Cribbage is a card game with a long and colorful history. Sir John Aubrey, the 17th century archeologist and folklorist, attributes the creation of cribbage to Sir John Suckling. Suckling, a poet and a soldier, was regarded as the most skillful card player in Europe at the time.
Suckling derived Cribbage from Noddy, an English card game that had been popular in the previous century. In the language of the day, noddy referred to a fool or dunce. Within the game it is the name for the jack of the suit that is turned up at the beginning of play. Suckling added the concept of a crib, or discard pile, from which Cribbage thus gets its name.
Suckling himself was a colorful character. Legend had it that he gifted many of the nobility in England with packs of cards of his own design. Unbeknownst to the recipients, the cards were marked. Suckling then visited each of his noble beneficiaries, playing cribbage for money during the visit. They graciously accepted, and lost, as might be expected. Suckling made a pretty penny from his exploits.
Cribbage remained popular into the 19th century, immortalized in Charles Dickens’ tale, the Old Curiosity Shop. The game was very popular with sailors as it only required a deck of cards, a cribbage board, and two players. Thus, as the British Empire expanded, cribbage as was introduced to people all around the world. It was played in the United States as far back as the Colonial Era, however, one of the more famous Cribbage stories comes however from a US submarine in WWII.
In 1943 The USS Wahoo was on patrol in the far north of the Yellow Sea, near the Dairen Peninsula. This had not been previously attempted by Allied forces, and the crew was well aware of the danger involved. To distract the men from the hazardous mission, the Wahoo’s commander Dudley Morton, and his executive officer Richard O’Kane, began a cribbage game. During the game Morton dealt O’Kane a “Perfect 29” hand, consisting of a jack and 4 fives. These cards combine to make the highest possible score in a single hand. The men did some calculations and estimated that the odds of such a hand being dealt were 216,000 to 1. They viewed this as a positive sign, forecasting the success of their mission. Sure enough, the sub completed its patrol without incident.