Gin Rummy – good introduction to rummies

If you like old American movies you could see people playing Gin Rummy. Why exactly this game? There are few reasons! First, this is a game for smart people. Secondly, this is a game with dramatic ending. Thirdly… Gin Rummy has unique taste of the risk mixed with a cool strategy.

Rummies are card games in which each player tries to assemble groups of three or more cards in certain melds (sets and runs). There are various theories about origin of rummies. Some of them indicate the game of Mahjong as ancestor of Rummy. Mahjong is not a card game but this doesn’t matter. Mahjong uses tiles with rank and suits, and cards also have their rank and suits.

Actually Rummies do not have to be card games. You can play rummy games with domino tiles. There are rummies played with number tiles. There are “word rummy” games with tiles bearing a single letter (as in Scrabble). Actually, you could play rummy with any sets of tiles, stones or cards if these tiles have a certain number of repetitive elements. You could imagine “color rummy” or “symbol rummy”. No problem.

The basic idea of rummy games is to collect specific sets of cards/tiles faster than your opponent. The key to win is making good decisions about what to discard and what to keep in hand.

Gin Rummy

If you want to start play Rummy games I suggest you learn Gin Rummy. It’s nice card game invented by Elwood Thomas Baker (1854-1938). He was a whist teacher. His son – Charles Graham Baker – somehow contributed to the invention of the game. Later he became quite well-known movie director. Gin Rummy apparently was invented in 1909.

According to John Scarne, famous expert on games, Gin Rummy evolved from the Whiskey Poker known in XIX century. Well… the relationship between Rummy and Poker seems a bit far-fetched, but it’s hard to belive expert such as Scarne was totally wrong.

Rummy seems to be more noble than Poker. It’s not typical gambling game. But both games require assembling certain card combinations and careful observation of your opponent.

One rummy player became a legend. Stu Ungar (1953-1998) won first tournament when he was 10 years old. He quit school to play Rummy professionally. He was quickly recognized as one of the best players in New York. Later, after beating several other top Gin professionals, nobody wanted to play him in Gin (even with handicaps offered by Ungar). So Stu Ungar started to play Poker and he became one of Poker legends. Maybe kinship between Poker and Rummy is deeper than we think?

Stu Ungar’s case shows that games with element of luck can develop your mind. This Rummy player was unbeatable not because he was lucky. He developed skills required to win in Gin Rummy. Good understanding of probability, ability to anticipate opponent’s
intentions and the ability to build new game plan many times.

Strategic nature of Rummy is reflected in the culture. In one episode of Inspector Gadget TV series, eccentric inspector loses a game with intelligent Penny. We also meet Gin Rummy In Brithish spy film Goldfinger (James Bond sees Goldfinger cheating at gin rummy and stops him by distracting his employee). Below you can see image from the film.


Gin Rummy was particularly popular in the 40s of the last century in US, maybe thanks to the film industry. This game was great for films because it gave ability to show struggling people and suddenly one of them could win and shout “Gin”.

Do you want to know how it feels to win in Gin Rummy? Here are the rules of the game!

Equipment to play Gin Rummy

To play Gin Rummy you need a standard cards deck with 52 cards (from aces to twos).

Additionally you need a sheet of paper and a pen to write a score. If you like nice gadgets you can make or buy special scorecard, even same as used by Goldfinger 🙂

General rules

Gin Rummy is a game for two players. Each game consists of several hands, in which players try to obtain certain combinations of cards (melds). In the first hand dealer is determined by drawing lots. In successive dealings players are dealers alternately.

There is a card ranking in Gin Rummy. The ranking from low to high is Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King. Notice that Ace is lowest card.

Cards have their point value:

  • Ace – 1 point;
  • from 2 to 10 – value corresponds to card, for example 2 has value of 2, 5 has value of 5 and so on.
  • Jack, Queen, King – 10 points.

Cards dealing

The dealer deals 10 cards to each player so 20 cards land in players hands. In addition the 21st card is revealed. This card begins the discard pile. The rest of the cards remains in the deck faces down. The face down pile is known as the stock pile.

The Play

At the beginning of the game the dealer’s opponent has the right to take a revealed card (the card taht begins descard pile). If the non-dealing player passes the upcard, the dealer has the right to take the upcard or pass.

If a dealer on non-dealer takes a card, he must discard one card from his (her) hand onto the discard pile. It is not allowed to discard a card just picked up from discard pile.

In next turns each player takes a top card, either from the discard pile, or from the stock pile. And in exchange for this card player discards one card from his (or her) hand onto the discard pile. Thus, during the game the player may have 11 or 10 cards in hand. Players take turns alternately.

The image below presents the “table” during the play. We see players hands (1 and 2) seen only by players, the stock pile (3) and discard pile (4). In the shown situation J♥ is the top card of the discard pile. The player, who makes his turn, can take this Jack or a top card from the stock pile. Later player will discard one card onto the discard pile.


