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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing It Smart: Casino cribbage

5 December 2008

Casinos occasionally introduce new games. They're usually variations of old standbys. Once in a while, though, a new genre appears games using the poker paradigm being prime examples.

Developing new casino games can be lucrative. Whoever owns the rights typically, the patents earns royalties. So hosts of inventors give it a go. Not many of their creations get past the drawing board, however. And, of those that do, few are enduring.

Here's an illustration. The card game, cribbage, has stood the test of time in its conventional two-opponent form for over 300 years. A casino version was patented (Number 6,554,282) in 2003.

You be the judge. Should the bosses give it space on the casino floor? Remember that even with fees waived during trial periods, it's costly to train dealers and financially risky to displace games with known track records. Also, will bettors try it, and find it interesting, exciting, readily grasped, and potentially profitable enough to seek out again on their next visits?

In traditional cribbage, contenders try to win by being the first to reach a point total of 121. Points are made in two stages.

During the Play phase, the parties alternately lay down cards and tally the total as they do. Points are gained for such things as:

* playing cards that bring totals to exactly 15 or 31,
* forming pairs, triplets (called royal pairs), or quads (double royal pairs) with the immediately preceding cards,
* forming runs (straights) of three or more consecutive cards.

After the Play phase, participants pick up their cards for the Show segment. Points are awarded as follows (samples assume hands comprise one community and four private cards, and give aces and face cards numerical values of 1 and 10, respectively). Note that the same cards can be used in multiple combinations.

 *	Sets of cards whose values sum to 15 receive two points. For instance, 2-6-7-9-J would gain four this way because 2+6+7=15 and 6+9=15; K-J-5-4-A would score eight because K+5=15, K+4+A=15, J+5=15, and J+4+A=15.
  *	Pairs earn two points. A hand of K-J-5-5-3, would be worth two for the pair plus eight for the four 15s    10 in all.
  *	Royals score six because they contain three different pairs at two points each (eg, 2H-2D-2C is 2H-2D, 2H-2C, and 2D-2C). A 9-5-5-5-A would score 14    six for the royal pair, two for 5+5+5=15, and six for A-9 with each of the 5s.
  *	Double royals can be parsed into six pairs, worth 12 points.
 
  *	Runs score by length. A 2-3-4-6-9 gains three points for 2-3-4; add to this six points for 2+3+4+6=15, 2+4+9=15, and 6+9=15 to total nine. A 2-3-4-4-5 is a double four-card run (one run with each four); it yields four for each run, two for the pair, and two for 2+4+4+5=15, a total of 12.
  *	flushes rate four (private cards only) or five (community plus private cards).

Casino cribbage has no Play phase. Scoring is based entirely on what would be the Show portion of the conventional game.

Skill is involved because solid citizens receive five cards and dump two, then two community cards are dealt. The discard strategy has an effect, although the subsequent exposure of community cards adds uncertainty to the choice. With the payoffs in the accompanying table, edge is reportedly about 1.5 percent.

Payoffs for Casino Cribbage

score	payoff
0	1-to-1
1-7	lose
8	push
9-11	1-to-1
12-14	2-to-1
15-17	3-to-1
18-20	5-to-1
21-23	10-to-1
24	20-to-1
28	250-to-1

If you were a casino bigwig, would you risk offering this game? As a player, would you give it a shot? Or would you be like the people the poet, Sumner A Ingmark, had in mind when he mused:

Those who stick with the old, know they mayn't be acclaimed,
But they shun something new, lest for failure they're blamed.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.