Cribbage king stars in tournaments

Cribbage boards are heating up on the Central Coast. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

DEPOE BAY — The appearance of the top-ranked player in the United States at a series of local tournaments is throwing a spotlight on cribbage, a 400-year-old card game that is sweeping the country.

On Tuesday, members of cribbage clubs from Lincoln City and Newport met at the Depoe Bay Community Center to warm-up for a regional tournament of the American Cribbage Congress at Chinook Winds Casino next weekend. The event is expected to draw hundreds of players from around the nation.

“It’s a national event where you’ll see the best cribbage players in the world,” said Peter Larsen, a member of the ACC’s “grassroots” club in Newport.

Cribbage traces its roots to 1630s England, where it was invented by Sir John Suckling. While Suckling was later accused of treason and died penniless in Paris, cribbage lives on as one of the most popular games in the English-speaking world.

If poker is akin to a barroom brawl and bridge is a game of strategy, cribbage is a dignified race where players advance to a goal of 121 points using luck, arithmetic, tactics and psychology. According to Cribbage World, the ACC’s magazine for more than 6,000 members, players use the 52-car deck “as a perfect way to while away an evening in the cottage.”

Walt Howell, retired from 22 years as a city of Toledo employee, said it was just that.

“It’s something to do,” he commented, saying the game is popular among U.S. submariners and baseball players. “It’s a fun game.”

Across the table, Mills Brubaker, 81, of Puyallup, Wash., moved the winning peg and showed his cards.

“I’ve been playing for 73 years,” said Brubaker, who learned the game from his father. “We didn’t have personal computers back then. It keeps your mind going after you retire.”

The community hall was noiseless except for the occasional shuffling of a deck among the two dozen players hunched over their colored pegboards and a pot of coffee percolating on a kitchen table.

“You can’t have cribbage without coffee and doughnuts,” beamed Emily Shumate, who has been arranging the snacks the Lincoln City cribbage club for 30 years but has never played a hand. “People ask me why I don’t play and I tell them I’m too smart. The game is mostly skill but there’s just enough luck that you can have great cards and a bad day. I like to be in control.”

Meanwhile, her husband, club president Jack Shumate, had his hands full with ACC reigning champion Duane Toll of Sutherlin, Oregon.

The champ credited his skill to his Midwest origins.

“It helped to grow up in Wisconsin, where it’s pretty big,” commented Toll. “I joined a club in Milwaukie that happened to be the best in the U.S. It helped me to fine-tune my strategy.”

The two-day tournament begins Saturday, Dec. 1 at 8 a.m. For more information, call Jack Shumate at 541-574-7668.

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