A game most often associated with more of the silver-haired set than modern hipsters is experiencing new life with the bar-hopping crowd thanks to a monthly tournament in Tacoma.

xerox logoYep, cribbage is now on the rise, so knob up. The “One for His Knob” Cribbage tournaments have met at Doyle’s Public House for a year now. The next tournament will be 4:00 p.m. or directly after the Seahawk’s game on Christmas Eve. Tournaments are normally on the last Sunday of each month but that lands the December game on Christmas, so they fudge and moved it up a day. Registration will begin at 3:30 p.m. The required $5 registration fee fills the pot that splits 70-30 between the first and second-place finishers.

“It’s not a lot, but it’s enough to pay for your drinks or maybe dinner,” organizer Maranatha McMahon said, noting that between 8 and 20 people routinely participate. “It’s kind of funny because cribbage is something all of our parents taught us. It’s sort of a legacy game.”

Tacoma cribbage
Maranatha McMahon’s last game with her grandfather. Cribbage is often a game people learned from an older family member. Photo courtesy: Maranatha McMahon.

McMahon started playing cribbage when she was about four years old, learning the rules and nuances of the game through countless rounds against her grandfather. The game filled her childhood with bonding moments as the years passed. The image the group uses in the monthly event pages on Facebook is one she took on their last game together before his death, serving as a reminder to have fun above all else.

“It’s very friendly,” she said. “It is not cut throat at all. Really, we just want to get people together and have fun and play.”

For the unwashed heathens out there who don’t understand the game, cribbage is both simple and expertly nuanced. Cribbage is a fast-paced, two-person card game that involves basic math and strategy as well as a mix of luck and often a heavy dollop of good-natured trash talking. In its most simple terms, players collect points by gathering cards together to make scoring combinations called “runs.” The mathematics are simple, but cribbage is a game of strategy and tactics. Sometimes players try to score points, sometimes players try to stop their opponent from scoring.

Players start by receiving six cards face down with the remaining cards in a stack close at hand. The players view their cards and then each discard two of them into a combined pile to create a third deck that then goes to the dealer to score later. The non-dealer, or “pone,” then cuts the large stack of cards for the dealer to then turn over the top card, or the starter. This card essentially becomes part of all three hands — the dealer’s, the pone’s, and the “crib” of discarded cards. The object of the game is to score a total of 15 or 31 based on the face value of the cards. Each point that players receive advances one of their two pegs one space. The first player to reach the last peg wins.

Cribbage is about making friends over pints. Photo courtesy: Lee Heath.

The game is mostly more about the chitchat and trash talk as players make runs, ponder the odds in their heads or land a long-elusive card to score big. The simple-to-learn rules, the flow of small talk between strangers turned friends makes it the perfect social activity in a bar.

It’s what drew frequent cribbage player Lee Heath, the brains behind Tacoma’s Shark Bite Barbie, a social butterfly who flutters to more arts events than the Sonics Guy.

“When I saw that Doyle’s was having a cribbage tournament I got excited, but then reality sank in,” she confessed. “I may have grown up playing crib, but I hadn’t played in literally a couple decades. Maybe it was the nostalgic feelings it stirred up or maybe it was my love of meeting new people that helped me get over my dread of looking like a fool. To be cliché, it was like riding a bike. You don’t forget; you just wobble a bit when you get started again.”

Shark Bite Barbie
Shark Bite Barbie found a man with an actual shark bite at a recent tournament. Photo courtesy: Lee Heath.

It quickly became a monthly ritual to show up, meet folks and make friends while playing cribbage over a pint or two.

“Most of us didn’t know each other, but that didn’t matter because we all had cribbage in common,” Heath said. “We may have started as strangers, but we ended as friends. The last Sunday of the month is now one of my favorite days. I know that I’ll get to play crib, meet new friends and catch up with the ones made in the previous months.”

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