Cribbage Brings Folks Together
by Catherine Tansey
A wood plank with three winding paths to 121 holes, the cribbage board is instantly familiar to those who enjoy this storied pastime. Common misconception would have you believe it’s a game of luck, but it’s a combination of strategy, psychology, and basic math that truly determine the winner.
Like most cribbage (crib) players, I loved everything about the game from the time I first learned to play. I was fascinated by the unexpected ways to make 15. I enjoyed thinking through how my opponent might play their cards. I relished the fact that the crib was there waiting for me, every other turn. I liked that pegging offered an opportunity to score points in play, if you were strategic and intuitive.
I learned to play cribbage, not with my grandparents or elderly neighbors, not at a community game night or in a public library, and not as a small child, like many. Instead, I learned how to play in a bar named “Blame Canada” as a 23-year old living abroad in Cambodia.
I’ve been hooked ever since. And along the way, I’ve played with characters from all over the world in the most unexpected places.
There was David, the older Canadian man with three perfectly maintained braids jutting from his chin in lieu of a traditional beard. David was legendary amongst the expat scene as the best crib player in town—a guy who routinely managed 20 plus points in a single hand. He somehow always scored two for “his heels” and was a master at pegging during play.
We played at a long wooden table surrounded by lush fronds in the humid air of a Cambodian March. He made no effort at small talk and said little other than the occasional triumphant grunt. He was laser focused. And me? As a newbie to this game and community, I was elated to play with David. It was a sign I had passed beyond the beginner status that, up to that point I was sure I’d never escape.
David still won. Every. Single. Time.
There was Micah, the barefoot traveler from Switzerland with whom I formed a cherished friendship—and in no small part due to cribbage.
Micah was a former body builder and current vegan who at one time financed his travels by playing online poker. All of which to say is, he was smart and disciplined and I knew he would make one hell of a crib player.
My instincts were right, and Micah was the best kind of crib partner; competitive and numbers-oriented, he had no issue doing little more than drinking coffee and playing crib all day. He learned faster than most. A natural with numbers, he resented my elementary way of counting double runs by laying out the cards and general condescension toward his novice status. It wasn’t long before he skunked me with ease.
We’re friends to this day.
Then there was Carlos: a computer programmer from Mexico who I met in Bacalar, a city famed for its aquamarine lagoon and close proximity to Belize. Carlos had been curiously eyeing my games with fellow travelers all morning, and I’d grown anxious. What if he asked me to teach him how to play? With the language barrier, it’d be nearly impossible—or so I thought.
But Carlos was sharp. He’d been observing and taking mental notes all day. Our first few hands were clumsy, filled with many laughs and awkward exchanges, he was playing like an old pro in no time at all.
These are the real reasons I love cribbage so much—and why, I expect, you do as well: not because of our competitive natures, or because we like to play cards or appreciate strategy, but because, like all of the best games, it brings people together.