In the early 17th century English poet Sir John Suckling created cribbage.
Hundreds of years later, his game has a devoted following in Spokane, and his Feb. 10 birthday is celebrated with cribbage tournaments across the area.
Three American Cribbage Congress-affiliated clubs meet weekly in Spokane and Spokane Valley. That’s as many clubs as in the entire state of New York – and two of them only play part of the year, said Kevin Mansfield, director of Club 189. Many states don’t have clubs at all, including Ohio, Utah, North Dakota and Nebraska.
Every Monday night, Club 189 meets at the Dragon Inn in Spokane Valley, at 12909 E. Sprague Ave., for American Cribbage Congress grassroots play.
“We play nine games,” Mansfield said. “It’s pretty fast-paced. Each game runs around 15 minutes.”
Played with a traditional deck of cards, and a cribbage board and pegs for scoring, the game proceeds through a succession of hands, each hand consisting of a deal, the play and the show. At any time during any of these stages, if a player reaches the target score (usually 121); play ends immediately with that player being the winner of the game.
At Club 198, boards and cards are provided.
“No jokers, at least not in the deck,” said Mansfield. “The boards are used for scoring during the action and you move the pegs to keep track of the score.”
Play is one-on-one and at the end of each game, players move positions.
“You never play the same person twice,” he said.
Competitors put $12 in the kitty and at the end of the night, the cash is divided among first-, second- and third-place scorers.
“It’s a cerebral game – there’s lots of strategy,” Mansfield said. “It’s considered a game of skill, not a game of luck.”
On a recent Monday evening, most of the players said they learned the game at a very young age, and many of them learned it from their grandparents.
“It’s a great game to teach children math,” Mansfield said.
Kat Hartsell said her grandfather taught her to play when she was in the third grade. In fact, he usually joins her but was feeling under the weather that day.
At 34, Hartsell, the director of Club 377 which meets Fridays at Fieldhouse Pizza, 4423 W. Wellesley Ave, was the youngest player in the room. Her club requires $15 for the kitty.
“We’re more fun, that’s why it costs more,” she said, laughing.
The clubs draw people from all over. Liz Stockdale drives in from Bonners Ferry to play every week.
“I learned at age 5,” she said. “I was advanced. I still am.”
The ACC was established in 1980. Stockdale’s membership number is 8.
Spokane is well-represented nationally. Carl Vennes is director of Club 69, which meets Wednesdays at Spike’s Phillys & More at 718 E. Francis Ave. Vennes won third place in the American Cribbage Congress Grand National Tournament in Sacramento, California, this fall. Four years ago, Mansfield, took first in Union City, Oregon.
While the play is competitive at local clubs, Mansfield stressed that anyone is welcome to attend and guests don’t pay for the first few visits.
“We have a code of congeniality,” he explained.
Club directors play a few games with guests to assess their skill and comfort level, before launching them into tournament play.
When it comes to cribbage, congeniality is what it’s all about.
“You develop lifetime friendships,” Mansfield said. “People come for the cards, but stay for the people.”
For more information go to www.cribbage.org Click clubs for details on local groups or email Kevin Mansfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com.