England's greatest contribution to Western Civilization is the card game Cribbage - not the works of William Shakespeare. That's what untold numbers of American Cribbage players believe. And the inventor of Cribbage was Sir John Suckling, an English knight, poet, playwright, and gambler. John Suckling was born at Whitton, Middlesex on February 10, 1609 into a prominent and wealthy English family. After his mother Martha died when he was four years old, his father, as sole parent, took over the rearing of young John. His father (also Sir John) was a longtime member of the English Parliament and was Comptroller of the King's Household until his death in 1627. Upon the death of his father, John Suckling at age 18 inherited considerable wealth which he freely spent on travel, women, and gambling. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1623 and was admitted to Gray's Inn in 1627.
Gray's Inn being one of the four London legal societies having the exclusive right to admit persons to practice at the bar. It is believed that John Suckling at age 21 was knighted by King Charles I in 1630, about the time he left Gray's Inn. Sir John spent a year or two at the court of King Charles I and then apparently fell out of favor with the King. He left the court and became involved in several military adventures. It is said he served in the English expedition against the French on the Ile de Re and records show he fought in Lord Wimbledon's regiment in the Dutch service. In October 1631, Sir John joined Sir Henry Vane who was serving under Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden.
Vane sent Sir John back to England in March, 1632 with dispatches for King Charles. After delivering the dispatches and thus completing his mission, Sir John found himself again in the good graces of King Charles and remained in England. Gambling, womanizing, and military service filled much of his days and nights for the remainder of the decade. During this period he invented a new card game which he called "Cribbidge". This game contained features from two other card games of those times, Noddy and One-and-Thirty. One-and-Thirty (31) has a direct relation to the maximum pegging goal of today's game of Cribbage. When the Scottish war of 1639 began, he raised, at his own expense, a troop of 100 horsemen and joined King Charles in the north. When the war ended with the Treaty of Berwich in June, 1639, Sir John returned to London. In 1640 he was elected to Parliament but later, in May 1641, he became involved in a failed attempt to free a political prisoner, Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford, held in the Tower of London. Sir John was charged with treason and to escape arrest he fled to France with only a few belongings and very little of his financial assets. It is believed that in 1642, Sir John Suckling, destitute in Paris, committed suicide by taking poison. Aside from "Cribbidge" he is best known for his lyric poems and ballads, such as "Why so pale and wan fond lover?" from Aglause. His game of "Cribbidge", caught on and has survived, with no major changes, as one of the most popular card games in the English speaking world. Cribbage is alive and well and is here to stay.
While traveling to Raleigh, North Carolina to participate in Nick Pond's National Open Cribbage Tournament, Joseph P. Wergin thought about the many Cribbage tournaments that were springing up and the possibility that some tournament directors might exploit the players. He also thought about the thousands of Cribbage games being played across the country under slightly different rules. Upon his arrival in Raleigh, Wergin shared these thoughts with Pond. Later, during the course of the tournament, several players came to both Wergin and Pond and voiced their concern about a west coast cribbage association because it was structured to sell stock for personal profit. As a result of this widespread concern, Wergin and Pond decided to invite a group of prominent Cribbage players to a breakfast meeting on August 6, 1979, the last day of the sixth annual National Open. The first purpose of the meeting was to determine a way to promote Cribbage tournaments for the benefit of the players rather than for the benefit of the promoters. The second was to standardize the slightly different playing rules that had developed across the nation. The American Cribbage Congress was born at that Monday morning breakfast meeting. Those present were as follows:
Joseph P. Wergin - Wisconsin
Nick Pond - North Carolina
James W. Arblaster - Florida
Arnold C. and Bobbie Crews - Florida
Frank Wise - Florida
Peter Danielson - Michigan
Thomas Miller - Missouri
George E. Bickford - Massachusetts
John Chambers - Rhode Island
The following decisions were made:
The Founding Fathers Meeting (the first formal meeting of the newly formed Executive Committee of the Congress) occurred on Friday, January 11, 1980. Those present included:
Joseph P. Wergin, President - WI
Robert Immel, First Vice President - MN
Nick Pond, Second Vice President - NC
James W. Arblaster, Secretary-Treasurer - FL
William Campbell, Director - MD
John Chambers, Director - RI
Arnold C. Crews, Director - FL
Elbert Hargesheimer Jr., Director - NY
Thomas Miller, Director - MO
The meeting was held in the Board Room of the United States Playing Card Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following major decisions and announcements were made:
The Constitution and By-Laws, prepared in great part by James Arblaster, was presented to the Executive Committee at the Founding Fathers Meeting on January 11, 1980. After a number of changes were made it was approved.
