Dan Barlow - Tip #2

Pegging psychology

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The number of possible cribbage hands is far from infinite: in fact, you probably hold onto the same four cards, or very similar cards, several times per evening, and sometimes two or even three times in the same game. If you always play the same cards the same way and your opponent is alert enough to notice this, he or she can take advantage of your predictability. In a tournament, where you play one game against each of several opponents, you don't have time to notice anyone's habits, but at home most of us have a few opponents we play regularly. As time passes, you should grow more familiar with your frequent opponent's habits.

If you always lead from your pair, your opponent will become more and more reluctant to pair your opening lead. Save the pair occasionally, hoping he or she will become less cautious later in the play. If you always lead the 3 from the 3-2, hoping your opponent will play a face card, he or she will feel perfectly safe playing a face card if you ever lead a deuce. If you always lead the 6 from 6-9 and you suddenly lead a 9, your opponent will deduce that you have no 6.

Insofar as the 6 is the better lead from 6-9 and the 3 is the better lead from the 3-2, you won't want to deviate especially often, but an occasional change of strategy, perhaps when the game isn't very close, will keep your opponent guessing. And this works both ways. If you observe that your frequent opponent always plays the same cards the same way, you may be able to use this information to steal a few holes now and then.

There's another aspect of pegging I'd like to bring up, if only to clear up a matter which may or may not be covered by ACC rules. In bridge, there is a very strict code of ethics. Players are expected to play each of their cards in the same tempo. True, players sometimes have problems which force them to pause and think for a few moments, but it would be highly unethical if, say, spades had been led, to pause as if you had something to think about, if in fact you held only one spade. This would be a blatant attempt to trick your opponent into believing you had more than one spade and were trying to decide which one to play.

Similar situations arise during the play of a cribbage hand. Suppose you and your opponent have each played two cards, the count has reached 31, and you must now lead from a pair of deuces. Your opponent, holding a 2-7, will have to decide whether or not to pair your deuce, a decision which should be based on what he or she has seen of your hand so far, the position of the game, and whether he or she feels the gain is worth the risk.

Is it ethical to try to convince your opponent you don't have a pair by pausing, pretending you are thinking about which card to lead, when in fact you have no choice? Or, holding 4-10, with the count at 25, is it ethical to pause to think about your play, in an effort to convince your opponent that you hold two cards lower than a 7?

In bridge, such pauses might bring a call to the tournament director from your opponents but, of course, cribbage is not bridge. If trickery is not unethical or ungentlemanly in cribbage, it becomes good strategy to do and even say anything to convince your opponent that you have something you actually don't have.

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

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