Cribbage Strategy - Your Crib

What to discard when it is your crib

Cribbage board
Richard Goerg/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

After dealing a hand in Cribbage, the first decision you have to make is what cards to discard to your crib. This decision is often a difficult one; unlike the non-dealing player, you don't simply want to hold "good" cards and discard "bad" cards.

Instead, your goal as the dealer is to determine the best way to split your cards to maximize points among your two hands. Here are some tips on how the dealer can do just that:

Obviously, the easiest hand to split is a hand containing four cards that work well together (e.g. 7, 8, 8, 9) as well as an unrelated pair (J, J). In cases like these, clearly the pair goes in the crib, and the four cards stay in your hand. You will get hands like this occasionally, but more frequently you will have difficult decisions.

More frequently you may have the five-card or six-card hand, where all six cards (or five of them) would all work well together, such as 5, 6, 6, 7, 8, J. When splitting up a good hand, your priority should be leaving yourself with a strong hand -- in this case, maintaining the double-run. The Jack is obviously going in the crib. Given this fact, you should discard the five with the jack, for an extra fifteen in the crib.

As a general rule, throwing 5s in the crib is a good idea if you can't turn them into a lot of points in your hand.

Not only is the deck nearly 30 percent face cards and tens (which will give you points if combined with your 5 to make fifteen), but these are the cards most commonly discarded into the crib because they are frequently useless in the opponent's hand without a 5.

For this reason, throwing a 5 into your own crib is good, and throwing a pair of 5s into your own crib, while not guaranteed, has the best potential to score many points. Likewise, a throw of 4, A, or especially 2, 3 in your crib can give you the benefit of a 5.

All else being equal, consecutive cards are better to throw into your crib than unconnected cards.

A pair of cards like 7, 7 only becomes worth more on a 7 (four extra pair points) or an 8 (four points for fifteen).

Conversely, consecutive cards like 6,7 have twice as many options for additional points, with nearly 30 percent of the deck helping you (three points for a run on 5 or 8, two points for a pair on 6 or 7, and two points for fifteen on 8 or 9.)

Note that discarding a pair may give you a higher average crib value, but that includes the two points the pair was already worth in your hand, while an unsupported 6, 7 in your hand isn't worth anything.

So, knowing that fives and fifteens are the best thing to throw in the crib, as well as pairs and consecutive cards, what do you do when your hand splits evenly in half? If you have 5, 7, 7, 8, Q, K, you can either break up the 5, Q, K or the 7, 7, 8. In this case, you want to keep the 7, 7, 8 together, to maximize chances of a big hand on a good cut (6, 7, 8, or 9). Throwing 5, Q in the crib also gives you the best chance of extra crib points.