The players wander in, most now as old as the ancestors who taught them the game generations ago. Some are walking slowly, some are using walkers, some are shuffling, but all are ready to shuffle because it’s 6 p.m. on Wednesday evening in the game room of the Portuguese American Club on Martha’s Vineyard. That means it’s time for the cribbage club. And by golly, this isn’t any old cribbage club.

“We’re not here to host your back porch cribbage night,” says showrunner and cribbage club co-founder, Mary Alice Russell. “This is tournament play. We’re an officially sanctioned grassroots organization, number 439. We have an official logo. We’re going to be featured in Cribbage World magazine. I want hats, shirts, pins. We’ll be listed, and everybody who comes to the Vineyard can see. It’s very exciting, you know.”

The Vineyard Cribbage Club started eight weeks ago. In that time, Mrs. Russell, with the help of her fearless co-founder Tricia Bergeron, has galvanized and re-awoken one of the hottest and most historic Wednesday night activities during the Vineyard’s offseason. Twenty-two players showed up week one. Twenty-four on week two. By week five, the number was approaching 30. Mrs. Russell had to bring out another table.

“People skip Jeopardy! for this,” one particularly preoccupied player admitted.

Don't let the smile fool you; George Giosmas is a cribbage shark. — Maria Thibodeau

According to well-accepted cribbage lore, the game dates back to the 17th century when English poet Sir John Suckling derived the game from a different diversion called “noddy.” Ever since, it has grown into the official pastime of American submariners and the unofficial pastime of firemen, electrical workers, fifth-grade math teachers and more.

It’s partially a board game, but mainly a card game, with a vocabulary that includes words like “muggins” and “nobs” and “cribs” and “cuts.” Points are scored with fifteens and thirty-ones, by making doubles, triples, quadruples, flushes and runs. It’s kind of complicated and totally quirky, involving just the right amount of skill and focus to make it challenging — and the right amount of luck to make it interesting.

As the Vineyard Cribbage Club likes to say, it’s all in the cards.

“It’s the type of game that gets you thinking,” said player Kathy Kinsman. “It’s a great buffer. It’s satisfying, mathematical. Everybody knows about it. But not everybody can play it.”

While the game of cribbage has an ancient and storied tradition on the Island that dates back to 19th century whaling captains, the Gazette’s archives show scores from games in smoke-filled rooms above the Chilmark firehouse that date back to the 1950’s. It is an all-male leaderboard stacked with Flanders’s, Norton’s, Maida’s and Rezendes’s.

“My dad taught me,” Mrs. Russell said. “You’ll find that most people here were taught by their fathers.”

Ms. Kinsman corroborated that.

Kathy Kinsman learned the game from her father. — Maria Thibodeau

“My father, when he got older, if you wanted to know about his life, you had to play cribbage with him. Only then would he talk to you,” she said.

But just as this isn’t any old back-porch cribbage club, this isn’t any old cigar-and-whiskey boy’s club either. The Vineyard Cribbage Club is an organization started by two women and open to all. In place of ashtrays and tumblers are chili bowls and cornbread. Fresh-faced Edgartown firefighters play against retirees. Husbands, wives, parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all sit across from one another at a 40-foot long table at the P.A. Club, where the sounds of pegs changing holes and cards changing hands serve as background music to stories about children and childhoods.

“I’ve got to meet some real old-time Islanders,” said Bill Russell, husband of Mary Alice and the leaderboard champion at the time. “The Island has a lot of circles, and they are all overlapping here. It’s really expanded the community.”

When Tony Rezendes, whose ancestors line the 1950’s era Chilmark cribbage standings, sat down across from Ms. Kinsman, both knew it would be a battle for the ages. Between them, the two have over a century of cribbage experience, and it showed. Mr. Rezendes moved his shiny silver pegs faster than the average player can count. He won the special pegs over 40 years ago, playing above the Chilmark firehouse.

A 1982 story in the Gazette corroborates Mr. Rezendes’s tale and describes the silver pegs as “the Stanley Cup of Chilmark Cribbage.”

“I was lucky,” Mr. Rezendes said. “I won all 12 games one night and got the silver pegs. I’ve had them ever since.”

Minutes to learn, a lifetime to master. — Maria Thibodeau

In his cribbage tenure, Mr. Rezendes has earned three 29-hands — the best possible hand in cribbage which includes three fives, a jack and a cut card that matches the jack’s suit for “nobs.” The odds of getting a 29-hand are 216,580 to 1.

“What’s even crazier is that I’ve lost one of them,” Mr. Rezendes said. “Unbelievable.”

The silver pegs weren’t so lucky on Wednesday either, as Mr. Rezendes got “skunked” [slang for losing by 30 or more] by Ms. Kinsman, and proceeded to lose his other five games as well. The Vineyard Cribbage Club calls that “a string of pearls.” Mr. Rezendes wore it proudly.

Ms. Kinsman was happy it wasn’t around her neck. She came in second on the evening.

“When I was young and playing guys like this, they all thought I was a shark,” Ms. Kinsman said. “Some probably still do.”

Others were less interested in the competition and more interested in meeting old friends. When Neale Bassett got matched up with Richard Combra, the two remembered their old days as electrical linemen, passing rainy afternoons with hours of cribbage.

“We’ve played one million games against each other,” Mr. Bassett said.

Cribbage is also what brought Bill and Mary Alice Russell together.

“Everyone knows us as the cribbage couple,” Mrs. Russell said. “I beat him two games to zero on our first date so I was pretty much guaranteed a second one.”

For the past decade, the pair have connected over the pegs and boards, bringing their set to almost every island in the Caribbean and almost every restaurant on the Island. Mrs. Russell’s license plate says WH3142 — her husband’s initials, followed by the familiar cribbage phrase: “thirty-one for two.” The game even featured in their wedding vows, with the pair promising to love each other in both skunks and grand slams.

Now, two months in, they’ve brought the game they love (and over which they fell in love) to others. That was the goal all along.

“It makes it very special for me,” Mrs. Russell said. “The club coming together is a great feeling because I’d been dreaming about it for 10 years. I love this game.”

The Vineyard Cribbage Club meets every Wednesday, starting at 6 p.m., at the Portuguese American Club in Oak Bluffs. The fee is $10. All are welcome.