My father in law plays a rule that I consider to be rubbish since I can find no reference to it in the rules. I assume it's a house rule that he's tripped over somewhere, and adopted into his game.

The "19 back" rule states that if you score a 0 point hand, you move your peg 19 pips back. In this case a 0 point hand sometimes means only the count of the cards, but usually will mean a 0 point end, that is no change in the position of the pegs whatsoever for any reason.

Has anyone else ever heard of this rule?

  • 3
    I've never heard of it; that's really a harsh rule. Aug 15, 2011 at 20:33
  • 1
    @Dave I agree, usually scoring 0 points is harsh enough
    – Stephen
    Aug 15, 2011 at 21:09
  • does that count for the box as well, or just the hand? 19 is a huge score to subtract for getting a '19'. Also, what happens if your peg is on 0-18, do you go into negative?
    – Codemwnci
    Aug 16, 2011 at 18:30
  • @Codemwnci It can count either way depending on what's agreed to before the game, usually though box and hand, and if it's on 0-18 it is set to 0.
    – Stephen
    Aug 16, 2011 at 19:11
  • Then that is very harsh. The chances of getting a zero scoring box is not insignificant. The penalty far outweighs the chance of it happening, and you have already said, a zero score is harsh enough!
    – Codemwnci
    Aug 16, 2011 at 19:14

3 Answers 3


19-back is a not uncommon cribbage variant, but is often unpopular. I've seen it in some editions of Hoyle's Card Games; I've had 3 editions, read a fourth, and 2 of them had it. Unfortunately, my copies are not available to check exact wordings at the moment.

If your hand scores no points in count phase, you lose 19 points. Note that this doesn't apply to the crib, only the hand, and only applies if you get to count.

Some people understand it to be:
If, during your turn, you score no points in play nor from hand during count, you lose 19 points. This applies at point of pegging the hand, before going to the crib. Again, if you don't get to count, it doesn't apply. Note that this means the dealer can't 19-back, as a dealer ALWAYS gets at least 1 point in play (either a 31, go, or last), and why this is not the usual version of 19-back.


The naming is in part because 19 is impossible to achieve in the scoring phase. It is not uncommon for a 0-point hand to be called a "19"... since experienced cribbage players know that 19 is impossible.

Having played it, it reduces risk taking in card selection, due to the need to ensure points in scoring. Note that it also tends to reduce crib scores a bit as well, as the dealer has to make suboptimal decisions in order to keep points in hand. Also, it penalizes (pretty heavily) a "playing only hand" that fails to take one to 121+.

A playing hand being a low-point hand with strong potential to get points from by-mees or expected runs and doubles, such as AA22 (goes for the Go points) or 55AA (for getting 15's) or AAAF (F=any face; goes for the goes and pairs at high count). A Playing Only hand has no points itself, but expects to get them in play, such as A2TK or A389.

  • 4
    Excellent answer. My first thought on hearing of the variant was "wow what a terrible, arbitrary, and harsh rule." Now that I've read your analysis and understood the ramifications, I see that it might be interesting in that it changes card selection and risk/reward calculations.
    – ghoppe
    Aug 19, 2011 at 19:57
  • Thanks! One problem is that the rules now tend to be found by finding the various Cribbage associations, and tend to be tournament rules; variants are not nearly as easy to find documented anymore, as tournament rules are more visible, more desired, and thus ranked higher in search engines.
    – aramis
    Aug 19, 2011 at 20:18
  • I have three copies (for what reason, I don't know) of the Second Revised edition, and there are no two-hand variants listed, if that helps to narrow your search ... Aug 19, 2011 at 23:54
  • One difficulty with the explanation of a playing hand ... AAAF scores 6 in the count phase for the Aces pairs royal.
    – Stephen
    Feb 8, 2015 at 2:53

My father, a patient loving man, taught me cribbage at an early age pre teen... He would share strategies and odds, even when I was much older... I dare say that our family lived by this rule. Although I never heard of playing where it doesn't apply to the crib... then again never met anyone that even knew of the rule or way of playing (excluding family of course). Never heard of Muggins either as we always helped count hands in our family...

For us "it" was called Go Back 19 and applied only to when counting hand or crib (aka box)so just when counting cards after all 8 cards were played out.

If the 4 cards in crib or hand, plus card turned over = 0 you simply go back 19... no exclusions... even if the jack is turned over at the cut you were not saved. Pegging during play does not save you either.

Having it apply to the crib, makes for a way more conscience effort to not go for broke or reconsider throwing away a pair in opponents crib. Certainly makes you think way more when crib is at risk. IMO not having it apply in crib is limiting the true nature of how devastating and fun the rule is lol


The variant (e.g. house rule) is listed on Pagat:


Contributed by [email protected]

Played the same as traditional cribbage but when you get a non scoring hand or crib you must peg backward 19 points.

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