Cribbage champ credits early start for his winning ways


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Is there no one who can challenge Bernie Friedman? 

The calculating card player is the Space Coast champion at cribbage, a game hundreds of years old that claims many thousands of registered members in more than 1,000 grassroots clubs across the United States.

It’s a repeat honor for the Suntree resident, who was also named cribbage champ in 2009 of the Space Coast Peggers Cribbage Club, which meets at 6 p.m. Monday evenings at the All One Family Senior Day Program at 585 N. Courtenay Parkway on Merritt Island.

The club name is derived from the fact that in addition to playing cards, players advance their peg around holes in an accompanying wooden scoring board according to the added point totals of cards played. Members play nine games over a span of about 3 ½ hours.

“It’s a nice night and it helps the brain,” Friedman said, explaining how points are tallied according to detailed strategy.

He picked up the game the way many men have for hundreds of years, aboard a ship while serving their country. The year was 1944 and the United States tapped the Merchant Marines to serve under the Coast Guard to protect transport ships that were torpedo fodder in World War II. The official act lowered the age required to join the Merchant Marines from 18 to 16, so Friedman signed up as a volunteer and got an early start to his cribbage career. 

According to English antiquarian John Aubrey, cribbage was created by the English poet Sir John Suckling in the early 17th century as a derivation of the game “noddy.” While noddy has disappeared, cribbage, or crib for short, has survived virtually unchanged, becoming one of the most popular games in the English-speaking world.

Friedman advanced to boat captain in his nautical career, then went on to marry, have children and establish a successful new car dealership. A divorce shattered his dream life, and in 1980 he walked into a Scottsdale, Ariz. pub in search of companionship. He found it at first sight in Carol Harsell, also reeling from a divorce.

“We needed each other very badly,” Friedman said. The needle-in-a-haystack find was even more profound since both were rare transplants from New Jersey to the western resort town.

The match was as good professionally as it was personally.

Harsell ran a dance studio and was in the process of targeting her dance education program to very young children, and faced the challenge of getting them to the studio. Instead, Friedman suggested taking instruction to pre-schools and other centers where the children already congregated.

The result was Kinderdance, now franchised to more than 100 locations in 36 states and five countries. The Friedmans retired and sold the business three years ago.

Carol Friedman finally joined Space Coast Peggers at the Sept. 8 meeting.

“It’s taken that long to wrap up loose ends with the business, but I love it and I’m advancing quickly,” she said. 

The game is a very social experience, but with a lot of rules to learn so that each win is accurately earned and each victory recorded with the American Cribbage Congress for national prizes.

Bernie Friedman, 86, is a bronze level player racking up wins in pursuit of silver and gold. He recently earned a jacket from the national level. 

Now that both Friedmans are free to pursue the pastime, the cribbage champ may have some company after all, not only across the table, but on the club winner board.

For more information on the Space Coast Peggers Cribbage Club, call Jerry Nordling at 321-777-3460 or email gnordling@afl.rr.com.