Cribbage – Game of the Month for May A Strategic Game Requiring Pairs of Balls be Made Consecutively

Cribbage, or Cribbage Pool, is a great game, though one that has long ago gone out of fashion. If you’re looking for something new you should definitely give this one a try. It’s easy to learn and exercises different parts of your pool brain, so it will seem very fresh and enjoyable.

Object of the Game

Cribbage is very different from other games in that balls must be made in pairs, or they don’t count. Like in the namesake card game, a cribbage is a pair that adds to 15, i.e., the 2 and the 13 or the 7 and the 8. The 15 ball is a cribbage by itself, but must be made after all other balls have been pocketed. There are 8 cribbages in a rack, each one worth 1 point. To win a rack takes 5 of the 8 points. Complete rules for Cribbage at Wikipedia.

How to Play

When it’s your turn to shoot, you can shoot at any ball on the table other than the 15 ball, unless it’s the only ball left. If you make the ball, say the 4 ball, you’re said to be “on a cribbage”. You then must pocket its partner, in this case the 11 ball, to complete the cribbage and earn a point. Failure to complete a cribbage is a foul and play passes to the opponent (see fouls below).

Cribbage Board
Cribbage has its Origins as a Card Game

Cribbage is a call shot game, meaning that you must make the intended ball in the intended pocket for it to count. Only the ball and pocket matter, not what happens along the way, so kisses, billiards, banks, etc. are irrelevant. When on a cribbage you do not have to contact the partner ball 1st, you just have to pocket it legally. You are allowed to shoot a combination, billiard, carom etc. to legally make your target ball.

If the 15 ball is made at any time other than when it is the last ball on the table, it is spotted immediately with no penalty to the shooter. When you’re not on a cribbage, if you pocket more than one ball on a shot, then you’re on multiple cribbages. You must complete those cribbages ASAP, but you may shoot them in any order. So, for example, you make the 5 Ball and the 7 goes in as well. You must shoot either the 10 (to go with the 5) or the 8 Ball to cribbage the 7. If you make the ball of your choice, you must then shoot the other one. If you miss, all unpaired balls are spotted, but you get credit for all pairs completed.

The Break

All 15 balls are racked in the standard triangle shape with the apex ball on the foot spot. The only requirements with respect to ball placement within the rack are that the 15 ball goes in the center of the 3rd row and that no two of the three corner balls may add up to 15.

You must execute a hard break, either making a ball or causing at least 4 balls to hit a rail. In the event of an unsuccessful break, the opponent has the choice of having the breaker re-break or break himself. There is no other penalty.

If the breaker makes a ball (or more) on the break, he is on a cribbage (or more) and must complete it in order to score.


All the standard fouls apply, including scratching, double hitting the cue ball, failure to hit a rail after the cue ball collides with an object ball, etc. In the event of a scratch or cue ball off the table foul, all pocketed but unpaired balls are spotted, and incoming player has Ball in Hand in the kitchen. The penalty for any other foul is that your opponent gets the choice of playing the ball as it lies or taking BIH in the kitchen. Three consecutive fouls is loss of game. Remember, failure to complete a cribbage is a foul.

Why play Cribbage?

It’s novel, and that alone can make it fun. But what makes Cribbage stand out is the different strategy from other games. Choosing good patterns is very important, and so is execution to get position on your next ball. You get some of the freedom of choice you get in 8 Ball and Straight Pool, but also have the requirement to get on a specific ball as in 9 and 10 Ball.

The penalty for failure to complete your cribbage is huge, so the pressure is on to get great shape on the second ball in every pair.


One variation which simplifies the game in many people’s minds is to pair up colors rather than balls that add to 15. For example, the yellow 1 ball pairs up with the yellow striped 9 Ball. The 8 ball, the only unpaired color, becomes the last ball, equivalent to the 15 in standard Cribbage.

Cribbage as a Solo Practice Game

For players who just can’t seem to spend any time doing drills, or don’t like to do them in a pool hall, playing solo cribbage can be a good alternative. Throw the balls out on the table and try to run out, one cribbage after another. You’ll see improvement over time in your pattern play. You’ll also improve your focus on getting shape for a particular ball, especially you 8 Ballers.

