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.

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