Monday, October 28, 2013

Marxist Cribbage

This post does not require any knowledge of ecology, evolution, or science in general. It instead requires - or at least benefits from - knowledge of the card game Cribbage. If you lack such knowledge and are interested, you can check out this site. It is a truly great game.

Cribbage was my Dad's favorite card game - by far. He even wrote a wonderful short story The Unplayed Card about his alter-ego, Scruffy MacChubb, caught up in a cribbage tournament in a remote BC community. Scruffy makes it all the way to the finals and, as a stranger in the community, risks alienating the entire town if he were to win. So he throws the final hand of the final game by playing a suboptimal card that allows the town favorite, Sandy, to win the tournament instead.

The crowd dissolved in cheers and applause. Sandy clasped his hands as if in prayer. His wife rushed to his side and hugged him as if to break him in two. The small crowd pressed around him anxious to shake his hand. The native son had come through. The coveted trophy would stay where it belonged and not go to a stranger. Sandy broke away from the well-wishers and came to where Scruffy was still sitting at the table. "I want to buy you a drink," he began. "I've never met a better player. It's a tradition, the winner buys the second place player a beer. Come on. It will be an honor." Scruffy smiled at Sandy and got up from his chair. "I could sure use a cold beer right now." Sandy's fans immediately began slapping Scruffy on the back and vying for the opportunity to buy him a second cold beer. Scruffy allowed himself to be swept away toward the bar.

Of course, Scruffy instilled a love of cribbage in his sons and so, on our yearly steelhead fishing pilgrimage to our family cabin in BC, we always play cribbage. Sometimes we play the two person version and sometimes the four person version. On this last week's trip, however, there were five of us. What to do when five need to play? Improvise, which led us inevitably to the invention of Marxist Cribbage.

The rules of Marxist Cribbage are the same as regular cribbage, except for the following:
  1. Deal 6 cards to each of 4 people – the “comrades.” The person not dealt to is the person with highest score at the time (that is, the person who is leading) – the “bourgeoisie.”
  2. The comrades each give one card (face down) to the bourgeoisie (becomes his/her hand) and one card to the crib.
  3. The crib then goes to the person with the lowest score – “the commissar.”
  4. The crib is always counted last. That is, even if the commissar earlier counted his hand, he has to count his crib after all others have counted their hands.
  5. All five players play independently and separately count their scores. This is done by using multiple color pegs per lane on the crib board.
  6. When someone first exceeds 120 points (and would therefore “win”) all other players also get to count their hands (and the crib) – thus leading to the possibility of multiple possible “winners.”
  7. The bourgeoisie and the commissar on the first hand are chosen by turning over cards – in the same manner as the first dealer is determined.
The Marxist Cribbage Conclave at Corral Creek, Kispiox River
(Scot Hooker, Ross Hooker, Brad Anholt, and Art Yeates - photo by Andrew Hendry)
In our first implementation of this game - and one was enough - Marxist Cribbage led to everyone winning - and thus, I guess, everyone losing. I never had an opportunity to play Marxist Cribbage with Scruffy but I expect he would not have approved of our rule changes. Perhaps he would find encouragement, however, in the fact that it kept the five of us buying each other cold beers for the rest of the evening while the stars glittered outside and the steelhead in the river below girded themselves for the next day's battle.

Andy Hendry (aka Scruffy MacChubb)
b. Feb. 9, 1939; d. Oct. 24, 2013

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