February 19, 2019

The Dangers of Cribbage

Illustration by George Danby

Illustration by George Danby

• By John F. Chisholm •

Cribbage is important.

Don’t ask me why.  I’ve never been able to figure that part out.

My wife and I play in the evenings after dinner.  Outside, it might be cold and dark.  But inside the lighted kitchen competition warms the room.  The woodstove contributes, too.  Normally cribbage isn’t a contact sport.  But it can be.  The dogs watch warily.  Perhaps the wine with dinner clouds our reason.  Whatever.  We push our plates out of the way and go at it.

Frequently our games hang over until the next day.

Last night was a prime example.  It was first street, the opening game of the evening. Wendy held 2-4-4-5.  I cut a 10.  Okay, I’m the one who taught her to play so perhaps some of this is my fault.  Regardless, however I count that hand, I come up with fifteen, two; fifteen, four and the pair makes six.

Wendy is more creative.  First she added a four to the five and got nine.  Then she added the two and the other four for six.  “That’s fifteen, two,” she proclaimed, delighted.

No argument.

But then she continued.  “Four and four is eight, plus two is ten.”  She held up the five in glee.  “Fifteen, four.”

“Whoa.”  I stopped her right there.  “You added the same four cards twice.”

“Yes,” she agreed.  “But I did it in a different order.”

“That doesn’t matter.  They’re still the same four cards.”

She gave me the look.  “It matters.”

Now in almost every arena save cribbage, I’d examine my ardent desire for peace in the family, the seriousness of disagreement and my chances of future survival, not even considering quality of life issues.  Unfortunately for all of that, cribbage is too close to home.  It’s too important.  I gave her the look right back.  “That’s six points, NOT eight.”

She objected.

I insisted.  “I didn’t make the rules.”

Smoke poured from my wife’s ears obstructing my view of the woodstove.

“Eight,” she whispered.

I shook my head.  “Six.  That’s final.”

The game digressed from there.  Cards clicked on the table, interrupting the forbidding silence.  Totals were counted in monosyllables.  Pegs moved in rapid, quivering hops.  Thirty holes up; Second Street shoving.  Thirty holes back.  Third Street jostling.  The game was too close to call.  We hunched over the board.  The lead swung back and forth according to who held the crib.

The race moved to Fourth Street.  A second questionable count arose.  Wendy held 4-4-4-8.  I cut a 9.  To anyone else, that’s a six hand.  In fact, Wendy held up the three pairs in a sham of normalcy.  “Six points,” she proclaimed, daring me to object.

“That’s right,” I agreed, nodding for emphasis.

But then she grew inventive.  She pointed to the cut.  “Six and nine make fifteen.  Add that to the count.  Eight!” she exclaimed, triumphant.

“No!  No!  No!”  I objected.  “You can’t add your points to the cards to make more points.”

“Why not?”  My wife’s tone showed she wasn’t backing down.  “It works.”

The seriousness of the infraction left me inarticulate.  “You just can’t!”

Not just smoke but licks of orange flame shot from my wife’s ears.

The dogs moved to the living room.

Play finally continued in deadly silence.

I went out the next hand.  Wouldn’t you guess?  The winning margin was exactly four holes.

Yes, that was pointed out to me.  Repeatedly.  Vehemently.  Last night and again this morning.

In fact, there are no signs that today is progressing any more smoothly than last night.  I’m still paying the price for insisting on the rules. But I leave it to you.  What could I do?

Cribbage is important.

Perhaps you can tell me why.