Related Posts

Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories
Play Pool without Fear
Practice Getting Shape Rather than Shot Making
Three Opening Strategems to Win More 8 Ball Games

Poolosophy: Pool Student’s Approach to the Game

Poolosophy is part of Volume 7 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the May 2010 edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at P00lriah. The April theme is Poolosophy – Your Philosophy about Pool.

Poolsynergy Logo
Poolsynergy Logo

When it comes to pool, basically I’m schizophrenic. One the one hand I’m a very laid back, easy going guy. I see pool as a game not a way of life; a way to have fun, not a career. On the other hand, I find pool to be profoundly satisfying and I’m deeply interested in getting better at the game. I believe in both my gut and my intellect that only through regular, directed practice will my game and my skills progress at any significant rate. Most overnight sensations happen after ten years of intense, disciplined effort.

My Approach to the Game

I try to live up to the highest standards of integrity. I would never lie about my skill level or purposely play below it to get an advantage in handicapping or in a wager. If I commit a foul I will tell my opponent rather than hope she didn’t see it, whether in a friendly game or in the finals of a tournament or league. I wish more people played this way, but there are so many ethical players out there that I’ll never go without an honorable opponent. Gambling is OK if done honorably and with discretionary funds, but hustling, sandbagging and sharking are completely disreputable. To me, success in this goal isn’t to be honored, but should be expected as a minimum standard.

I try not to be one of those guys in the pool room. It would bother me if my behavior was irritating enough to bother others. I work at learning to ignore these bad habits in others, but with only limited success.

If you can’t respect your opponent, you shouldn’t be playing him. It’s just that easy to fix. And if you meet them in a league or tournament match, watch them like a hawk and don’t take any crap. But for everyone else, it’s important to be a good sport, win or lose. I try to remember that nothing happened on the table that wasn’t directly caused by my opponent or me. Luck in pool, good or bad, is all in your imagination. The balls go where they’re hit. Pretending otherwise just keeps you from seeing things as they really are.

Don’t offer unsolicited advice. No matter how much you know, no matter how much your opponent could benefit from your wisdom; keep it to yourself unless asked. Otherwise, it often puts the two of you in an awkward situation, where you’ve moved the conversation into a training situation and the opponent just wants to play. Since they didn’t ask for assistance they may be much less receptive than you anticipate, maybe even hostile. And if they’re polite it may just be because they have better manners than you do.

Maximizing Improvement

Keep it Fun. My goal to get better is tied to my long term enjoyment of the game. I don’t push myself to practice harder, longer, and more aggressively than I find enjoyable. This limits the extent of improvement I’ll achieve, but I’m OK with that. Becoming even better at the cost of losing my love for the game would be a bad trade indeed.

Keeping a positive outlook helps me weather the slumps and poor play that inevitably happens. Practice only improves my chances for making a given shot, it guarantees nothing. Improving the error bars around my trend line is desirable, but they’ll never be zero.

Play, Compete & Practice. Play to have fun, to try new things, play new games, etc. Compete, in tournaments, leagues or gambling to play under pressure. It’s hard to simulate this pressure, so just participate directly in the stressful activity until you get used to it. You’ll often find it intensely enjoyable as you learn to overcome your initial butterflies. Also, in both of these, work on your strategy. Practice to improve your physical skills.

Photo of Yogi Berra
You can observe a lot by watching – Yogi Berra

I do my best to be honest with myself. I didn’t miss because I was unlucky, I missed because I moved my body while stroking, or I took my eye off the object ball, etc. The pool gods weren’t against me today, causing me to overrun my position zone, I just hit the ball too hard. It’s amazing what you can see if you just open your eyes and take the blinders off.

Know Your Weaknesses, requires the just mentioned honesty as well as willingness to methodically examine your game and rate everything. Getting assistance from someone with a much stronger game can help a lot, but only if they’re willing to be honest with you. Most people aren’t, for fear of hurting your feelings.

Practice Productively, Effectively & Efficiently. Productively means working on the right things, i.e., the things that will help your game the most. Effectively means practice that will actually help you make the difference you’re after. Efficiently means getting the most benefit from each hour of effort.

