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Dan Barlow - Tip #14

Endgame pegging, part 3

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You're playing against a woman who has won numerous championships. Both you and she are two holes from victory, and you must lead. What card do you choose? The card your opponent is least likely to peg on, of course. This is almost always a low card, to prevent her from scoring a 15-2. True, your opponent is well aware that a low card is your best bet and will save her own low cards in hopes of pairing you; but you still lead low, gambling that she was not dealt the same low card you are leading.

There's another good reason for leading low, besides the fact she can't score a 15-2. If she can't peg on your low card, she must give you a shot at 15-2 or a run. If she can't peg on your high card, she will probably put the count above 15, so that you can only peg by pairing. Using the same reasoning, when choosing between two different low cards, the 2 and the 4 tend to be better leads than the A and the 3. If you lead a 3, opponent can limit you to one pegging card if she happens to have a 6. If you lead an A, she can play a 7, reducing your pegging chances. But she cannot play on a 2 or a 4 without giving you at least two possible pegging cards.

Suppose you have no low card to lead. Now what is best? Any card from 6 through K gives up two shots at pegging, so what's the difference. To understand the difference, you must look at the situation from the viewpoint of your opponent. She desperately wants to peg your opening lead, because she may never get another chance. Let's say she holds 2-4-6-7-8-Q. She saves the 2 and 4, expecting you to lead a low card. She pitches the 8, because there's no reason to hold both an 8 and a 7. She must now pitch one more card from among 6-7-Q. Keeping the 6 will pay off for her if you lead a 6 or a 9 and there are seven more of those in the deck. Keeping the 7 pays off if you lead a 7 or an 8, and there are still six of those in the deck. But keeping the Q pays off only if you lead a Q. Oh, sure, it also pays off on a 5 lead; but you aren't going to lead a 5, and she knows it. If there's ever a time to lay down a 5 on opening lead, this isn't it. So the Q goes into her crib. It's also the proper card for you to lead from a 6-7-8-Q.

It seems the logical lead from 6-7-8-Q would be the 7 or the 8. After all, there are seven 5s and Qs in the deck, while there are but six 7s and 8s. She is less likely to have been dealt a 7 or an 8. But the question isn't only what was she dealt; it's also what did she save. Let's change the cards slightly. You pick up 7-7-8-Q-K-K and save 7-8-Q-K. She picks up 3-4-7-8-Q-K. She saves the 3-4, knowing you will lead low if you can. She saves the 8 and can thus afford to pitch the 7. There is now a 50%-50% chance she will discard the K, which just happens to be the card you intend to lead.

In short, when both players are within a hole or two of victory, the cards 6 through 9 tend to be more valuable to the dealer than are the cards 10 though K. The high cards are more likely to be pitched into the crib. Therefore, face cards and 10s are normally the safest leads when no low card is available.

- Text copyright © 2002 by Dan Barlow. All rights reserved.

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