Friday, March 26, 2010
Cribbage – Not Just for Grandmothers
My friend Claire and her family’s homemade cribbage board which we have played on for years (photo from 1995).
Growing up, I mostly played solitaire because I had no brothers or sisters. It wasn’t until college when I met a friend who taught me to play cribbage and canasta, and reveled in beating me every time. She had grown up playing with her grandmother and used to cheat by looking at the reflection of the cards in her glasses.
Cribbage is one of those games that has a great rhythm and many ridiculous rules. It’s a game that everybody plays exactly the same way. When you play cribbage with someone for the first time, it’s like you know a secret handshake and language. Cut for deal, deal, discard to kitty, cut for starter, play, count, change deal, lather, rinse, repeat. Everyone knows when to peg, exactly how to count out your hand and what his nibs are. For an outsider, it makes no sense at all.
When I started to play cribbage with my friend Claire around 16 years ago, we would play game after game for hours on end. I once went to one of her family reunions where all her relatives played cribbage (on the very same board). I was on a roll that day, lining them up and beating every one in turn.
After that success, I tried my hand at entering a local cribbage tournament. Heck, I usually beat my friends, so how bad could it be? Apparently, there is a whole other level of cribbage that I was not aware of. The tournament was hosted in the historic Stagecoach Inn in Groton, MA (circa 1678) by a local cribbage meet-up group. We wandered through hallways with uneven floors before settling in a room that smelled strongly of stale smoke.
When we started playing, I knew I was in trouble. Every player was to play five games and then there was a semifinal round and finals. I remember playing against an older gentleman who had no teeth. He was beating me and I was thinking, OMG I’m being beaten by a guy with no teeth! In the end, I won that game and one other. Near the end of the regular tournament play, I remember a woman yell out, “I finally won a game!” At least I was doing better than some people!
I played one guy who completely dominated the game. He seemed to know exactly how I thought and made me play right into his hand every single time. It was like I was a puppet in his theater. I was shocked that someone could control a game so deftly and confidently. I used to think that cribbage was half chance (in the cards you are dealt) and half skill, but I know now that there is a huge skill level involved. Regardless of the hand he was dealt, he could make up the points during the play. This guy eventually went on to win the tournament.
Several years ago, I mentioned that I couldn’t wait to teach Adam to play cribbage. Last week, the time had come. The first night, I helped him with all his discards to explain the rules, written and unwritten. I skunked him the first game and felt really bad. I hoped that it wouldn’t turn him off. He was completely fascinated by the game and wanted to keep playing. Here he is after our 4th game where he actually skunked me!
We’ve been playing every night for the last week and Adam is definitely loving the game as much as I do. He feels the rush when pegging tons of points or getting a 20 point hand. He loves that there are so many ways to get points. He’s also learning to count his hand in exactly the right order (his mom is a stickler for such details… nothing more annoying than someone who doesn’t count their 15s first).
When I posted this photo on facebook, I got a comment from someone who loved playing cribbage with their grandmother. Later, a parent of Dova’s friend stopped by and said the same thing about their grandmother! Geez, cribbage is not just a game for grandmothers and old men with no teeth! But I know one grandma who will love to play with Adam. Note to self, bring cribbage board to next family gathering - it may save my sanity!