Writing in the Seniors’ Advocate a few years ago, folklore researcher Clary Croft mentioned that Auction Forty-Fives is the most popular card game in the Maritimes.

This may be true. However, drop into any branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Nova Scotia and you’ll find that cribbage boards are as common as the Legion logo. While Auction Forty-Five no doubt is popular, the card game of choice, the card game most often organized by the Legion into tournaments, is cribbage, or “crib,” which is what most of us call this centuries old pastime.

Cribbage is played big time by Legion branches across Canada and is well organized. Paul Justason, sports chairman of Kings Branch # 6 in Kentville, tells me that Legions across the country compete every year for the ultimate in cribbage competitions, the Canadian championship, which has been held annually since 1989 and involves some 400 branches.

Play starts at the branch level first, and then advances to the zone, Justason said. Each zone in the province – there are 16 – sends two teams to the Nova Scotia/Nunavut final, which will be held later this month in Fairview outside Halifax. The winning team there advances to the Dominion championship in Grand Bend, Ontario, where it will compete with teams from other Legion zones from across Canada.

I mentioned above that cribbage is a centuries old pastime. The game is well over 300 years old. Cribbage was invented by the Englishman John Suckling, a swashbuckling gambler who lived from 1609 to 1642. The game hasn’t changed a whole lot since Suckling created it and this may explain part of its charm. The game combines elements of skill and chance the game. Its relatively simple rules of play and the equipment required (cards and scoring boards) makes it easy to organize into tournaments, explaining perhaps why Legion sports committees keep the cribbage competitions alive.

But simple as the game appears to be, cribbage is deceptively complex and appeals to players who like card games requiring calculation and a few shifty moves now and then. Then there’s the Nova Scotia cribbage connection, which may also explain its popularity.

As far as I can determine, only one book has ever been published in Canada about cribbage. All About Cribbage was written by the late Douglas Anderson of Halifax and published in 1971 by Winchester Press. The book contains a wealth of historical data, rules and terminology and even has a Kentville connection. The chapter with tables showing scoring possibilities were prepared by The Advertiser’s former publisher, George Baker.

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