is the game of his life

There’s a good reason they call Dave Pucilowski ‘Cribbage Dave.’
Ozaukee Press staff

When Dave Pucilowski moved to Port Washington from the Upper Peninsula four decades ago, he was pleasantly surprised.

Not only did he land a good job in ink sales, but he quickly found out one of his favorite games was popular in southeast Wisconsin.

He had to pass an informal test, however. He beat a senior citizen in cribbage.

Then, the group said, “OK, you can play with us,” Pucilowski said with a laugh.

The various ages of the players is one element of the centuries-old card and pegging game that Pucilowski likes.

“That’s what makes the game interesting,” he said.

Pucilowski said he used to play at Port’s American Legion hall with old guys who played every day.

He learned the game when he was young.

“My dad Don taught me how to play when I was 10 years old,” Pucilowski said.

His parents used to play against another couple, and the loser bought dinner, he said.

Don loved cribbage so much he took a board with him wherever he went, even fishing.

When he died, a tiny fold-up cribbage board with toothpick-like wooden pegs was found in his fly fishing vest. Don even played while steelhead trout fishing on the Two Hearted River.

Pucilowski plays the 121-point game with his friend Buzz Knaub at the Saukville Moose Lodge in a league on Tuesdays.

“You’re always hoping for that big hand,” Pucilowski said.

The highest hand in cribbage is 29. It’s such a big deal that the Port American Legion had two of 29 hands framed.

“You know it’s a rarity,” he said.

The odds of a 29 hand, according to several websites, is 1 in 216,580.

 Pucilowski got a 28 at his kitchen table with his wife sometime in the past couple of years, beating the 1 in 15,028 odds.

He was dealt a five of clubs, spades and hearts, and a queen of diamonds. The cut card was a five of diamonds.

“When a five came up I knew exactly what I had,” he said. “I was pretty excited.”

He was a jack of diamonds away from a 29.

Still, a 28 is unique enough. Those cards are still in his possession and will be memorialized.

“I kept them. I want to do something at some point,” Pucilowski said.

He has seen the other side of cribbage as well. Getting skunked is losing by 31 points — some boards have lines designating the feat. Pucilowski once partnered with a company vice president and lost by 61 points, known as getting double skunked.

“He wasn’t too happy,” Pucilowski said.

Like any card game, the luck of the draw can help determine the outcome.

 But cribbage involves skill as well. Before the scores of hands are determined, each player plays one card at a time in what is known as pegging. Cards adding up to 15 and 31 earn points, as well as runs and doubles.

Many players, especially the savvy veterans, can rack up points during pegging.

“It’s the strategy of pegging that makes it fun,” Pucilowski said. “Some of the new players underestimate it, for sure.”

The game can also be educational for children as they figure out their scores.

“It’s a good math game. You can get the kids to add,” Pucilowski said.

Pucilowski, known as “Cribbage Dave,” participates in and runs cribbage tournaments in the area and, after seeing an electronic scoring system at one event, asked his son Scott if he could create one.

Scott, a graduate of Milwaukee School of Engineering who works as a project manager at Kleen Test in Port, developed a system in Excel that tracks teams’ points and shows the tourney’s standings after each round.

The computer gets hooked up to a large-screen TV so players can see where they rank.

“They swarm around it. That’s why we usually put it near the bar,” Pucilowski said. “Then people can buy a drink.”

Pucilowski has 50 traditional sized cribbage boards for tournaments, as well as a couple of special ones made by friends. One is a table itself with large pegs. Another is made of black walnut with has his name engraved on it.

Smaller boards accompany Pucilowski and his family wherever they go, either vacationing at their place on Lake Camelot south of Wisconsin Rapids or at reunions of his wife Sue (Ross) Reynen’s family. Sue is one of 12 children.

Scoring goes quickly for Pucilowski, who can get through a game in 10 minutes after playing for half a century.

“I can count cards pretty fast,” he said, adding he can figure out other people’s scores as well.

He said he is surprised at the number of people who still play cribbage, which is said to have been created by Sir John Suckling in England as a variation of a game called noddy.

Pucilowski plays two to three times per week at home and area bars. He used to play with a group at Newport Shores in Port on the days the restaurant was closed.

He prefers one type of competitor.

“I really enjoy the older people. They like to horse around with each other,” he said.

While tournaments pay winners, cribbage is just fun for Pucilowski.

“It’s all bragging rights,” he said. “Give each other a little grief.”

Pucilowski is running a tournament at The Hub at Cedar Creek in Cedarburg on Saturday, March 26, with some of the proceeds going to the Knights of Columbus Council 2035. The entry fee is $60 per team.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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