In the spirit of offering people something to look forward to in our plague-diminished holidays, today we unveil a new card game you might want to try.
We call it Crooks. It involves some thievery.
It’s part of the effort by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer to provide a variety of diversions for small groups during the holidays, should you heed the cautions of health officials and restrict your large family gatherings. We’re offering guides to card games, board games and lesser-known movies. We also have our annual giant crossword puzzle in the works.
The game we offer here is for two people, for the many people who will spend most of the holidays with one significant other.
Before we get to the rules, some background: Before we each landed in Cleveland, my colleague Mark Vosburgh and I invented Crooks more than a quarter century ago, when we were reporters working in Orlando, Fla. We were on a project at the time, having discovered a business that was getting contracts to abate lead in public housing projects, even if there was no lead to abate.
To report the story, we had to drive all over the state, to backwater places without a lot of diversions. In the evening, we’d pull out a bottle of Scotch and a cribbage board for a few rounds of the best two-player card game ever invented. And when we were in the car driving from place to place, we ruminated on ways to make the game better, to remove the slight advantage that goes to the dealer.
Hence, Crooks. We tried a lot of options and played a lot of rounds to refine it. Thinking we might market it, we even created some prototype face cards featuring miscreants along with a new board, like a cribbage board, making it look like a jail cell with tiny keys as the pegs.
To play, you’ll need a standard deck of cards with four jokers. Most card decks come with two jokers, but many have extra cards that you can mark as two more. Otherwise, you need two decks to get the four jokers. And the game is easier with a Cribbage board, but you’ll need to tape off 20 of the holes. A cribbage board has 120 holes for each player. Crooks uses 100 holes, with 101 points winning the game.
If you know how to play cribbage, adapting to the rules of our game is a breeze. If you don’t know cribbage, that’s okay, too. Our rules will get you through. (To learn cribbage, this site and this site explain how. And at this site, you can play an online round of cribbage.)
Give Crooks a try this holiday, and if you do, let us know what you think.
Rules for Crooks
Crooks is a game of thievery. If you think it resembles Cribbage, you’re right. We stole it.
About four centuries ago, a nobleman named John Suckling invented Cribbage, the best reason ever for two people to crack open a deck of card. But Sir John’s game was incomplete. He was an aristocrat sheltered from highway robbers of his day, and he overlooked the element of theft.
So, we present Crooks, the latest evolution of the world’s greatest card game, a fast-paced contest that lets you become thieves like us.
History books tell that that Sir John took his life with poison after betting all on a single hand of Cribbage. What the history books don’t say is that a court jester held the winning hand. In honor of that jester, we have added jokers to the Cribbage deck.
They are the thieves, When you play them, you pay tribute to cheats and liars everywhere. The world would be a better place without such crooks, but Cribbage is a far better game with them. So, as they say in jolly old England, “Haile the joker.”
The Object. Each player begins the game locked behind bars. The object is to steal you way out of prison. The first player to move their key-shaped pegs along a 100-hole track to the keyhole is the winner. (Winning takes 1010 points)
The Deck. A Crooks deck is a standard 52-card deck with four jokers.
The Board. The Crooks board has 100 holes for each player plus one hole for the victory. This replaces the Cribbage board’s 120 holes and seems to take away the dealer’s advantage that exists in Cribbage. The first player to peg into that 101st hole wins. During play, the board is kept between the players.
Pegging. Each player has two pegs and moves them alternately. The player’s first points are marked with one peg. A second peg marks the next score. The third score is marked using the first peg, leapfrogging the second.
The Deal. Players cut for the deal. The player with the lowest card deals first, and the deal alternates. In cutting for the deal, Jokers are the lowest rank, followed by Aces, Deuces, etc. The dealer gives six cards to each player, and the remaining cards are placed face down to the side.
The Crib. As in Cribbage, the Crooks crib is an extra hand scored by the dealer. It consists of two cards discarded by each of the two players. The cards are discarded face down and stay down until the hands are played. The result of the discard is that each player is left with four cards.
The Flip. After each player discards to the crib, the non-dealer cuts the deck, and the dealer turns up the top card. This card, called the Flip, is placed face up. The Flip amounts to a fifth card for both players and is used for scoring purposes following the play of the hands. As in Cribbage, if the flip is a jack, it counts as two points for the dealer.
Scoring. As in Cribbage, scoring happens in two phases. First, the hands are played, allowing for the pegging of points. Second, each player’s hand is counted separately. As in Cribbage, all cards except jokers count for their face value. Jokers have no value. Face cards count 10. Aces count as one. Points are scored as follows:
1/4 u00b7 A pair of any card, including the joker, counts as two points.
1/4 u00b7 Three of a kind counts as six points.
1/4 u00b7 Four of a kind counts as 12 points.