Charles Fulton of the firm Manning, Fulton, and Skinner, Attorneys at Law of Raleigh, North Carolina volunteered his valuable time and services. Mr. Fulton prepared and filed the necessary papers with the court to have the American Cribbage Congress incorporated as a non-profit organization in the state of North Carolina in March, 1980.
At the first annual American Cribbage Congress meeting, which was held at Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, July 25, 1980, a Player Rating System was presented to the Board of Directors by the committee chairman, James Arblaster. The rating system, which was developed by Arblaster and Robert Read (Georgia) with input from the other committee members, was approved by the Board with first use to be September 1, 1980. Master Rating Points would be awarded to players as follows:
1. The winner of a sanctioned tournament would get one full point for every entry in the tournament. The runner-up would get eight points less than the winner. The player in third place would get eight points less than the runner-up and so on down the line to the last place being rated. One out of eight would be rated. However, the total number rated in any tournament would not exceed 32.
2. Each player would get one-quarter point for each year the tournament had been existance.
3. Each player would get one-quarter point for each state or Canadian province, plus one-quarter point for each country represented.
4. Each player would get 10 points for just participating in the tournament.
5. Each player would get a number of points based on the total prize fund, including cash and the value of trophies and other valuable goods donated or purchased. The total prize fund would be divided by the number of players. The resulting figure would then be divided by 10. The final figure would be the number of points awarded.
6. A tournament which did not include some head-to-head elimination would not be qualified to award rating points to its players.
Congress President Joseph P. Wergin came up with a promotional idea to crown a husband and wife team annually as "Mr. and Mrs. Cribbage World". Wergin nominated Frank and Pat O'Connor of Dedham, Massachusetts because of their extensive efforts in support of the Congress (they signed up 80 new Congress members in one two-week period) and their on-going effort to develop a Congress affiliated Junior Tournament. James Arblaster extended the "Mr. and Mrs. Cribbage World" idea by writing up a program and presenting it to the Board of Directors. When the program was approved by the Board, Arblaster inserted an article in the April 1980 issue of CRIBBAGE WORLD newsletter and requested nominations be sent in to the editor. Ballots for the election of "Mr. and Mrs. Cribbage World" were mailed with the June, 1980 issue of CRIBBAGE WORLD newsletter. A total of 245 ballots were cast, 47 percent of the Congress membership. Frank and Pat O'Connor walked off with the 1980 Mr. and Mrs. Cribbage World" title. The O'Connors received 102 first place votes. Runners-up were:
Howard and Lynda Baum - Fayetteville, NC
Everett and Faye Bey - Quincy, CA
John and Gretchen Danielson - Manitowoc, WI
Peter and Ann Gribbin - Portland, ME
Bert and Agnes Hargesheimer Jr. - Hamburg, NY
Alan and Esther Lichty - Des Moines, IA
R. E. and Lillian Rasmussen - Marshalltown, IA
Ed and Melanie Schotanus - Groton, CT
Herb and Fern Farwell - Park, FL
Ruth Fagerstrom - Columbia, SC
Congress Secretary Treasurer James Arblaster originally established the Order in August, 1980 by sponsoring a Booster Club whereby business cards would appear in a Booster Section of the CRIBBAGE WORLD newsletter. This program was quickly dropped and the effort's direction was changed to raise funds to support a Junior Program, and possibly an annual National Junior Tournament. Those who donated $25 or more toward the Junior Program would be commissioned a "Cribadier General" and would be issued a certificate, including a Gold Seal and a Blue Ribbon. Gordon Fisher of Green Bay, Wisconsin was the first to be commissioned in the Order. The date was August 8, 1980. At the end of the Cribbage year there were seven Cribadier Generals on the rolls:
Gordon Fisher - Green Bay, WI - August 8, 1980
Donald J. Leonard - Sanford, NC - August 9, 1980
William F. Tuttle - Cincinnati, OH - August 9, 1980
Everett E. Bey - Quincy, CA - August 10, 1980
Dagg Henderson - Groton, CT - August 10, 1980
James W. Arblaster - Kissimmee, FL - August 10, 1980
Alan Lichty - Des Moines, IA - August 10, 1980
National Open Raleigh, NC - Nick Pond
World Championship Quincy, CA - Everett E. Bey
Iowa State Marshalltown, IA - R. E. Rassmusen
Hawaii State Open Kailua-Kona, HI - Robert N. Herkes
Dante Club Springfield, MA - George Bickford
11th Road Tournament Marshfield Beach, MA - Eddie Bowes
March 22-23 Western New York State Open - Hamburg, NY
April 4-5-6 Hawaii State Open - Kailua-Kona, HI
April 13 Iowa State - Marshalltown, IA
April 19-20 Midwest Masters Classic - Madison, WI
May 10 World Championship - Quincy, CA
June 14 Kiwanis International Invitational - Cupertino, CA
June 22 Paradise Cribbage Classic - Englewood, CO
June 25 State VFW Classic - Racine, WI
July 26-27-28 National Open - Raleigh, NC
1. Charles Messina of Lynn, Massachusetts came into the Congress first. He signed up April 19, 1980 while attending the Midwest Masters Classic at Madison, Wisconsin. Congress President Wergin officiated at the signing.
