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Cribbage Strategy - Responding to the Lead

What to play as the second card of the counting round


As the dealer in Cribbage, your opponent will always play the first card of the counting round. Your response to the lead, the first card you play, is your earliest opportunity to get points each round. However, it is also important to protect the rest of the round for yourself.

Here are some tips for responding to the lead in the card game Cribbage:

Make a fifteen for two points.

If your opponent has opened with a card higher than 4, and you have the right card to add up to fifteen for two points, you should do so. When given the option, this is preferable to making a pair for two points.

The reason? The non-dealer can respond to your pair with a third of the same card, and score herself six points, whereas the worst response to a fifteen will be a run which only gains your opponent three points.

The exception to the above rule is when your opponent opens with a card of which you have a pair.

If your opponent leads a 7, and your hand is 6, 7, 7, 8, the correct move is to play your 7 for a two-point pair. If your opponent responds with a third 7 for a pair royale and six points, you can then respond with the fourth 7 for a huge amount of points.

Don't walk into a run.

Unless you are making a fifteen, don't play a card that is one or two away from the opposing lead. For example, if your opponent leads a 10, you would always rather respond with a K than a J or Q. If you play the J, your opponent can score a run with a 9 or Q.

If you must leave open the possibility of a run, it is better to play two away from the led card than one away (e.g., Q instead of J after a 10), because it reduces the number of cards with which your opponent can score.

If you are holding a ten, consider responding to the lead to total eleven.

For example, if the opponent leads a 7, and you have no 7 or 8 to gain points, you might wish to respond with a 4 to total eleven. The reason for this is simple: Almost one-third of the deck is tens. If your opponent responds to your eleven with another ten to make 21, you can play your ten to hit 31 for two points.

The one situation where this should be avoided is if your opponent leads a 6.

In this case, responding with a 5 to make eleven would be a mistake, because your opponent could respond with a 4 and gain five points! (three for a run, two for fifteen). Obviously this won't come up if your opponent leads with a 5, because you can simply play your ten for two points.

Play your high cards early, and save the low cards for later in the counting round.

A ten is usually a reasonable response to a lead if you have nothing better to do. When playing a ten as a response to a lead, never play a Jack if you have another ten to play instead, unless it gets you points.

The reason for this is that the non-dealer will be more reluctant to throw jacks into the crib than other tens, so the chance that the non-dealer is holding a Jack is slightly higher than other tens. By not playing your Jack as a response to the lead, you avoid setting up your opponent to play the jack and gain two points for a pair.

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