John Chambers - Tip #5

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There are very few times when an experienced player will lead a 5 as the initial card of the Play. However, let's look at an example where this may be the best lead, especially against an inexperienced player.

Suppose your opponent has the deal and is at hole 109 while you are the nondealer (with first count) at hole 106. After your discard you are holding 5 10 J K. You are holding ten points in your hand. The dealer turns up the starter card and it is the 2. You now have twelve points (don't forget the right jack). As the nondealer, you now must put down the initial card of the Play. What card should you play? You can lead a tenth card or the 5.

Say you lead a tenth card. What are the chances your opponent will have a 5 and play the 5 knowing that you need to peg? It should be pointed out that since you are holding a 5, there are only three other 5s left. Since your hand consists of four cards and you know the two cards you discarded that leaves 46 cards (including your opponent's six cards) which are unknown. Of the six cards (prior to discarding), what are the chances that one of your opponent's six cards is a 5, considering you have one? The percentage of 5s left in the remaining 46 cards (including your opponent's six cards) is 3 divided by 46 or 6.5%.

Further, you have three tenth cards in your hand, which means that there are thirteen tenth cards left out of the 46 unknown cards (there are sixteen tenth cards in an entire deck). What is the possibility that at least one of your opponent's six cards will be a tenth card? The percentage of tenth cards left in the remaining 46 cards (including your opponent's six cards) is 13 divided by 46 or 28.3%.

Remember, at this point you need to peg four holes. It would be nice to get two points quickly so you only have to worry about two holes and not the full four points.

As the above tenth card example shows, it is less likely that your opponent will have a 5 than a tenth card. Not only that but if you were your opponent would you fifteen a tenth card knowing that your opponent probably has a 5 to go along with the tenth card and needs to peg? So you are left with the 5 as the lead. Let's examine this option as we did with the tenth card.

Assuming that your opponent has at least one tenth card, if your opponent needs to peg, he will probably jump on the 5. You will then have a 75% chance (you are holding three of the four tenth cards) to pair his tenth card. If your opponent does take the fifteen and you pair his tenth card, you now need only two points to win the game. Your opponent also cannot retaliate after pairing the tenth card.

If you didn't lead the five you may have been forced to play it to get only a go. If you don't peg you'll lose the game anyway.

Why not lead a tenth card and pair your opponents 5 if the fifteen is taken? Remember. Play your position first. Then play the percentages only if it is necessary. By pairing the 5 you are giving your opponent not only the opportunity for the fifteen but an opportunity for a pairs royal. What happens if you don't peg enough? Answer: If you gave up at least eight points (fifteen and pairs royal), even if your opponent didn't have enough before, he does now.

Now for the bad news about leading a 5. Suppose you have a habit of doing this under certain circumstances and your opponent is aware of this. If your opponent is aware that you lead a 5 with three tenth cards he may pair your 5 and leave you defenseless and pointless. This is another case in point of knowing where you are and what your needs are compared to your opponent.

Here's another example and you are the dealer. Your opponent is eight holes from going out. You need twelve holes. He leads a 5 and you know that he usually leads a 5 when he has three different tenth cards. Of course, this time you pair him, he was bluffing and he puts down a third 5, gets eight holes and goes out.

The thing is, your strategies may not always work out, especially if your opponent is familiar with how you play. Know what your needs are, play your position first and then play the percentages if needed.

- Republished from Cribbage: A New Concept by permission. Text copyright 2002 by John Chambers. All rights reserved.

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