Cleveland And Cribbage

The Tribe won Game 1 of their five-game series with the Boston Red Sox tonight.  It was a fabulous, tight game, brilliantly managed by Indians skipper Terry Francona.

SONY DSCThe key point in the game was Francona’s decision to go to his bullpen in the fifth inning.  It was a ballsy move that could have blown up in Francona’s face — but it didn’t.  Yes, lefty Andrew Miller had to pitch more than normal, but the bullpen held the lead, Cody Allen closed the door for the save, and the Tribe has a leg up.

I had more even confidence about Francona’s managerial skills when I read this article about Francona’s relationship with his players.  Sure, he’s a deft manager — but it also turns out that he plays cribbage.

Cribbage?  Hell, no wonder he’s a good manager.  Anybody who plays the greatest card game of all, with its intricate strategies and maneuvering, is bound to have a good eye for figuring out how to win a ball game.

So the Tribe has a 1-0 lead in the series.  I’ll take it.  With the Cribbage King to set the strategy, I think more good things are to come.

Big Board

IMG_2538Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go to Hen Island this year, for a number of reasons.  That’s sad, but it also means that I haven’t had a serious cribbage fix for a very long while.  It eased the pain to see that the former ship captain’s house where we stayed in Tamworth, New Hampshire featured a cribbage board — and not just any cribbage board.  This Brobdingnagian construct, with titanic pegs to match, was the biggest cribbage board I’ve ever seen.

The 28

IMG_2872I’ve been playing cribbage for more than 40 years, with my grandfather, my father, my uncles, my brother, my brothers-in-law, my sons, my college roommate, and my friends.  Tonight I had my biggest hand ever.

It was a 28.  It came when Richard and I were playing two-handed, smoking cigars and drinking beer.  Four fives in my hand and the king of diamonds cut.  Fifteen-two, -four, -six, -eight, -ten, -twelve, -fourteen, -sixteen, and 12 points in pairs for 28.  It was a thing of beauty, an historic achievement, and entirely fit to be memorialized for all time with a photo and a blog post.

In cribbage, there’s only one possible hand that is better than a 28 — a 29, which occurs when you’ve got three fives and a jack in your hand and the five of the same suit of your jack is cut.  I’ve never had a 29, and if I play cribbage for another 40-odd years I probably never will.  But, after tonight, now I can say that I have had a 28.

Cribbage Converts

When I went to Canada for a fishing trip recently, I took along a cribbage board.  As I’ve noted before, I think cribbage is the best card game ever invented, and I thought it would be a perfect way to spend some time with my friends.

I’m happy to report that the cribbage effort was a great success.  We played for hours, my friends learned the rules, and for the most part we joshed good-naturedly about the cards and the state of play.

Even better, I’m happy to report that one of my fellow fishermen, The Sage, became an enthusiastic convert to the world of cribbage.  Since his return from Canada he’s purchased a board, read up on the history of the game, and taught his wife and daughter how to play.  I’m pleased that he has acknowledged the obvious merit of cribbage and become a member of the ever-increasing Cribbage Kingdom.

Of course, for every convert to cribbage, there is a sore loser who cannot gracefully accept a serious thumping — as the unfortunate photo accompanying this posting confirms.

Enjoying A Good Cigar

Last night Richard and I decided to splurge for the holidays.  On our way home from work we visited the Corner Beverage shop, bought some different kinds of beers, and also purchased two cigars to smoke while playing cribbage.

After we got home we took out the cribbage board, played a few games at the kitchen table, and listened to some music.  We cracked open the patio door so that we wouldn’t leave the kitchen too smoky and then lit up our cigars.  They were Padrons and were quite good — rich, yet not too heavy, and well-suited to accompany an IPA or a brown ale.

I quit smoking years ago, but I like to have a cigar now and then.  I don’t and wouldn’t smoke them regularly, but they are a fine way to celebrate a special occasion.  A good cigar, a friendly game of cribbage, some spirited conversation, and a well-made malty beverage are an excellent way to ease into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Laying Around On Old Hen Island

We just got back from an all-too-short visit to the Canadian waters of Lake Erie.

The Quinnebog Fishing Club dock and main hall

On Friday Richard, Russell and I drove up to Sandusky to the Griffing Air Terminal, where we met Chris and Danny and Al and Joe.  We all boarded a nine-seater plane and took one of the shortest international flights anywhere in the world.  Our 12-minute flight took us over Cedar Point, Put-in-Bay, and the rest of the Bass Islands.  We landed on Pelee Island, which is part of Canada.  From Pelee we took a boat and headed due west to Old Hen Island and the Quinnebog Fishing Club for its annual father-son get-together.

Friday's sunset on Old Hen Island

The Quinnebog Fishing Club is a corporation that was formed in the late 1800s by a group of Ohioans from the Sandusky area.  By charter, it can have no more than 25 members.  Somehow the corporation acquired Old Hen Island, which is a rocky, tree-covered five-acre dab of land that rises from Lake Erie between North Bass Island and the Canadian mainland.  The island has been the site of the Club ever since.

There isn’t much on Old Hen Island.  About half of it is covered by trees and strewn with rock.  The first structure you see as you approach the island is the green and white, turreted main building at the dock.  It stores fishing and boating supplies on the ground floor and features a dining hall on the second floor and staff residential quarters on the third floor.  There is a spartan bunk house with rooms equipped with cots for use by members and their guests.  Finally, there is an excellent bar with a fine screened-in porch, card tables, and a pool table.

The porch and bar

Admittedly, we spent most of our time in the bar, playing lots of cribbage and drinking Labatt’s beer.  Between the constant card games, however, we did do a bit of (unsuccessful) fishing, ate lots of very good food, threw horseshoes, watched sunsets, explored the tiny island, sat on the porch in total darkness after the generator was turned off for the night, and visited with friends old and new.  I can’t imagine a better place to unwind and spend a father-son weekend.

Thanks to the members of the Quinnebog Fishing Club for hosting the Webner and Hartnett men and putting up with us!

Crazy for Cribbage

In a few weeks we’ll be having the Webner family retreat and, as always, we will be taking along the cribbage board and a deck of cards. Cribbage is, simply put, the best card game ever invented. On that point, I can brook no disagreement.

A cribbage board

A cribbage board

Cribbage is played with cards, a board, and pegs. Each player moves their pegs along their designated track, a hole at a time, as they accumulate points. The game features both a pegging phase and a counting phase, and the dealer also gets to count the stack of four discarded cards called the “crib.” You can play it mano a mano, or three-way, or in teams. The rules are both obscure and arcane, and players can get points through pairs, or runs, or flushes, or by combinations of cards that add up to 15 or, in the pegging phase, to 31. You can also get a point for “nobs,” which is when you hold that jack of the suit cut. (Hey, I said the rules were arcane.) The best possible hand is a 29, and consists of four 5s and nobs. The worst hand, of course, is zero points. In our family, in honor of my father, that lame hand is known as a “nyet.”

Cribbage is the best card game ever invented because, unlike euchre, it is fun to play even if you get dealt bad cards, because even then the savvy and skilled player, through a judicious discard, can position himself to get a point of two in the pegging phase. It is well suited to gambling, because you can assign a money value to each point — but watch out when the cards turn sour, you get skunked, and the points automatically double. Applying the arcane rules and counting conventions helps to keep your math skills sharp, and if you are feeling especially bold you can play the dangerous “crib for shots.” It is a fine, leisurely game, well suited to a long evening with friends and family, good conversation, and a few adult beverages, and is an important part of our family traditions.