Don’t practice banks if you bank rarely when you play. It’s practice mostly wasted. Working on a drill to improve your position play that doesn’t result in improved position play means you’re working on the wrong drill. And practicing inefficiently can mean learning something after 20 hours of hard work when you could have done it in 5.

Don’t Do it by Yourself. The earlier it is in your pool education, the more important it is to get excellent in-person feedback from someone you trust. This person can see things you can’t, not only because they know much more, but because they’re watching you objectively, something you cannot do. You view yourself through the lens of your own kinesthetic sense of what you are doing, whereas they actually see you do it. Video equipment can help, but it’s not as good as an instructor.

Pay attention to the details. It will help you get to the bottom of issues, instead of stopping at the first thing you notice. The more fundamental the problem you discover, the more valuable the result of your effort to improve it will be.

Keep your standards high but your expectations reasonable. Every time you get better you must raise the bar or your performance level will stagnate. Enjoy the improvement, reward yourself for a job well done, and then start a new effort to improve something else. Be cognizant, though, of how hard it is to improve and how long it takes to get better. It is realistic to improve every month, but not realistic to jump a few skill levels in a short time. Be patient, you’ll get there with steady improvement.

Past Editions of PoolSynergy

Nov 2009 – Volume 1
Dec 2009 – Volume 2
Jan 2010 – Volume 3
Feb 2010 – Volume 4
Mar 2010 – Volume 5
Apr 2010 – Volume 6

My PoolSynergy Posts

Nov 2009 – Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories
Dec 2009 – My First Big ‘Aha!’ Moment in Pool
Jan 2010 – Three Outside Influences on my Pool Education
Feb 2010 – Some of My Favorite Pool Players
Mar 2010 – 10 Reasons Why Gambling is Bad for Pool
Apr 2010 – Attitude is Everything

Strategy Question: Offense vs Defense in 14.1 What are the Factors that Matter When You Decide

I played a match the other day in my straight pool league. My opponent is a little better than I am and he spotted me 26 balls in a game to 100. I started out slow and he got way ahead and I caught fire, and he slowed down and we were at 98 me – 95 him with me at the table.

Big Question Mark - Offense vs Defense
Offense vs Defense

It’s a nearly fresh rack with only 3 or 4 balls loose. I’m behind the rack with good safety options and one shot on a close moderate cut to the corner. Not a shot I’m sure of by any means, but a shot I can make ~ 40-50% of the time. Getting shape on the out ball is easy, so if I make the shot I’ll win. It’s offense vs defense decision time.

I shoot it and miss, leaving my intended out ball for my worthy opponent. He makes it, and another ball then misses and it’s still 98 me – 97 him. I have another long cut down table with about the same chance as before, as well as good safe opportunities. Again, shape on the out ball is all but guaranteed. I take the shot and miss again (man I suck) and my opponent gets out.

We’re friends who often share thoughts about all aspects of pool and our games. He asked about why I took the shots rather than play the easy safeties. My response was that he’s a better safety player than I am, and I saw myself winning a safety battle with him about 1 in 3 or 4 times. We’d had a number of these safety battles in the game and I lost more than I won by about that percentage (do I smell an area for practice, or what?).

So I went with the percentages. What do you all think of this approach? How would you go about making decisions like this? Do you favor offense vs defense in a general way or do you make the decisions one shot at a time? I look forward to reading and discussing your comments.

Related Posts

My First Big ‘AHA’ Moment in Pool
Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories
Play Pool without Fear
Achieving Dead Focus instead of Dead Stroke
10 Common Mistakes in Pool that Cost You Wins

Rotation – Game of the Month – April 2010

Rotation, as I bet you’ve already guessed, is one of a number of games where the balls must be played in order, starting with the 1 Ball and working your way to the highest numbered ball. It is the most difficult of these games because all 15 balls are used, making the table more crowded, and tougher to maneuver the cue ball on.

