I don’t play in tournament settings very often. Usually, I just game casually with friends. Something happens to me when there are perceived stakes on the line, and all of a sudden, I care a great deal about the outcomes. My heart beats faster, every move takes on great importance. It changes the experience completely.
My good friend Dan is much more of a natural in those settings. He’s one of the top Netrunner players in Toronto, consistently making the top spots in competitions. When he suggested we train and compete together, I was intrigued. When he mentioned Cribbage, I was sold.
You may remember what a fan of Cribbage I am from this article. It’s a brilliant game, with simple rules, but a ton of strategy, luck, and replayability. Dan and I had played a lot of Crib in the past. I got my first (and to date only) 28 point hand with him. Plus I play a ton of Crib every time I go home and visit my folks. It’s my go-to game with my mom. So, the prospect of putting my skills to the test was pretty tempting.
We pretty quickly found a tournament a few months down the road. Not surprising that a big city like Toronto would have Crib tournaments. The next few months were spent in preparation, playing a few games every time we got the chance. When I went home, I insisted on a couple extra games with my mom, and when Dan’s dad visited from the East Coast, he and Dan played a bunch as well.
This past Sunday, we made our way to a Canadian Legion Hall to see how much we had learned over those last few months.
When we got there to register, the main open hall was set up with tables and chairs, but largely empty. We wondered if there would be a big crowd or not. As it turned out, we were quite a bit early, and the place steadily filled up with competitors.
The format of the tournament was teams. Four-player games, ten games over the course of the day. The rules stay pretty much the same. The only difference is that each player is dealt five cards and discards one to the Crib. Play and counts go clockwise from the dealer, which can make a bit of a difference in a tight game. For a win, you got your sheet marked with a ‘W’. With a loss, you recorded your points. They would still be valuable to your overall score.
As the time ticked down before the start of the first game, I could feel the nerves growing inside me a bit. It was the age-old butterflies I’d get before a tournament, any type of tournament. It didn’t matter that this was the game I have played more than any other in the past.
Game one, we got off to an OK start, but after a few hands we were a few points behind. I started to wonder how bad the day could go. That’s when, on our Crib, Dan got a 20-point hand, which vaulted us to the lead. My hand was worth 12-points and my Crib was worth 14. In one round we jumped to a pretty crazy lead, and were even threatening to Skunk. We ended up winning handily.
Getting one win under the belt felt good, but we were about to hit a roadblock. The next couple of games we lost…big time. The first to a couple of older gents, we just weren’t getting the cards, but we managed to avoid getting Skunked…barely. The next game was to Jean and Jane. A couple of sweet elderly women who taught us a serious lesson in Crib. We missed passing the Skunk line by one point.
At this point our record was 1-2. We consoled ourselves with $4 beer and $2.50 hotdogs sold from the concession.
That’s when our luck started to change. We won the next four games in a row. Most of them were by a fair margin, but we had one tight squeaker, which was the most satisfying victory of the day. Most of the people we played against were pretty good natured, and laid back, but we came up against a couple fellas that seemed to not be there to make friends. They were humourless and tough. I didn’t like them. But, they were skilled and as we came in to the home stretch, it seemed like they were destined to pull off the victory. It was our Crib, meaning they’d get two counts before my partner got to count his hand and the Crib. But luck was on our side, or at least not on theirs. They got enough points to sit at 120 (121 is a victory). Although, we were sitting at 101 ourselves. Between Dan’s hand and the Crib, we needed 20-points. We got exactly 20, allowing us to slide in for the W. That was the most satisfying win of the day.
After each round of the tournament, the big board on the stage was updated to show who the top 10 teams were. Top 10 were in the money at the end of the day. After our 4-game winning streak we made it on the board at 5-2 in position #10. However, we followed that up with a loss, another bad one too. Our collective score for losses was pretty terrible. We knew if we were going to make the final top 10, we’d need to win our last two games.
We won our next game, and that would’ve been good enough for me. We had a winning record for the day despite fierce competition, but going into the last day we knew we’d have a chance at top 10 if we won. The Crib gods were in our favour that last round. The cards just came to us both, and we were quickly out to a huge lead. The ladies we were playing made it close, but we hung on the that last W we needed.
Out of 52 teams, we finished 8th with a record of 7-3 and 266 points. There was a lot of excitement and joy, and of course relief. We had trained, strategized, and prevailed. It was a really awesome experience. Had we not done so well, we still would’ve had a great time, but the heightened tension of a tournament setting, made it a lot of fun. I won’t always enjoy tournaments, and certainly won’t always do well at them. But, playing with an increased perception of the stakes was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to June 10, the next Crib tournament, where Dan and I can see if we can improve on our performance.