NAUGATUCK — “Ten,” says Pina Divito as she slaps a king of spades onto the table.
“Fifteen for two,” Elaine Broderick counters, playing a five of hearts and moving a red peg two spaces ahead of the second on a wooden board.
“Twenty,” says Velma Sego, the organizer of this cribbage group at the Naugatuck Senior Center, as she plays another five, scoring two points for the pair she’s strung along with the last five.
I’m trying desperately to figure out what in the world is going on as numbers flash by and multi-colored pegs are ushered along a corresponding curving path, or “street.” Each street has 120 pegs, and the first one to make it to the mother peg, number 121, wins.
Players score by playing the running sum to 15 or maxing out at 31 or closest thereto, or by forming runs, flushes, pairs, or sums of 15 from their hands at the end of the round—an admittedly simple explanation for a highly intricate game.
DiVito, Broderick, Sego, and Doug Cowles sit around a table in the senior center, happily passing the time with this traditional card game. In the room directly adjacent, a pianist plays upbeat ragtime bits and seniors learn about “reflexology” and get massages.
Harvey Leon Frydman, the center’s director, said Sego’s cribbage club has as many as eight participants some weeks.
“We like to encourage our seniors to share their talents,” he said.
And Sego certainly knows the game. When a player miscounts and apologizes, Sego laughs and says “I miss ‘em too … and I’ve been playing for 60 years!”
Cowles said he’s also played since he was a child, when his parents taught him to count scores during the “show,” the last stage of each round wherein players try to score from their hands.
Broderick had a friend who, when learning as a child, would receive a smart slap on the wrists for miscounting.
I did some miscounting of my own when I was dealt in for a round and was summarily vanquished by a grinning Cowles, who made it to 121 before I could even reach 75.
“It’s all in the cards,” Sego assured me, implying that skill has little to do with it.
But it was clear that there’s plenty of strategy to the game, and it could take a lifetime to master it.
So we might take it as a lesson to respect our elders. Though we might be able to beat them in a footrace or in the latest video game, they could sure show us what it’s like when it comes to cribbage—and most other table games, at that.