Rotation: Object and Scoring

Start with 15 balls racked with the 1 Ball in front, the 2 and 3 in the other corners and the 15 in the middle of row three. Break hard from behind the head string, with at least 4

Efren Reyes
Efren Reyes Credits Rotation for his 9 Ball Game

balls hitting a cushion to avoid a foul. On all shots, the lowest numbered ball (called the ball-on) must be hit first. The player continues at the table until he/she misses or fouls. Rotation is not a called ball or called shot game. As long as the lowest numbered ball is contacted first, any ball being pocketed is credited to the shooter and the player’s turn would continue.


Scoring is based on the number of the object ball pocketed. Making the 10 Ball is worth 5 times as much as making the 2 ball. The object of the game is to score more points than your opponent. Since there are only 120 possible points in any game (sum of 1, 2, 3 … 15), in a game of two players the first one to get 61 wins because the opponent cannot catch him/her. If a tie occurs, the player making a ball gets one extra point and the win.

Safeties and Fouls

Safeties are more tightly controlled than in many other games. Driving an object ball directly to the nearest rail without hitting another ball is a legal safety but can only be done twice in a game, with subsequent similar shots being fouls. Driving the OB to any rail other than the closest one, or hitting a second ball during the course of the shot, is always a legal safety, i.e., there are no limits on the number of times you can do them. Also, like in 9 Ball & 10 Ball, one cannot call “safety” and then pocket a ball. If you legally pocket a ball you must keep shooting.

In the event of a foul, incoming player has the choice of taking the shot as it lies, or of handing it back to the opponent who must then play it. If the foul was a scratch, the incoming player gets ball in hand in the kitchen, but could still give the shot to the opponent. On a scratch, if the ball-on is in the kitchen, since the cue ball must cross the head string before it can hit a ball, the shooter can choose to have that ball spotted on the foot spot. Three consecutive fouls by the same player is loss of game. Complete rules of Rotation.

Basic Strategies

Since high numbered balls are worth so much more than low ones, early in the game it is often better to shoot a tougher shot, a combo, or carom, etc, off the ball-on rather than just making it directly. To win making the balls in order you would have to make 11 balls, the 1 through 11, but if you can make the high numbered balls you can get past 61 with only five, the 11 – 15.

Rotation is a very tough game to master since cue ball positioning can be difficult. Many of the best players in the world use Rotation to sharpen their skills, especially in the Philippines. It has contributed mightily to their comparative dominance in 9 & 10 Ball.

Good safeties early in the game can also help you get out in front. It can be very tough to hit the ball with so many blockers. And be careful not to foul. Since fouling yields BIH in the kitchen rather than anywhere on the table you might take more chances. But remember, The incoming player can give you the shot back, so the penalty for fouls is still quite severe.

Why Play Rotation?

Reason #1? Just look what it’s done for the Pinoys. Reason #2 is that it will provide the incentive you need to work on your caroms, billiards, combinations and banks. It’s a wonderfully rich game with the strategic depth of one pocket. And it rewards creativity like one pocket also.

Give Rotation a try with one of your more open minded pool friends and see if it isn’t all I’ve said. I think you’ll like it, but let us know one way or the other by commenting on this post.

Related Posts

Last Pocket 8 Ball – Game of the Month – March 2010
One Pocket: Game of the Month – February 2010
Cowboy – Game of the Month – January 2010
My First Big “AHA” Moment in Pool
Gleanings from TAR 17 – Donny Mills vs Shane Van Boening
Practice Getting Shape Rather than Shot Making
Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories

Attitude is Everything In Pool as in Life, a Positive Outlook is Enormously Helpful

This article is part of Volume 6 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the April edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at Diary of a Pool Shooter. The April theme is The Most Important Thing.

PoolSynergy Logo
PoolSynergy Logo

Mike McCafferty’s challenge to us was to name and defend our choice for the one most important thing in pool. It seemed at first like a very tough challenge. After all, there is so much to know and so many fundamental truths to understand deeply if one is to really learn this game, let alone master it.

As in life though, attitude is everything. No matter your physical prowess, your mental acumen, nor your time playing the game, without a great attitude, sustained over years, you won’t come close to achieving your potential.

Many aspects of attitude are important, i.e., your continued love of the game and your ability to find it enthralling after playing for years. A positive attitude will help you get past all the rough spots. Another big one is being open to learning and understanding that there is always more to learn. This one has a tough corollary, namely, you often can’t learn something new without changing some part of a thing you thought you already knew.