2. The first organization to join the Congress was the Rhode Island Cribbage League, 52 strong. The founder of the league, John Chambers, was also one of the founding directors of the Congress.
3. In July 1980, Dick and Mary Cornwell of Sunnyvale, California signed up for membership in the Congress. Dick drew membership number 500 and Mary's number was 501. Both received free Congress membership for the next year.
4. Dagg Henderson of Groton, Connecticut was the first to sign up for a Life Membership in the Congress. He did the deed in August, 1980.
5. Membership in the Congress was increasing every month. As of May, 1980, Rhode Island was out in front with the most members. But Wisconsin and North Carolina were next in line and closing fast. Florida, New York, and California came next, in that order. Total membership for the Cribbage year 1979-1980 was 561 and 35 states were represented.
6. The sanction fee for tournaments and leagues was $1.00 per entry. The minimum tournament fee was $16.00. No minimum number of entries was set.
7. The first of twelve consecutive monthly CRIBBAGE WORLD articles "Pegging Pointers" by Dan Barlow of Chapel Hill, North Carolina appeared in the August, 1980 issue.
8. In the first paid advertisement in CRIBBAGE WORLD, Congress President Joseph Wergin announced the publication of his new book "HOW TO WIN AT CRIBBAGE". It came hard cover only and sold for $10.95. Shipping charges were $1.00.
9. Soon after the Breakfast Meeting (August 6, 1979 at Raleigh) Joseph Wergin and James Arblaster started thinking about the type of tournament the Congress should adopt. The double-elimination tournament (the format of the National Open at Raleigh) had many good features but it took a lot of time. Also, an unlucky player could be eliminated from the whole tournament before noon on the first day of play. In fact, that had happened to Tats Tsuruda of Hawaii two years in a row. He had traveled 5,000 miles to Raleigh and by noon of the first day of play had been eliminated and was ready to travel the 5,000 miles home. He didn't get to play much Cribbage. Then Wergin and Arblaster considered a two-day tournament using the first day for qualifying and the second day for elimination playoffs. This seemed like the way the Congress should go. However, the double elimination format of the National Open would remain unchanged. (Nick Pond did move the second round of play to the afternoon - now no player could be eliminated before lunch!)
10. The Executive Committee determined that all who signed up in the first two years as Congress members would be "Charter Members".
11. The American Cribbage Congress almost had a different name. At the Breakfast Meeting, Nick Pond made a motion to call the organization the American Cribbage Association, but John Chambers stated that there was already an organization called the ACA. Pond withdrew his motion, James Arblaster made a motion to call it the American Cribbage Congress, and Chambers seconded. The motion carried unanimously.
12. President Wergin secured a booth for the Congress at the upcoming exhibition "GAMES UNLIMITED" which was to be staged on October 23-26, 1980 at the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. Cribbage information and literature were to be distributed, lectures and Cribbage demonstrations were to be held, and new members were to be signed up. Cribbage enthusiasts from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island were scheduled to assist Wergin in the booth.
13. "CRIBBAGE LESSONS ANYONE" from CRIBBAGE WORLD newsletter Vol. 1 No. 4, June 1980. Lucille Stickfort of Independence, Iowa is about to give Cribbage lessons. Her classroom will be a popular supper club and to prove she means business, she has placed a good-sized advertisement in a local newspaper Lucille says not very many people play Cribbage in her area so she decided to teach the game before organizing a league or a tournament. Good luck "Professor" Stickfort and keep up the good work."
Many folks contributed their time and efforts (and to some degree their financial assets) to the founding and first year's growth of the American Cribbage Congress. But the names of two gentlemen, Joseph P. Wergin and James W. Arblaster do shine through the forest of reports, papers, records, statistics, and correspondence relating to that year. Wergin and Arblaster seem to have been everywhere; in front of, part of, or behind every scene; involved in everything.