her hand, she notices that there are seven cards, but that four of them are 5s. Now according to the rules, both hands should now be redealt anew (Rule IV, Section 4.a.(3)). But your opponent doesn't want to give up her 5s, so instead she slips the other three cards into her crib. The hands are played and scored, including the four 5s. Then your opponent quickly picks up the crib, tries not to divulge that it contains five cards, acts as though it's bust (she had no intention of ever counting it), and slips it into the middle of the pack. With no opportunity to examine the crib, you have no way of knowing there had been an infraction.

  1. It's the first deal of the game. I'm pone holding 2-J-J-K. I cut a J, and the play starts:

    2  K  K (22-2)  4  "Go"  (26-1)    J  5 (15-2)

    Is there anything wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that I said "go" with the count at 26, and instead of playing his 5, dealer pegged one point for the go and let me lead the next play series. Under tournament rules, this is called a renege, and judges must be summonsed to sort it out.

Here's what happens. Dealer had started with 4-5-K-K. Per Rule VII, Section 3, all cards played since the renege are picked up, and any points scored since the renege are retracted. In this case the renege occurred when dealer pegged a go at 26 on the first play series, so my J and his 5 come off the table, and he must retract his two point peg for the 15. Now the offended player is entitled to a two point penalty for each card that could have been legally played. There is one such card (dealer's 5), so I peg two points. Now I can choose whether the reneged card is live or dead. I'll opt to make it dead, leaving dealer with a K and me with J-J. Play then resumes from the point of the renege. Since neither of us can play at 26, the go stands, and I lead the next play series:

2  K  K (22-2)  (26-1)    J  K  J (30-1)

My second J fetches one point for last card. At the end of the play the score is 5-3* (including dealer's two points for the J starter). Now both players count their hand and crib normally.

Since resolving a renege requires examining the offending player's hand, including any unplayed cards, to determine how many cards were reneged, you should always call for a judge when you encounter this situation in sanctioned play.

  1. I'm dealing on Third Street when I flip over my crib and see that it consists of 2-6-A-3. The starter is a 6. I advance my pegs forward seven holes, then, while my finger is still on my forward peg, I pause to re-examine the cards. A kibitzer leans over my shoulder and says "How many point do you have, Mike?". I realize that my crib is really worth nine points (I'd missed the A-2-6-6 fifteen combination), but by now my opponent has gathered the crib cards from my side of the table, and is shuffling them into the deck. Can I still take the extra two points?

Yes, I can! The crucial point is that I have not yet released the forward peg. Since my score is not considered complete until I do, I am still entitled to correct the underpeg without penalty (Rule VIII, Section 3). The principle is similar to touch move in chess, in which a move is not considered completed until the selected piece is released by the player. In fact the only transgressions here were on the part of the kibitzer, for pointing out my error while the play was still live, and on the part of my opponent, for gathering the cards before I had legally finished pegging.

This incident occurred in a Grass Roots tournament. When the club judges ruled in my favor, my opponent was understandably annoyed, but the ruling was entirely correct. I must say that without the intervention of the kibitzer, I probably would have caught the underpeg on my own (it was because I'd sensed something was wrong that I kept my finger on the peg in the first case). But let this be a cautionary tale on the unintended effects of kibitzing. If you're looking on at a cribbage tournament, please hold your tongue until the deal is over!

  1. I'm pone and have already discarded to the crib. My opponent goes to make her toss when, realizing she is about to drop three cards into her crib, picks them up then rediscards two of them. What happens?

It depends on whether she released the cards from her hand when she initially discarded. If not, then she is allowed to retrieve them. But if so, then she's in trouble!

Rule V, Section 1.b states "Cards placed face down on the table for the crib and released by the fingers [with two exceptions] may not be retrieved and examined again. The penalty for doing so is two points, and the same cards must be returned to the crib." In this case, I would peg a two point penalty, and she would have to return all three cards to the crib. She would now have to peg and count her hand with only three cards (thus guaranteeing me one point for last card). And since the crib now contains five cards, it's dead and can't be counted. Note the similarity with the pegging rule cited above: in both cases the action is considered complete when the hand has been removed from the peg or cards.

This situation arose in a Grass Roots game where I was pone at 115-107*. I was dealt A-A-2-10-10-Q, and had just tossed 2-Q when the incident occurred. I honestly don't know whether my opponent released the three cards when she first set them down on the table, but since the standards of play at our club are a bit more relaxed than they are for major tournaments, I decided to let it slide, and proceeded to cut for starter without calling for a judge. As it happened, I cut a J, and the pegging went:

10  7  10  (31-2)    A  8  A  (13-1)

By now I was wondering if my leniency was going to cost me the game, since my hand was worth just four points, leaving me stuck at 119. My opponent counted her four point hand, bringing her to 116, then flipped over the crib, into which she'd tossed 3-K. Meanwhile though, a lively rules discussion had begun brewing between the two of us and a third player who had observed the incident from the next table. This evidently distracted my opponent, since she took only four points for her crib, presumably forgetting about the J starter. So with the score 119*-120, I dealt one last hand, pairing her second card to win. The victory proved crucial too, as I needed it to reach the final qualifying spot of the night.

  1. My novice opponent cuts an 8 to 6-6-7-9. When she goes to count her hand, she thinks for a bit, then announces "twenty-one". In moving her pegs around to Third Street though, she becomes confused, missing five holes and pegging only sixteen. What happens?

Nothing happens. She has a sixteen point hand, and she pegged sixteen points. Perfectly legal, even if she did it by accident. What matters in tournament play is what you peg, not how you announce it.

Final words

Let me close by stressing that if you're playing in a sanctioned tournament, please don't be timid about calling for a judge if you encounter a rules question or an irregularity that you're not absolutely confident you know how to handle. Don't rely on your opponent's supposed magnanimity if he insists he knows the rules! Just raise your hand and say "Judge, please". They're there to help, and can usually resolve matters quickly. In practice, common infractions such as overpegs and cards exposed during the deal are routinely handled by players without assistance. But for anything more complicated or arcane than that, I'll always ask for a judge, even if I'm playing a friend.

If you live in North America, perhaps I'll see you on the Tournament Trail soon. Good luck!

- October 2001


 
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