There are many other aspects to attitude that in the long run trump any game specific thing you can learn. My choice for the most important thing to help you maximize your pool playing potential is being detail oriented. The following words, sadly all with strong negative connotations, will round out the different aspects of this concept: hard to please, demanding, painstaking, exacting, precise, meticulous and fastidious.

Attitude is Everything

Pool is a game of extreme subtlety. There are innumerable details about each aspect of the fundamentals that together make up one’s stroke. There are the countervailing forces you must balance when you make a cut shot, especially when you put english on the ball. There’s the myriad of choices you have to make about which ball(s) to shoot, in what pocket, in which order. You need to decide among and be able to execute your choice of various routes for the cue ball take, etc.

Because there are so many things to consider at virtually every point in every game, and because execution has to be so accurate, you need to pay attention to exactly what you’re doing, and exactly the results you’re getting, so that you have an accurate picture of which part or parts are causing the problems. Even a 1 degree error can cause you to miss some shots, and can play havoc with your position.

You simply must be attentive to the little things. It won’t do you any good to work on your aim if the problem is that you’re putting unintended english on the ball and throw is what’s causing you to miss. Noticing that your run ended because the shape you had gotten on the ball was poor, rather than that you should have made the tough shot is only a start. Figuring out why you got that poor shape is even more important. You can’t fix a problem you don’t really understand.

Become detail oriented. It’s key to helping you maximize your pool playing potential.

Did the cue ball follow your intended path and go too far or come up short, or did the CB not follow the intended path? If the latter, did the error start immediately, with the CB leaving the collision on the wrong line, or did too much or too little follow or draw push or pull the ball off the tangent more or less than you expected. Did you hit the rail in the right spot but then leave it at the wrong angle, or did you miss the spot? Did you hit a ball en route? Each of these is a different problem with a different solution. You must diagnose correctly in order to prescribe an effective cure.

More difficult to figure out, but no less important to understand are things like: did you play the best pattern, did you choose the correct routes from ball to ball, did you mix offense and defense appropriately, and on and on.

Knowing that each of these is important and that you may not know how to determine which, if any, are suboptimal, you can seek help from more knowledgeable players/instructors and can do some research to give you tips on how to do the diagnostics on your own. Here too, though, attitude is everything. You must be open to criticism, willing to listen rather than talk, and willing to get worse before you get better. Don’t just take everything at face value, ask lots of questions so you can really understand the “why” as well as the “what” and the “how”. But be careful to be curious and thoughtful rather than stubborn and argumentative. Your great attitude can turn a good instructor into an extraordinary one.

Improving your game requires shoring up your weaknesses, especially the ones that come up over and over. Improving your banking, which you use once every few games, is relatively minor. Fixing an aiming/throw problem that comes up on every cut over a foot or two is crucial. You need to be sensitive to everything, learn to pay attention to the smallest mistake, and learn to care about them because they are the keys to your improvement.

Learn to pay attention to the smallest mistake, and learn to care about them, because they are the keys to your improvement.

Improving your game also requires finding the best stance/grip/stroke/pre-shot routine/pace/etc. for you and sticking with it. First, it’s very difficult to hone something to perfection if you don’t do it the same way every time. Second, even a finely tuned kinesthetic sense has to know what to look for. That’s impossible if you don’t have a normal shot to compare it to.

As you standardize your fundamentals, pay more and more attention to how you are executing. Don’t try to control them, just pay attention to them, notice every nuance. Let your subconscious fix the problem(s) you discover. This technique, delineated in detail, can be found in The Inner Game of Tennis, by Tim Galwey.

To sum up, being attentive to detail is the single most important thing you can do to improve your game. Detail orientation will help you see more in other people’s games. It will help you get more out of books, videos, and personal instruction. When you recognize the real issue in every problem, it’s easier to solve them efficiently and effectively.

Return to PoolSynergy #6

Related Posts

My First Big “AHA” Moment in Pool
Thinking Your Way to More Pool Victories
Three Outside Influences on my Pool Education
Gleanings from TAR-17: Donny Mills vs Shane Van Boening
Play Pool without Fear

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!