What is the Best Cribbage Hand?


Do you want to play a game?  Great – I’ll get the cards.  Grab a deck of cards, shuffle, and deal.  The nice thing about cards games is that they are easy setup and easy clean up.  Once everyone understands the rules then the game play is easy to follow.  Obviously there are different rules with different card games.  Games like Poker give the cards a value in sequential order.  Aces are high.  Pinochle, on the other hand, ranks the counting cards Ace-Ten-King.  Cribbage is unique, in that all cards have some, or no value, depending on how they are combined with the other cards in your hand.  Check out this Perfect Cribbage Board.

What is the best cribbage hand?  The best cribbage hand is three fives and a Jack that matches the suit of the cut card which is also a five.  These five cards will have a total score of 29 points, which is the best hand possible in cribbage.   

Counting the Points

The example hand below is Jack of clubs and four 5’s.

Jack of clubs and 5 of clubs – 2 points; Jack of clubs and 5 of diamonds – 2 points; Jack of clubs and 5 of hearts – 2 points; Jack of clubs and 5 of spades – 2 points; 5’s of clubs, diamonds, and spades – 2 points; 5’s of clubs, diamonds, and hearts – 2 points; 5’s of clubs, hearts, and spades – 2 points; 5’s of diamonds, hearts, and spades – 2 points; pair of 5’s clubs and spades – 2 points; pair of 5’s clubs and hearts – 2 points; pair of 5’s clubs and diamonds – 2 points; pair of 5’s spades and hearts – 2 points; pair of 5’s spades and diamonds – 2 points; pair of 5’s diamonds and hearts – 2 points; and Nobs (Jack suited with the cut card) is 1 point – for a total of 29 points.

Knowing the Hands

It’s natural to learn the rules of cribbage because if you don’t know the rules you can’t play the game.  However, serious cribbage players take the time to know the hands too.  The reason you want to know these hands are so that you can quickly sort through you cards and know which cards are best to keep and which to throw into the crib.  Another reason to know the hands is to ensure that you properly count all of your points.  This extra bit of knowledge greatly increases your odd of winning cribbage.

Muggins

If you fail to properly count your points then your opponent can call “Muggins” and correct your error.  When someone successfully claims Muggins then they are rewarded with the points that you miscounted.  The odds of getting a Perfect Cribbage hand are 1 in 216,580.  When you finally beat these odds and are looking at four 5’s and a suited Jack you want to be able to say 29 points and put them on the board. 

Other Great Crib Hands

If you cannot get the Best Cribbage Hand, don’t worry.  There are some other great cribbage hands.  The next best hands are worth 28 points.  This hand would be just like the Perfect Cribbage hand without Nobs.  This would consist of four 5’s and one of the following: an unsuited Jack, King, Queen, or 10.

Hands that total 24 points are:  6, 5, 5, 5, 4 and 6, 5, 5, 4, 4 and 6, 7, 7, 8, 8.

Hands that total 22 points are:  10, 10, 5, 5, 5 and K, K, 5, 5, 5 and Q, Q, 5, 5, 5 and J, J, 5, 5, 5.

The Power of 5

Once you take some time to analyze the top point earning hands you can quickly see that the most powerful card in Cribbage is the 5.  There is only one cribbage hand that scores greater than 22 points that doesn’t have a 5.

Another observation is that 5’s are more powerful when paired together.  A single 5 with three 9’s is really not that valuable, but if an Ace appears on the starter card then you’re in business. 

There are only four 5’s but they can pair with 16 other cards (four Kings, four Queens, four Jacks, and four 10’s) to equal 15 and score points.  Keeping 5’s in your hand has the best odds of combining with the cut card for points, and also has the best odds to get points during the play.

When you understand the power of the 5 you realize that it is usually in your best interest to keep 5’s and not put them in the crib, unless it’s your crib.

Discarding to the Crib 

Determining what to put in the crib is an essential part of cribbage, and the considerations change from hand to hand.  Because you want to put cards in the crib that will help your cribs and not help your opponent’s cribs.

Often times this is not too hard of a decision when there are four cards in your hand that you know for sure you’re keeping.  So the other two cards will go to the crib no matter what.  Other times you’ll get cards that are split.  You’ll want to keep three and then you’ll want to keep the other three too.  Which three do you keep and which other one do you keep to round out your cribbage hand?  The answer to the question will depend on whose crib it is.

Rules When the Crib is Not Yours

  1. Do Not put a 5 in the crib.
  2. Do put Kings and Queens in the crib.
  3. Do Not put Jacks in the crib.
  4. Do Not put suited cards in the crib

Recalling the power of 5, it is not recommended to put a 5 into the crib.  Additionally, a 5 is usually more powerful in your hand.  Sometimes you aren’t dealt a 5 – in these cases it is a good idea to put Kings and Queens in the crib.  Jacks are not usually a good recommendation because they can score on Nobs and this reason also gives Jacks a higher potential to score in the play, because chances are your opponent has a Jack in their hand too.  The final rule is to avoid putting suited cards in the crib.  This automatically prevents your opponent from collecting points from five suited cards.

Rules When the Crib is Yours

  1. Do put cards that equal 5 in the crib.
  2. Do put Kings and Queens in the crib.
  3. Do put points in the crib.
  4. Do put sequential cards in the crib.
  5. Do put suited cards in the crib.

Again, when we recall the power of 5 we can manufacture this with Aces, 2’s, 3’s, and 4’s.  If you put a four and an Ace in the crib you are increasing your odds of getting points.  If the King and Queen don’t help your hand then put them in the crib.  Kings and Queens are also hard to get points from in the play too.  Sometimes you have a hand that is only worth 2 points because you have a pair, or only a Jack and a 5.  However, the other four cards have a lot of potential depending on what the cut card will be.  Sometimes it’s worth the risk to put these small points in the crib, especially if you’re in the early stages of the game.  So, go ahead and put the pair, or the cards that equal 15 in the crib.  Recognizing potential is good for the crib too.  Finally putting sequential cards and suited cards in the crib could reward you with a surprise Multingator (hand worth 16 points or more).

17 thoughts on “What is the Best Cribbage Hand?

  1. I thought the jack so called “right jack” was worth 2 points when cut and worth 1 point when suited in hand thus making the total could be 30 points couldn’t it? I admit I have never read the rules having been taught by my father who loved cribbage enough to make a coffee table cribbage board out of an old slab of cherry wood. Thank you for your insight. This is a great game to learn quick counting and numbers for young kids!

  2. Unless I am wrong on the point count of one vs two I will concede that having the jack in your hand is the best “hand” as opposed to drawing it which is not really in your hand.

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