5 Characteristics All The Best Crib Players Share

5 Characteristics All The Best Crib Players Share

If you’ve played much cribbage, you know the top players come in all shapes and sizes. A seemingly frail elderly lady can be as formidable an opponent as a lifelong Legion club member, of whom you might expect. But with a discerning eye, it’s possible to recognize (and nurture) specific characteristics that they best cribbage players share.

The top cribbage players are:

1. Strategic

Forget those casual observers who proclaim cribbage as a game of pure luck. It’s not luck that helps you win, it’s strategy. The best crib players are in it for the long game. They understand that it’s foolish to play five as the first card, or make 21 before their opponent’s go—all tips I learned from my first serious crib mentor, a strapping Canadian named Phil. Phil was a six foot four, former-Special Ops guy who had traded fighting militias for a life on the beach. He taught me to play at his bar on the velvety white sand beaches of eastern Cambodia, where he had fostered an entire community of expert crib players. Phil was good hearted but not altogether kind. Think Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby: damaged but with a good soul. He quickly took to my competitive nature and encouraged me to think like a true crib player: to consider what cards I played and how, and to recognize the risks I could comfortably take when it was my deal.

2. Measured

A measured disposition allows crib players to practice deliberation and restraint, to remain composed despite excitement or anxiety. This makes me about the least measured person you could ever know. I can’t help it: I’m someone who wears my emotions on my sleeve, who can’t help but let a sly grin creep across her face when gifted a double run. I’ve always lacked that even tempo that helps cribbage aficionados, poker players, and corporate executives fool others for their own benefit. But the crème de la crème have mastered this characteristic to great advantage.

3. Lighthearted

Yes, that’s right. Although crib players fare best when they are strategic and measured, the finest are also lighthearted and able to share a laugh. I mean, it is a game after all, right? Which is to say, without a healthy dose of trash talking to arouse some psychological warfare, what’s the point? If you’re not able to relax into the fun of the game, then your strategic and measured nature won’t matter much because you’ll have a hard time finding people with whom to play. My closest friend, dear travel companion, and regular cribbage partner has always reminded me of this. Though her failure remember whose turn it is, or how many points three of a kind is worth can be infuriating, I can’t help but admire her total lack of concern with points, pegging, or winning. She’s there to have a good time and if you aren’t, then she doesn’t want to play with you anyway.

4. Perceptive

Woah baby, do we have a big one here. Repeat after me: the best cribbage players are perceptive. It makes the world of difference. I once played with a spindy Chilean fellow who could read me like a book. He knew when I was angling for a run or a pair, or if I had an Ace to make 31. He had a way of watching me and really seeing. Perceptive cribbage players notice when they are being lead or queued to help their opponent score points. For example, a novice might rejoice in their good luck of earning two for fifteen after playing an eight on a seven, but a perceptive well-seasoned pro understands their opponent may be leading them set up a run.

5. Curious

Especially when learning to play, curiosity is of the most importance. Cribbage can be a confusing game – you earn points from the cards in your hand but are also able to peg and score along the way. You cut a Jack and that’s an easy two points for the dealer, and you get one for thirty but two for thirty-one. It’s easy to see how a newbie might think the old pro is manipulating the rules for his or her gain, and that makes curiosity a prerequisite. For me, it was watching two experienced players count their cards: fifteen, two; fifteen, four; and a run for three makes seven. In that moment, my world exploded. What is this game? I remember wondering.

I learned to play that very day.

Cribbage is ultimately a game. Which is to say, the purpose is twofold. For many of us, we come to win, and any game is an opportunity to display our prowess and come out victorious. For others, games are meant to be enjoyed, relished. To be fun. So what does it really mean at the end of the day to be a “great crib player” or “one of the best”?

It means you enjoy this game because it brings folks together. It means you appreciate the subtle and artful dance of luck, strategy, basic math, psychology, and conviviality that composes cribbage.

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