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It is early morning or late evening when I come into the pub. It is a time of day when the sun hangs low on the horizon, awaiting the turn of the Earth to cause it to rise higher or sink below the line. It is one of those magic hours that photographers love, where new/old light is diffuse and golden and seems to frame every object so that they say "Capture this moment. Preserve it." The moment, as a moment, exists, and then is gone.
I head to the bar and order a coffee/stout (or breakfast/stout . . . if I'm feeling hungry). I pull up a stool and then, from my bag - simultaneously over full, yet apparently empty - a cribbage board and a pack of playing cards.
"Anybody want to play a game?"
The board, wooden, as is appropriate, shimmers in its state of flux; fresh scent, clear grain, a stained color that seems it might have only been applied yesterday and/or old and cracking, chipped holes, worn edges, something that has been held by hundreds of hands and suffered erosion from said handling. The cards are the same; new pack, still wrapped in plastic, a youthful inflexibility, hard to shuffle and/or (again? and again and again) overused and unfair, scuffed and marked, so flimsy they flutter even in a solid pile. The cards' probabilities remain - surprisingly - stable; 52, the known values and classic designs.
Cribbage is a perfect bar game. It pairs persons, who engage in the play, but are also able to start/continue/end a conversation without the pegging progress being significantly disrupted. The stakes can be high or low, but cribbage is a solved game. Every hand and value can, and has, been calculated and yet, there is no certainty in any single match because human minds do not fathom the vast options of play. Nor can they read the other player's mind. Each decision is probabilistic yet pleasingly uncertain. Even the board - unconventional in any sense of the term "board game" - promotes this unsteady state. It is not a necessary part of the game to any degree, yet the pegging race between players feels absolutely vital. Nothing sits stationary for but moments on its fresh/worn surface. If a player were to close his/her eyes and open them again, any change in position would seem both unaccounted for and, yet, entirely expected.
The game to 121 points and yet, in the end play, both players can - often will - reach or surpass this value. The board, that uncanny racetrack, however, does not measure it. Whomever crosses the finish line first has secured the win by either skill or luck (probability/uncertainty). And there it stands. In a single evening/morning it would be little challenge to burn through a half dozen games over the course of only a couple coffee/stouts. Wins, loses (never ties). Progressing pegs, that winking Jack - His Nobs - in every hand or none.
The sun keeps moving; higher/lower.
It's time to leave, or arrive . . . to move on, regardless. Until next time.
My grandmother taught me this game. I love it for its weird quirks as half-board, half-card game. The perfect game, a balance of skill and luck, pleasure and sobriety. Many fond memories!
Crib is the perfect pub game because it takes precisely two pints to play, and you all get to titter and giggle when you score “one for his knob”.
I have missed playing it through all the lockdowns.
Its also getting really hard to find the nice boards (the proper Tunbridgeware ones with bone and which fold in half to reveal the pegs and cards). Used to pick them up at carboots but they go for a tonne on eBay now.
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