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Ultimate Guide to Rummy (aka "Rum")

Rummy is one of the most popular classic card games in the world. Often referred to as "basic rummy” or "traditional rummy,” or just "Rum," it's easy to learn and play once you get the hang of it. Though it's a simple game, playing rummy is exciting and there's a decent amount of skill involved.

How to Play Rummy: Rules & More

Players and Decks

Rummy is played with 2-6 players. It is played with a standard 52-card deck and aces are low.

Dealing

Players take turns dealing when playing a two-player game. When playing with three or more players, whose turn it is to deal rotates clockwise every round. The player who deals first is chosen at random and how many cards dealt to each player depends on the total number of players.

The dealer deals cards one by one then begins the discard pile by placing the following card face-up in the middle of the table. The dealer then places the rest of the deck face down next to it, forming the stock. Players then are permitted to look at their cards and sort them.

Goal

The goal of Rummy is simple: get rid of all your cards first.

Players can rid their hand of cards in three ways: they can meld, lay off, and discard.

Once a player has laid down all of his or her cards, the other player's cards are totaled up and added to the previous round's total. The rounds continue in this manner until one player reaches or goes over a target score and the rummy game is over. Then, the player with the lowest score wins.

Play

Players take turns, rotating clockwise, starting with the person to the left of the dealer. In a two-player game, players alternate turns.

Each turn includes the following, in this order:

  1. Drawing. Each player must start his or her turn by adding a card to his or her hand. Players can choose to take the first card from the discard pile or the stock pile.
  2. Melding. After beginning his or her turn by drawing a card, a player may lay a valid set or run down if he or she has one. Players can only put down one meld per turn (see Variations of Play). (Melding is optional)
  3. Laying off. After melding, players can add on to runs or sets already melded by any player. Players can lay off as many cards per turn as they'd like. Laying off is optional as well.
  4. Discarding. To signal that his or her turn is over, a player must discard a card from his or her hand to the discard pile. If a player picked up the card from the discard pile at the beginning of his or her turn, that player may not discard the same card in the same turn.

When the stock runs out, the discard pile is shuffled, turned face-down and the top card is turned face up next to it. Play continues. (See Variations of Play for alternate practices)

The round immediately ends when a player gets rid of all cards in his or her hand, or "goes out.” That player wins the round.

Scoring

Once the round ends with a player going out, total up the other players' cards as follows:

The total value of the cards left in each losing player's hand is recorded and added to the previous round's total. The points are penalty points.

When any player reaches a previously agreed upon target score (often 100), the player with the lowest score wins. (See Variations of Play for other scoring options)

Strategy

Here are some tips and tricks for how to win Rummy:

These are just the basics. For more in depth strategy of Rummy, check out White Knuckle.

Variations of Rummy

Looking to mix things up a bit? Here are some alternative house rules you can use. Be sure to discuss and decide upon any variations among fellow players before starting a game.

Set Number of Rounds

Instead of playing to a target score, players can decide to play to a set number of rounds. In this case, the player with the least amount of points after the set number of hands is the winner.

More than One Meld

Some play that players are allowed to lay down any number of melds during each turn. This is a very common variation; be sure that all players are on the same page about how many melds can be played during each turn before beginning a game.

Many also give a player bonus points if he or she goes out in one turn or "going rummy,” as they call it. When a player "goes rummy," the hand's score is doubled.

Laying Off Before Melding

Some don't allow a player to lay off cards until he or she has laid down a meld. This is also a very common variation.

Aces High

The standard rules dictate that aces are only low. Hence, a run of Ace, 2, 3 would count, but a run of Queen, King, Ace wouldn't. Some let aces count as either low or high. When this rule is implemented, aces count for 15 points rather than 1 point, since they're more useful.

Even when this rule is implemented, aces can't be both high and low at the same time, such as in a King, Ace, 2 run. (Some allow these sort of runs, but it's rare)

Jokers

Standard Rummy doesn't use jokers. Some play that jokers can be used as wild cards that can replace any other card to form sets and sequences. When this rule is implemented, jokers are valued at 15 points and can be used by other players once they're on the table.

Discard Last

Some require players to discard a card even at the end of their last turn. Playing with this rule, a player wouldn't be permitted to meld or lay off all of his or her cards since he or she couldn't finish by discarding one.

Reusing Discard Pile

In old rummy rules, the discard pile isn't supposed to be shuffled before being reused as stock. However, this version of play isn't very fair because without a shuffle, any player who can memorize the discarded cards in order will have a clear advantage. Due to this, most card game books now recommend shuffling the pile before continuing play.

In both instances, using the discard pile as new stock over and over has other disadvantages. If each player hoards cards that other players want, each player could draw from the pile and discard the card he or she just drew. Theoretically, this sort of game could go on forever. To avoid that sort of repetition, players might consider limiting how many times they reshuffle the discard pile per round.

The discard pile is never reused In a variation of rummy called block rummy. Once the stock pile runs out, the game is over and all players score their remaining cards.

Scoring

In a common variation of traditional rummy, only the winner scores points after each round. The winner then gets the total number of points from all the cards in the hands of the losing players. When playing this way, the game still ends once a player reaches a target score. The player who reaches it wins the game.

Others play that the winner wins real cash from the losers according to how many points they each have in his or her hand. When playing this way, the game would end after an agreed-upon number of rounds instead of once a certain score is reached.

Glossary of Terms

Block rummy: a variation of rummy in which the discard pile is never reused

Book: 3 or 4 same-ranking cards. Example: 10 of spades, 10 of diamonds and 10 of hearts. One of two types of melds in rummy. Also called a group or set.

Discard: to play a card from your hand on top of the discard pile, signaling the end of a turn.

Gin rummy: a popular version of rummy played with two people. Often confused with traditional rummy.

Go out: To get rid of the last card in your hand, to win and end a round

Go rummy: Going out in a single turn by melding or laying off an entire hand.

Group: 3 or 4 same-ranking cards. Example: 10 of spades, 10 of diamonds and 10 of hearts. One of two types of melds in Rummy. Also called a book or set.

Indian rummy: a popular version of rummy from India played with two decks and wild cards.

Lay off: to add one or more cards from your hand to an already-existing meld

Meld: to place multiple cards from your hand face-up on the table. There are two types of acceptable melds in rummy: sets (also called books and groups) and runs (also called sequences).

Rummy 500: a popular version of rummy in which players play to 500 and score according to cards showing and cards in hand

Run: 3+ consecutive cards of a matching suit. Example: 3 of spades, 4 of spades, and 5 of spades. Also called a sequence.

Sequence: 3+ consecutive cards of a matching suit. Example: 3 of spades, 4 of spades, and 5 of spades. Also called a run.

Set: 3 or 4 same-ranking cards. Example: 10 of spades, 10 of diamonds and 10 of hearts. One of two types of melds in Rummy. Also called a book or group.

Stock: the face-down pile from which players can draw a card at the beginning of each turn

If you get bored here, we have plenty of other games to play! Maybe go play the card game hearts or the card game spades or the card game solitaire!