Cribbage: How an old pub game is making a comeback in SE London

Crib in action
There’s a new type of match at The Valley… (Photo: Flora Guitton/Charlton Athletic Community Trust)

Looking for a new year’s resolution? How about taking up a classic pub game that sharpens the mind and makes you think? Let 853‘s special correspondent and turf investment adviser MERCURY MAN introduce you to cribbage…

Mercury Man logo“You made 4 suboptimal plays this game for a cumulative error of 4.2pts.”

That’s ‘Pro’ of Cribbage Classic telling me where I went wrong after our very latest game online. What Pro fails to mention is that I won the game by 123 points to 111.

Pro the computer also fails to mention that I’m leading him by the little matter of 132 games to 114. Stick that up your suboptimals.

Yes, I’ve got the crib bug and, granted the usual digressions, I’m going to tell you how to catch it as well, principally through the excellent Friendly Cribbage League. Also on board is the equally excellent, award-winning Charlton Athletic Community Trust.

Before I ramble on (Oh, no, he’s even admitting it now… – Ed), have a gander at the league’s website to find a pub or club team that might just suit you. Or if you need to learn the game or brush it up, having not played for yonks, email me at mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com and I’m sure we can sort something out between us all.

Crib photo courtesy Flora Guitton/Charlton Athletic Community Trust
It’s a sociable game… (Photo: Flora Guitton/Charlton Athletic Community Trust)

When did I first get the symptoms? (This had better be good – Ed). Well, having been taught as a lad by MM Senior, the game went mostly missing until about 15 months ago when Mrs MM decided that MM Mansions (somewhere between Forster Park and the Catford Cat) needed total refurbishment.

In came Robbo the builder. We slowly communicated in all sorts of areas – Kafka, Wilkie Collins, etc – and one day both of us let slip how much we missed crib. So, naturally, we started playing most evenings after work – him over a Foster’s and me a single malt – and, not unlike Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour (which started on 7 June 1988), agreed to carry on competing until one of us pegs it.

(Just popping downstairs to check the latest scores – Robbo 208, MM 202. Mmm…)

Then, before you could say 15-two, I read that a team of 10 and 11-year-olds at Charlton Manor Primary School – already famous nationally for its healthy eating campaign and CUR (Curriculum For Life) in preference to TB’s (Ticking Boxes) – were being taught cribbage and, by all accounts, loving it.

Crib (Flora Guitton/Charlton Athletic Community Trust)
The crib meet-up at The Valley (Flora Guitton/Charlton Athletic Community Trust)

The story reported them zooming over to Basildon in the school minibus to take on six point-conscious pensioners in the game created by the wayward English poet Sir John Suckling – well known for hot flushes and the runs – around 1616, derived from the game Noddy (I’ll have to double-check that one – Ed).

With all this going on, the next step had to be CACT and word going out to find crib players old, new and in-between. An informal get-together was got together for friendly games and tuition at The Valley a few weeks back and already two or three players have been snapped up without a transfer window by teams from The Friendly League.

CACT’s amiable Anthony Quarm, keen to learn himself, told my representative (like Nero Wolfe, I’m more of an armchair detective these days and rely on a well-trained, well-paid team of stringers): “There was a lovely atmosphere before the keep-fit session took over and I’m sure more and more of the ‘Extra Time’ members will be taught the game in the weeks ahead.”

What this is really all about is how great a card game crib is, wayward poet or no wayward poet. It’s inimitably sociable and quite easy to learn but has that vital little edge of competition and tricks of the trade that highlight all the best sports and games.

River Ale House
Greenwich’s River Ale House hosts crib matches on Monday evenings

Two of you take turns in dealing just six cards each. You each put two cards in the dealer’s “box” (the Crib) and you score points with cards that add up to 15 (all the picture cards count as ten) and/or create runs (the ace is one, so one-two-three for three points), pairs (two points), threes (six points) and fours (quite rare for 12 points). It’s also four points for a ‘flush’, a term well known to all of you.

Tips: by all means put a five in your own box if possible but NOT in your opponent’s box (because there are so many tens to make 15 for two points). Welcome 4-5-6, 6-7-8 and 7-8-9 in your hand because – as you can see – the runs also include 15s. Probably the best “rubbish” to put in your opponent’s box is any ten with an ace.

The “pegging”, alternately laying down cards up to a count of 31 or slightly less (31 is the limit), also includes points for 15s (don’t lead with a five!), runs, pairs, etc.

After pegging, you each add up your points, both using the “turn card” – easily explicable – as part of your hand. The winner is the first to reach 121, twice round the crib board, 30 holes up and down. 120 is not the winning line; you can still be passed and “die in the hole”.

It will all look a lot easier in practice or if you go to classiccribbage.com. Don’t take on ‘Pro’ to start with. Play ‘Easy’ at first and progress to ‘Standard’ before giving ‘Pro’ the poker face.

River Ale House Clive
The River Ale House’s captain is Clive Buckman

Crib is wonderfully retro, a great way of getting together and eventually putting ‘Pro’ in his place as you practice online.

If you agree or want to give it a go, email me at mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com and one of my well-trained, well-paid operatives will get in touch and take it from there.

Or just make contact with the Friendly Cribbage League and do it all yourself. They’re a lovely, welcoming lot but – one word of warning – give it a while before you take on ‘Mac’. He’s mustard.

Mercury Man logoPS: I’ve heard there might be a free one-day singles tournament this spring, so now’s the time to get shuffling. Fifteen two!

Got a story or a tip for Mercury Man? Drop him a line at mercuryman.853[at]gmail.com or leave a comment below.

853 produces public interest journalism for Greenwich and SE London and is part-funded by its readers. If you would like to contribute to keeping the site running, please…
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One comment

  1. I always saw crib as a sort of secret society game – my parents would play it, most nights, late at night, as my grand parents did. None of them were pub goers. But they never offered to teach me. Sort of like you had to be over 50 to be told about it.
    And there were some other – er – words to describe scores which you haven’t mentioned. Just as well in a family blog

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