The invention of Cribbage, Crib for short, was attributed to the poet Sir John Suckling (1609 - 1642) by his biographer, John Aubrey. Suckling was something of a scoundrel by all accounts, "the greatest gallant of his time, the greatest gamester both for bowling and cards, so that no shopkeeper would trust him for sixpence". He was an expert at cards, dice and bowls as well as being a womaniser and notorious wit on top of his poetry day-job! His most notorious feat was began when he distributed large numbers of packs of marked cards to the aristocratic populace around England. He then followed up this preparation by going around the country playing the local gentry at Cribbage for money, managing to earn himself around 20,000 (about 4 million in today's money). His lifestyle eventually led to his downfall, however, when in 1642 he allegedly became involved in a plot to free the Earl of Stafford from the Tower of London. In an effort to escape the consequences of this, he fled to Paris and there committed suicide by poisoning himself at the age of 32.

There's no hard evidence to show that Suckling was the inventor of Cribbage and it seems to be suspiciously similar to an earlier game played in Tudor times called Noddy, the rules for which aren't entirely clear. It is probably indicative that Noddy means 'fool' or 'dimwit' and, in 'The Compleat Gamester' published by Charles Cotton in 1674, the upturned Jack in 'Cribbidge' is referred to as 'Knave Noddy'. The traditional story says that Suckling invented the game after 1632 (age 23) whereas the Oxford English Dictionary has it's first reference to the word "Cribbage" at 1630, the year that he was knighted, which sheds some considerable doubt upon that version of events, in this author's view. It does seem likely, though, that Sir John did improve and codify the rules to Cribbage and, however game came about, he definitely used his contacts to publicise and spread the new game throughout the land. Cribbage itself is a most elegant and enjoyable pastime with just the right combination of skill and luck. It's not difficult to pick up but can take some time to play well and so it is not surprising that the new game was taken up so enthusiastically nor that it has lasted so well.

The only card game that can legally be played for money in English pubs, Cribbage requires the use of a scoring board which appears to have been in existence long before the invention of Cribbage itself and may be descended from the same game boards used in ancient civilisations such as Ancient Egypt i.e. those from which Backgammon or Mancala derived. The board is by no means used only for Cribbage, either - many other pub games such as Table Skittles and Indoor Quoits commonly use the same board for scoring. The game spread from England and is now played all over the world - see here for some historical American Cribbage boards.

A standard Cribbage board is a lesson in functional simplicity. Each player moves a pair of pegs up the outside and down the inside of their side of the board. The front peg shows the current score while the rear peg shows the previous score - a device that efficiently prevents mistakes and allows opponents to curtail any surreptious cheating. The holes are clearly divided into sets of five, a fact that allows large scores to be tallied immediately without counting and means that a quick glance is all that is needed to determine who is winning and by how much. A complete trip up and down the board is 60 holes but each end has a finishing hole into which the winning peg is placed. Thus, games scored using a Cribbage board are usually first to 61, 121 or 181.

The first board shown is a very old board indeed inscribed (H.W. Strawberry Hill 1765, courtesy Gerry Aldous of British Colombia. Middle two pictures are from the author's collection - antique Cribbage board, 19th Century and modern board with pack of cards. The lowest picture shows a cribbage board that is also a whist marker probably from the late 19th century.


The rules of Cribbage can be obtained for free from Masters Games.


Pictures of American Cribbage boards. Pictures of British Cribbage boards. Both very kindly sent to the author by Bette Bemis of The Cribbage Board Collectors Society

There are a plethora of Cribbage websites on the Internet. As ever, the Online Guide lists just a few quality sites to get you started....

The Ledbury Cribbage League
The American Cribbage Congress promotes the playing of Cribbage across North America
Cribbage Inc.
There is a Cribbage web ring - as at April 2000, it doesn't seem to be working too well but there is a promise of improvement on the page.

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