1/4 u00b7 A run of three cards (Ace-2-3, 10-J-Q) counts as three. Ace always is low.
1/4 u00b7 A run of four cards counts as four.
1/4 u00b7 A run of five cards counts five, six cards counts six, etc.
1/4 u00b7 A double run (4-4-5-6) counts eight (3 for each run and 2 for the pair)
1/4 u00b7 Four cards in the same suit (a flush) counts as four points, five cards in the same suit counts as five.
1/4 u00b7 Each combination of cards with a face value totaling 15 counts as two points.
The Play. Each player plays their cards directly in front of them, separate from cards played by the opponent. The non-dealer plays first by placing a card face up and calling out its face value. The dealer then places a card face up and calls out the value of the card plus the value of the opponent’s. The non-dealer then plays another card, calling out the total point value of the cards played thus far.
Whenever a pair, three-of-a-kind, four-of-a-kind or four-card flush is played, the player putting down the card that forms the scoring combination pegs the points. If a player throws a card bringing the value to 15, that scores two points. Players peg based on all scoring combinations of the cards. If an Ace is played, followed by a 7 and another 7, the player throwing the second 7 gets four points, two for the total of 15 and two for the pair.
A run is scored regardless of the playing order.For example, 2-3-Ace counts as a three-card run. And if the next card is another deuce, the player of the second deuce gets three points for the 3-A-2 run.
Play stops when the combined points of all cards played total 31 or when a player is unable to play another card without exceeding 31.
If the score reaches 31 exactly, the player whose card brought the count to 31 pegs two points.
If a player is unable to play a card within the limit of 31, the player calls “go,” and the opponent then plays any cards low enough to meet the 31 limit. If they reach 31 exactly, the player pegs two points. If they are less than 31, the player scores one point. If a player has a joker (or jokers) but no other cards under the 31 limit, the player must play the joker (or jokers.)
The Show. After all cards have been played, the non-dealer turns up their hand and scores it. The non-dealer has the advantage in counting first. If the non-dealer does not reach 100 points on the Crooks board, meaning the non-dealer does not win, the dealer turns up their hand and scores it. Then the dealer turns up the crib and scored it. The flipped card on the deck counts toward each player’s hand, meaning each hand consists of five cards.
Hands are scored based on all combinations. Two Queens and two fives would count as 12 points – two points for each of the four combinations of 15 and two points for each set of pairs.
A jack in the same suit as the flip card counts as one point. If a player has a four-flush and the flip card is the same suit, the player gets five points for the flush.
The Jokers. Up to now, the rules are pretty close to Cribbage rules, but the court jesters of the Crooks deck make for some exciting new scoring possibilities.
1/4 u00b7 During play, a joker steals the points scored by the card immediately preceding it.
(If a King-King-King combination is thrown, the player of the third king ordinarily would peg six points. But those six points can be stolen by playing a joker as the next card.
1/4 u00b7 If one player plays a joker, the opponent can steal the points back by
Immediately playing another joker. The player throwing the second joker also would score two additional points for the pair of jokers.
* If a third joker were played in this sequence, the player throwing it would get the six points for the three jokers, plus two points for stealing the value of the pair of the jokers plus the point value that was originally stolen.
* If the flip card on the desk is a Jack, the throwing of a joker any time during the play counts for 25 peg points. This is called the, “Haile the Joker” play and can change the game rapidly. The 25-point play, of course, can be stolen with the throwing of a second joker. Although the “Haile the Joker” play can be stolen, it cannot be duplicated. Only one set of 25 points can be scored per hand.
(One final note. If the Flip card is a joker, it has no significance. Each player’s hand and the crib are counted based on four cards.)
Hoodwinks. Each player begins the game locked behind bars. The object is to steal you way out of prison. The first player to move their key-shaped pegs along a 100-hole track to the keyhole is the winner.
If a player reaches 100 points on the board before the opponent reaches 75, the loser is said to be hoodwinked, and the margin of victory doubles. (Winning by 26 means winning by 52.)
If a player reaches 100 points before the opponent reaches 50, the victory is called a double hoodwink and the margin of victory is tripled. (winning by 51 means winning by 153.)
In the extremely rare occasion when a player reaches 100 before the opponent reaches 25, it is a triple-hoodwink, and the margin of victory is quadrupled. (Winning by 76 means winning by 304.)
Errata. If, after a “Go” is called a player fails to play cards that fall under 31, the player is precluded from playing them for the duration of the hand, and the opponent gets two peg points.
Examples of high-scoring hands
All sorts of scoring combinations exist in this game, but to give you an idea, here are three of the higher-scoring hands that you can get.
To see other stories in our series about activities you can do with the people in your bubble this holiday season, please visit cleveland.com/familytime.
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