Rocking the Crib

Bert Prothero and John Skye concentrate on their hands.

Annual tournament "pegs" forward

Story and Photos by Andrew Cremata

In the 1630s an English poet by the name of Sir John Suckling invented the game known as cribbage. Cribbage is a game often described by those who play it as one of low, animal cunning and Suckling was well-suited to design such a game.
After its invention he distributed decks of playing cards to English nobility to encourage interest in the fledgling game. Suckling would travel the land and play with these members of England’s high society for a predetermined wager. Unbeknownst to his opponents was that all of the decks of cards that were sent out were marked so that Suckling knew the hand his opponents held. It is estimated that the scoundrel made upwards of $8 million by today’s standards playing the game he invented against his unsuspecting foes.
It is still necessary to be a wily competitor for success in the game of cribbage in these more modern times and local and visiting Alaskans got a chance to show their skills at the annual cribbage tournament on September 3-5 at the Elks lodge in Skagway.
While the beginner may see some success in the game of cribbage, what one might call “beginners luck,” the tournament form of play virtually eliminates the role of chance, allowing for experience and thoughtful play to win out in the end. The annual cribbage tournament showcases talent for the game from Skagway, Juneau, Soldotna, Fairbanks and Anchorage.
The event started in 1982 and tournament organizers Jim and Karen Bouschor have been “pegging” since its inception.
“Friday is the ‘early bird’ event,” explains Jim Bouschor, “It gets people used to playing in tournament fashion.”
“The main event (on Saturday) consists of 22 games with the top eight proceeding to the finals on Sunday. These eight play for eight of the boards.”

Jim and Karen Bouschor display their prize boards.

The eight boards are custom-made cribbage boards from Seattle and are finely polished items complete with Alaskan wildlife photos adorning their frame. These are awarded along with cash prizes for those who prove to be the craftiest at the game.
Cribbage requires a mix of experience, shrewdness and luck to win. Participants must have a love for the subtleties of the game to endure the grueling all-weekend event.
Some of the participants find themselves out of the running for the top prizes and settle for playing at the consolation table on Sunday, with the winning loser taking home the ninth and final cribbage board. “That table is for the crybabies,”” explained Karen Bouschor.
Longtime Skagway resident Bert Prothero finds himself at the crybaby table and faces off for a chance at being the best of the worst. “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Prothero, “It’s good to see everyone this time of year.”
This time of year, one would think it would be difficult to get people to support an event with the hustle of summer still under way, but 26 people competed on Friday and 24 on Saturday.
“We used to see upwards of 40 players at the tournament,” explains Jim Bouschor, “but there has been a drop off in the last couple years. Some of players have passed away over the years and some can’t make the trip (from Juneau). We sent out about 120 invitations.”
The Bouschors are proud of the tournament’s continued success and have striven to maintain its appeal to longtime supporters. “We have a smoking and a non-smoking section here at the Elks,” explained Jim. If a winning smoker hosts a hand to a non-smoker it takes place in the designated smoking area, but if the non-smoker wins he or she hosts the game in the non-smoking section.
Karen sums it up; “We are probably the only tour that still allows smoking at the tournament left in the U.S.”

You’d never know this was a ‘loser’s table’ by the game faces of these women.

On Sunday, while the consolation table drums with the rhythmic shuffling of cards and sings with players calling out their scores, the two top seeds face off in a battle for the coveted top prize. Art Baker from Fairbanks scowls and adjusts his baseball cap while Judy Piepgras from Soldotna confidently rattles off her point total, “15 for 2, 15 for 4, run makes 7, flush for 11 and knobs makes 12.”
Baker begins shuffling noticeably in his chair as Piepgras pegs further and further into the lead. She is smiling and shrugging her shoulders in a show of modesty.
Piepgras, a first time tourney competitor, proves to be the cleverest and the most skillful at this year’s event and takes home the win.
Skagway competitor Ken Malone took the third place position, and Glen Reed, also a longtime cribbage junkie and Skagway resident, took home the sixth place board.
The cribbage boards act as a memento for those who take them home. The boards are paid for partially by tournament money with the Bouschors pitching in their own money to make it happen. They obviously love both the game and the tournament.
“We used to start our play on the ferry ride from Juneau,” explained Kim. “We could get in about nine games. This year we took the fast ferry for the first time and we discovered that there is no time to play because the trip is so short.”
Next year the Bouschors will take the regular ferry.