Aim of the game

The aim of the game is to collect melds in hand. There are two types of melds – sets and runs.

Sets are groups of 3 or 4 cards of the same rank. For example

  • 3♠, 3♥, 3♦
  • K♠, K♣, K♥, K♦
  • Q♠, Q♣, Q♥

Runs are groups of 3 or more cards in sequence, of the same suit. For example:

  • 3♠, 4♠, 5♠, 6♠, 7♠, 8♠
  • J♥Q♥, K♥
  • 9♦, 10♦, J♦, K♦

Note: In Gin Rummy Ace is the lowest card so  A, 2, 3 is a run but Q, K, A is not.

During the play each player tries to improve his/her hand by forming melds and eliminating cards that are not in any meld. Those “free” cards are called deadwood.

Knocking (the end of the hand)

The hand ends when one player “knocks”. In practice this mean placing a discard face down.

Player may knock if value of his deadwood cards is 10 points or less.

Example I:
Cards in players hand: 4♦, 4♠, 4♥, 10♣, J♣, Q♣, K♣, 2♥5♠
Deadwood cards: 2♥ 5♠ (7 points)
Player may knock because he has less than 10 points of deadwood.

Example II:
Cards in players hand: 2♦, 3♦, 4♦, 5♦, 6♦, 7♦, A♣, 2♠, 3♥, J♣
Deadwood cards: A♣, 2♠, 3♥, W♣ (16 points))
Player may not knock because he has more than 10 points of deadwood.

What’s important, knocking is not compulsory. If someone has 5 points of deadwood he may knock, but he can also play further to reduce deadwood points.

When player knocks the hand ends. Both Players put their cards on the table to show their melds and deadwood. Opponent of knocking player (defending player) can lay off any of his deadwood cards that fit into the knocking player’s melds (reducing his deadwood this way).

It is not allowed to combine two players deadwood to create new melds. The knocking player can never lay off his/her deadwood into the defending player’s melds.


If knocking player has less points of deadwood than his opponent, the knocking player receives a score equal to the difference between the two hands.

Example I:
Player A knocks while he has: 5♥, 5♦, 5♣, 5♠, 7♣, 8♣, 9♣, 10♣, A♥, 7♦
He has 8 points of deadwood (A♥, 7♦).
Player B (opponent) has: J♣, J♠, J♦, 10♣, 10♠, 10♦, Q♥, Q♦,  2♠, 8♠.
He has 30 points of deadwood (Q♥, Q♦,  2♠, 8♠).
Player A wins 22 points (30-8).

Example II:.
Player A knocks while he has:: D♥, D♦, D♣, D♠, 3♣, 4♣, 5♣, 6♣, 3♥, 7♦
He has 10 points of deadwood (3♥, 7♦).
Player B (opponent) has: 4♦, 4♠, 4♥, 10♣, W♣, D♣, 7♣, K♥5♠
Deadwood cards: 7♣, K♥5♠, but in this case defending player can lay off 7♣ to the knocking player’s run. So he has only two deadwood cards K♥5♠ (15 points).
Player A wins 5 points (15-10).

It may happen that knocking player has more points of deadwood than defending player. It’s called undercut or underknocking. Defender scores the difference between the two hands and bonus points for undercut (it can be 25, 20 or 10 points – there are different rule sets).

Additionally player can get 25 points for Gin. Is is a situation when knocking player has absolutely no deadwood. All his cards fit into melds. Player who choose to go Gin can proudly shout “GIN!” while knocking.

Gin hand can consist of 10 or 11 cards (if player didn’t discard taken card onto the discard pile before announcing a Gin). In some rules sets there is 50 point bonus for the 11-card Gin (also called “Big Gin”).

Once a player has acquired 100 points the game is over. In addition wining player gets bonus of 100 points for won game and 25 points bonus for each hand won during a game.

You can also play up to 250 or 500 points. Another option is multi-match game in which match scores are reset to zero with the start of each match.

Note: If only two cards remain in the stock pile and no one knocked, the round ends in a draw (with no points).

Why I like Rummy?

Playing Rummy is interesting from a start but later it becomes more and more interesting. Initially you think every player plays “alone”. You just try to improve your hand. Later you you discover benefits of watching cards collected from the discard pile by your opponent. The whole game is thrilling. With each played hand you learn some new strategies like discarding high cards when knocking seems close.

In rummy it is important to take tough decisions at the right time. You have to be able to build the game plan and abandon it when conditions change slightly. You have to try rummy if you want to know what I mean.

Copyright notice

Header photo: Jon Ross (CC BY-ND 2.0 license)
Image in text: from Goldfinger (1964), movie directed by Guy Hamilton

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s