The 29-shaped cribbage board refers to the maximum points you can get in one hand of cribbage if you’re very very lucky.

Every single person I ever faced in a game of cribbage has dreamed mightily of the elusive and unlikely 29 hand. 

In cribbage, the 29 hand is the highest one can get and it doesn’t come along often. The hand requires three fives and a jack with a suit different from those of the fives. Then you need the incredible luck of having the fourth five drawn during the cut — a five of a suit that matches the jack in your hand. 

That’s 28 points in combinations plus that crucial extra point for having “the right jack.” 

If you don’t play cribbage, that’s got to sound confusing. If you DO play, you’ve worked it out in your head a thousand times already, so I’m not telling you anything new. Maybe you’ve even come close to it once or twice. 

But probably not. According to the American Cribbage Congress — yes, there is such a thing — the chances of scoring a 29 in cribbage are 1 in 216,580. You can play the game your whole life, in other words, without ever coming close to achieving the game’s ultimate glory. 

In my lifetime, I’ve played thousands of games of cribbage, but never got a whiff of 29. I know all of one person who has achieved the feat: a former boss who landed the hand, with plenty of credible witnesses, while playing at his summer camp at Moosehead Lake. 


He had the hand framed. I mean, who wouldn’t? The odds of scoring a 29 in cribbage are greater than scoring a hole-in-one in golf. 

And yet it happens. The internet is replete with news stories about people who have been blessed by the cribbage gods, including a 9-year-old who turned up a 29 hand in Plainville, Connecticut, in 2008. 

For those of us who have been playing the game for decades, that one hurts a little bit. 

Your odds of scoring a still-respectable 28 hand — which can happen with any combination of 10 or Jack or Queen or King for a cut card to go with the four fives already in hand — are a bit better at 1 in 15,028.

I’ve scored a 28 once in my life. I have a friend who’s done it twice. It means nothing. For those of us who love the game of cribbage, it’s 29-or-bust so just shut up and deal the cards. 

For more on cribbage odds, visit and weep over the math.

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