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FRITZ NEIGHBOR: Pegging out on orange beer at Red's Bar

FRITZ NEIGHBOR: Pegging out on orange beer at Red's Bar

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The Creamsicles of Fury managed to sneak a game from the Campbell Canucks, but it only delayed the inevitable. The cards were stacked against them.

That's how it goes sometimes in cribbage, the board game that has wiled away many a Sunday afternoon. At Red's Bar on Saturday, 24 two-person teams ponied up $40 each and matched cards and wits in a cribbage tournament.

When the peanut shells cleared, the Campbell Canucks, namely the father-daughter team of Gordon and Krysta Campbell, were the wittiest, splitting $480 by beating Will Davis and Beau Bieber (the COF) two games out of three.

You could cut the tension with a knife after COF won the first game and the Canucks won the second, but then it went away in the third, when Krysta Campbell came up with back-to-back 12-point hands, and Gordon mixed in a 12-point crib.

That put an end to a semi-annual event that, for the low price of a $10 fee sent to the Department of Justice, serves partly to give Red's a larger-than-usual Saturday morning crowd.

"We had thought originally that, during the slow time of year, it would be fun to put a cribbage tournament on," owner Mike Helean said.

So he did, rounding up the usual suspects. This wasn't a high-test tournament like the Annual Grand National, which took place in Missoula in 1993. DeLynn Colvert, a nationally-renowned player from Missoula, was not on the premises.

Maybe it wasn't a world-class field - Ryan Callahan and Justin Winz lost to a pair of women who reportedly Googled the rules of cribbage the night before - but there were some good players. Which brings us back to the Canucks' title-game trio of 12s.

There isn't a lot you can do when that happens. In a four-person game you're dealt five cards, and you keep the best four, shooting for runs of three, pairs and/or combinations that equal 15. You throw the fifth card into the crib, which the dealer counts.

If you get dealt ace-2-3-3 and then cut a face card, you're in great shape and the other guy's hurting. Twelve points go a long ways on a 121-point cribbage board.

And yet you can make a killing pegging. After the deal and before the hands are counted, each player has to lay down a card; the trick is to set yourself up for points by pairing the other person's card, creating a run or hitting 15 or 31, and prevent your opponent from the same.

Shane Train - Shane Wilson and Shane O'Connell - won a game Saturday by pegging nine on the last hand. Things looked bleak, since the other team needed just six pegs and got to count first.

Then the other guys threw a seven. O'Connell threw an eight for 15, and pegged two points. The next card was a nine, creating a 3-card run worth three points. That's where it gets interesting. Wilson threw a seven, making 31 for two pegs, and recasting a 3-card run for another three.

When the other team started over with a nine, O'Connell threw a six for 15, pegging two. Six cards had been played, and the Shane Train had pegged nine. Game over.

"Followed by the most enormous high-five you've ever seen," Wilson said.

O'Connell hadn't seen such a clutch play since Carroll College holder Zach Bumgarner spiked a third-down field goal snap, preserving the Saints' chances in the 2004 NAIA football title game.

"This was as good as that play," O'Connell said.

"Even better," Wilson added.

Such hyperbole is common when one has ingested a couple pints of orange juice and beer. Did the Canucks' victory erase the pain of Krysta Campbell's junior year in basketball, when Hellgate fell to Billings West in the 2003 State AA championship? Probably not.

But it felt good, and it probably helped that she'd given her competitors ample warning of her team's skill.

"My dad's pretty good," she'd said. "He taught me to play, and we've been playing a long time."

They won six of seven games against all comers: Cribs Your Daddy (third). Carl-Wilson (fourth). Winter (fifth). Shane Train (sixth).

As the Creamsicles of Fury fell off the pace, an onlooker reminded them that they pulled a 16-point crib to beat Cribs Your Daddy. Davis remained glum; lightning wouldn't strike twice.

Gordon Campbell, born in Lethbridge, Alberta, learned the game in Canada and honed it in the States. "It's Canada's national pastime," he said. "That and hockey. And drinking."

But not curling?

"We're not a curling family," he said. Then he pocketed his $240 American.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or by e-mail at fneighbor@missoulian.com.

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