From left to right, Ambition Brewery Owner Jeff Chaisson, Kristina Turner, and Elliott Eno advance their way through a Thursday night cribbage tournament on April 8. The brewery in Wilton hosts a cribbage night every Thursday at 6 p.m. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

WILTON — On Thursday nights, a regular cohort meets at Ambition Brewery to battle each other in a cribbage tournament organized and sometimes championed by owner Jeff Chaisson. Cards strewn across peg boards among a couple pints of beers on a high-top table is a common sight in Maine bars, but cribbage is also a family game and often passed down through generations.

“My grandmother was a sore loser,” Chaisson joked while patiently waiting for me to count my hand for any card combinations that equaled 15.

Cribbage is a six-card game with players immediately discarding their least favorable two into the crib which acts as a bonus bank rotated between players each round. The players then play one card at a time, playing off each other’s hands to form a pair, a flush or a run all while counting all of the cards until 31 is reached.

When a card is played that brings the collective hands to 15, that player gets two points. It’s a relatively quick exchange and as players score points, they move their two pegs along the iconic wooden board. At the end of each round, players count their own hand for any matches, runs or combinations of cards that equal fifteen. These earn additional points, and the pegs advance accordingly. If it’s their turn, a player does the same with the coveted crib.

Ambition Brewery Owner Jeff Chaisson keeps track of winners and losers to determine player match-ups during the brewery’s Thursday cribbage nights. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

I was at a disadvantage as it was my first game of cribbage and simple math is not my strong suit unlike bar patron Mark who drifted among games adding up players’ complex hands in a matter of seconds. He was brought up in Wilton and comes from a large family and told me that he always remembered a cribbage board in the house.

“We weren’t allowed to touch the board,” he said.

It turns out that rule didn’t last long as he estimated that he started playing cribbage with siblings and cousins by the time he was seven. For Mark, the tradition of playing cribbage dates back at least three generations in his family. But cribbage itself traces its roots back to the 17th century game noddy, according to English antiquary writer John Aubrey who lived from 1626-1697. Cribbage was originally a five-card game and players would discard only one card to the crib.

The game is often referenced in Charles Dickens’ gambling scenes and in his novel “The Old Curiosity Shop” in which the game romantically draws two characters together.  To this day, cribbage still captures a broad range of players while maintaining its gambling roots. In the state of Maine, cribbage is considered a “game of chance” and cannot be played for money or prizes without the host going through a regulation process.

For Ambition Brewery, this means these Thursday night tournaments offer nothing more than a reputation among the regular players. And this reputation can go both ways. On the cribbage board there’s a pivotal threshold called the skunk line. If a player doesn’t earn enough points to advance their peg past this point, well, you’re just an embarrassment.

Cribbage is considered a “game of chance” in Maine and cannot be played for money or prizes unless the host goes through a registration process. Ambition Brewery instead keeps track of Thursday night winners on a tally board as well as those who have been skunked. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

The brewery keeps a tally on a chalkboard in the taproom of who wins the weekly tournaments and of players who never advance past the skunk line, those who have been “skunked.” Ambition has even established a double skunk tally for players whose pegs fall far, far behind. Luckily, this tally stills remains vacant of names.

After my practice game with Chaisson, my primary goal is not to win, but simply not to be skunked. I play a round with Kristina Turner who has picked up the game from working at Ambition Brewery. Although she wins, I am immensely relieved as I have crossed the dreadful skunk line.

Ambition Brewery at 295 Main Street hosts cribbage night every Thursday starting at around 6 p.m. until a winner is declared or until closing time, whichever comes first.

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