Lifestyles Editor — Every Tuesday evening in the summer, the Rez Peggers, a small group of Haywood County cribbage players, set up for nine rounds of a fast-paced card game.
First, they gather around a couple tables in a small conference room in the back of the Maggie Valley Inn and Conference Center.
Then, they pull out the cribbage boards, long, wooden boards with two rows of peg holes on each side, 121 in all, used for scoring. Some of the boards and the arrow-shaped pegs were handcrafted by a Native American on their team who lives on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
Aside for the summertime, the rest of the year, the Rez Peggers play on the Indian Reservation inside this Cherokee member's house.
The boards and the accompanying pegs can be highly stylized, bedazzled with beads, jewels, ivory or turquoise. Some boards are formed in the shape of a 29, representing the number of points needed for a perfect hand to win a round.
"My dad taught me how to count playing cribbage,” said Rez Peggers member Keith Miller.
Miller moved from Baltimore 12 years ago and instantly began looking for a cribbage club to join.Currently the Rez Peggers have about 20 to 25 members and hope to attract more.
“Clubs usually have a mix of experienced players and people still learning cribbage,” said Miller. “And the more experienced players always like to help teach the game.”
The Rez Peggers started in Sylva nine years ago and are one of only eight local grass roots clubs in North Carolina registered with the American Cribbage Congress (ACC).
Established in 1980, the ACC is comprised of more than 350 local clubs with more than 6,000 members in the United States and Canada. Each year, the ACC sponsors 150 tournaments.
Cribbage has historical roots that go back all the way to the 17th century, when the game was invented in England by Sir John Suckling, a British poet and knight.
Because the game involves limited equipment — a deck of cards, the scoreboard and pegs — it was commonly played in the military and by cowboys out west, said club member Dale Henry of Maggie Valley. There are even some travel size, aluminum cribbage boards small enough to fit on a key chain.
Much like Miller, Henry said his dad also taught him to play cribbage as a child and he continued playing throughout college.
"Gary Reece [another club member of Maggie Valley] and I used to go to Mile High campground in Cherokee and play 50 or 60 games in three days," Henry said. "We'd drink and play, but mainly have fun."
The game can be played in partners, anywhere from two to six people, or solitary, and usually in under15 minutes.
In a two-card game, once the cards have been dealt, each player chooses four cards to retain and discards two to form the crib, creating another four-card hand for the next player to use.
Starting with the player on dealer’s left, each player discards one card face up. The player who lays down the card that brings the pile closest to a cumulative value of 31 gets a point.
When it comes to scoring points, the game is all about strategy.
Players score points much like the they’re scored in poker, Miller said, with pairs, trips, four of a kind, straights, flushes and any combination of numbers that add up to 15.
At the end of each round, scores are tallied and recorded on the scoreboard using pegs. The first player to score 121 points wins.
Sometimes players win by getting a “skunk,” or beating the opponent by more than 31 points.
Some players from the Rez Peggers choose to compete individually in national tournaments, such as the largest one held every November in Reno, Nevada, that attracts nearly 1,000 players a year.
Prior to nationals, grassroots clubs hold competitions from August to May; the top ten point earners from each division - eastern, central and western United States - then competes in Reno.
Next week, from Thursday, July 25 to Friday, July 29, Miller and a couple other Rez Peggers will attend the 40th annual national cribbage open, which will be held in Raleigh, sanctioned by ACC.
Even though none of the Rez Peggers have ever ranked high in a national tournament, they keep coming back to the Maggie Valley Inn every Tuesday night, just for the fun of it.
Want to play?
Contact Miller at 410-440-7652.
The Rez Peggers meet at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the Maggie Valley Inn & Conference Center, 70 Soco Road, Maggie Valley.
For more information, visit www.cribbage.org.