Playing a right old game

Cribbage club looking for new players to join

Posted: Monday, March 20, 2006

While some people are out getting drunk on Friday nights, some Juneau cribbage players are out getting skunked.

The Smokeless in Juneau cribbage club meets at 7 p.m. each Friday at the Juneau Senior Center to compete in a game that once commanded the respect and admiration of aficionados throughout Southeast Alaska.

"It used to be that families all got together and played cards, but they haven't done that for years," 80-year-old Verle Weisenberg said.

The club plays six-card cribbage, keeping score with pegs on a cribbage board through a variety of scoring opportunities. The first player to score 121 points wins. The club plays a total of nine games each Friday during the winter with the scores updated in the national nonprofit association American Cribbage Congress Grass Roots.

"It's a great way to learn how to count. That's how I learned to count as a kid," said Arlene Crumrine, 58, Weisenberg's daughter. "I've been playing for as long as I can remember. She said I was born with a deck of cards in my hand and it would hurt when I shuffled (in the womb)."

The club, which has no affiliation with the effort to ban smoking in Juneau's bars, began about four years ago as an option for the players who didn't want be in the smoky environment that the other now-defunct clubs would play in.

Crumrine said the club's numbers have dwindled this year because of health issues, deaths, relocations, and because of a lack of interest in cribbage by the young.

"Young people are playing other things," 65-year-old Ron Crenshaw said.

"We really need members," Crumrine said. "It's a lot of fun. We just get together, yak, and play some cards."

Players pay $12 each night, with $1 going to the club for special events; $1 going toward a prize for the player whose cards total the number 24; and $10 going toward cash prizes for the top three players. A player must also pay 25 cents to the club if he or she is "skunked," or fails to score at least 91 points in a loss.

"It's not really expensive, so it doesn't break you," Crumrine said. "It's not like Texas Hold 'em (poker), where you could lose your house."

Historians attribute the creation of cribbage to Sir John Suckling, a womanizing gambler-poet of England from the 1600s. It is believed by some that Suckling blended elements of a game called Noddy to create cribbage, but records are spotty.

Wayne Bertholl, 65, remembers when cribbage was a favorite pastime among Southeast Alaskans. He said players could find a cribbage board in virtually any pub or restaurant in the region.

"In the 60s and the 70s you'd go to another town and there wasn't really all that much to do - unless it was basketball tournament time - and there was cribbage tournaments going on all the time," Bertholl said.

"Things have changed," he said.

Bob Garrison, 85, said the "old timers" would play a lot of cribbage in the state capital before the explosion of technology. He said he would sometimes play against the late territorial Gov. George Parks at the Elks Club in Juneau.

"If he was sitting at the card table he was always willing to play a game of cards," Garrison said.

Crenshaw, who would play in tournaments at Fur Rendezvous when living in Anchorage, said cribbage is a fun game to play regardless of where you are.

"We have a boat and the cribbage board is always aboard the boat," he said. "You always run into other boats in the summer where people like to play cribbage."

Agnes Wolfe, 86, said the game has more benefits than simply being a fun time.

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"It keeps your mind going," she said. "It's especially good for the older people."

Crumrine said players interested in joining the club could call her.

"You don't have to be a tournament player to come here," Crenshaw said. "There's nothing special about us. We just know how to count and enjoy each other's company."

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