Card Games For Dummies
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Rummy is a card game in which you try to improve the hand that you’re originally dealt. You can do this whenever it’s your turn to play, either by drawing cards from a pile (or stock) or by picking up the card thrown away by your opponent and then discarding a card from your hand.

You can play rummy with two or more players (for six or more players, you need a second deck of cards). You'll also need a paper and pencil for scoring. This article helps you learn how to play rummy and other basics, including rules, scoring, and how to win!

Don't have time to read the entire article? Jump to the quick read summary.

The objective of rummy

Your aim is to put (or meld) your cards into two types of combinations:
  • Runs: Consecutive sequences of three or more cards of the same suit

  • Sets (or books): Three or four cards of the same rank. If you are using two decks, a set may include two identical cards of the same rank and suit.

This figure shows some legitimate rummy combinations.

rummy legal hands runs and sets
Legal runs follow the same suit; legal sets consist of the same rank.

This figure shows an unacceptable combination. This run is illegal because all cards in a run must be of the same suit.

illegal rummy run
An illegal rummy run

The rules for rummy — unlike the majority of other card games — state that aces can be high or low, but not both. So, runs involving the ace must take the form A-2-3 or A-K-Q but not K-A-2.

The first person who manages to make their whole hand into combinations one way or another, with one card remaining to discard, wins the game.

How to play rummy

Follow these rummy card game rules and instructions below to understand how to play rummy from start to finish:
  1. Each player is dealt a certain number of cards from the deck. According to the rummy rules, 2 player game, or rummy for 3 players, each person gets 10 cards. That's also true for 4 players. When playing with five players, each player gets six cards. With more than five players, you must use two decks of cards and a hand of seven cards. The two-player game can also be played with seven cards each.
  2. Designate a scorer and a dealer at the start of the game. Then, the dealer deals out the hands and puts the undealt cards face-down on the center of the table as the stock, placing the top card, turned upward, beside the stock as the first card of the discard pile.
  3. The player to the left of the dealer plays first. They can either pick up the card on the discard pile or the top card from the stock. If they can meld some of their cards, combining them into runs or sets (as described above), they can put these down on the table. If not, they discard one card from their hand, face-up onto the discard pile, and the turn of play moves to the next player.
  4. The next player can either pick up the last card the previous player discarded or the top card from the stock. They can then meld some or all of their cards and put them down in combinations. The play continues clockwise around the table. When the stock runs out, shuffle the discard pile and set it up again.

Laying Off

A player can put down a card (or cards) on the table that fits with another player's melds already on the table. This is called laying off. The player who is laying off places the card on the table where they are sitting. As an example, if Player A has put down a meld that has three sevens, Player B could put down a seven from their hand.

Other rules of rummy and tips

Now that you know the objective of the game and the basic instructions to play, here is a small list of other official rules of rummy, and common tips to abide by:
  • You cannot pick up the top discard and then throw the card back onto the pile.
  • If you pick up two cards from the stock by accident and see either of them, you must put the bottom card back, which gives the next player an additional option. They can look at the returned card and take it if they want it. If they don't want it, they put it back into the middle of the stock and continue with their turn by taking the next card from the stock.
  • When you pick up a card from the stock that you don’t want, don’t throw it away immediately. Put the card into your hand and then extract it. No player, regardless of skill level, needs to give gratuitous information away.

Once you've mastered the game of rummy, you might want to try the slightly more interesting and challenging gin rummy.

Rummying with wild cards

You can play rummy with wild cards by adding jokers to the deck, or you can make the 2s or some other number wild.

You can substitute the card represented by a wild card when it is your turn to play. So, if a combination including a joker, standing in for the king of clubs is put on the table, the next player can put in the king of clubs and pick up the joker for use elsewhere.

If you put down two 8s and a joker, you do not have to announce which 8 the joker represents, but with a run, such as 5-6-joker, the assumption is that the joker represents the 7.

When playing with wild cards, you may not want to put combinations containing wild cards down immediately; you don’t want to give another player the use of a wild card by way of the substitution. Of course, if you feel obliged to put down the set or run, try to ensure that the card your wild card replaces has already been played in some other set or run.

Going out and tallying your score

The first player to be able to put seven of the eight cards in their hand into combinations (including the card that they pick up in their current turn), or ten of their 11 cards, as the case may be, goes out (places all their cards on the table) and wins. You discard your remaining card as you go out, usually having made the others into one combination of four and one combination of three.

You do not have to make the plays at one turn; you may have put down some cards into sets already, of course. If your last two cards are two 7s, and you pick up a third 7, most people play that you can go out by making a set, without needing a final discard.

The winner collects points from all the other players. They base their point total on the remaining cards in the other players’ hands, regardless of whether the cards make up completed combinations or not — which is a good reason to put down melds as soon as you get them.

The players put their cards face-up on the table and call out how many points they have left for the winner. You score the cards according to the following scale:

  • 2s through 10s get their face value, meaning, for example, that a 5 is worth 5 points.
  • Jacks, queens, and kings receive 10 points apiece.
  • Wild cards cost you 15 points each, if you are playing with them.
  • Aces, in keeping with their lowly status during the game, charge you 1 point only.
For example, if you’re left holding ♠K, ♦K, ♦Q, and ♣A at the end of the game, the winner of the game scores 31 points. With more than two players, the winner cumulates the points from all the other players.

Laying all your cards down in one turn is called going rummy, which doubles your score; obviously, the availability of this bonus affects your decision to put down combinations earlier rather than later. If you think that you can claim this bonus, you may want to delay putting down your combinations.

The first player to score 100 points is the winner. For a longer game, you can play to 250 points.

Simple rummy strategy

When you first start playing rummy, you may find that putting your cards into combinations is quite challenging. The best strategy is to aim for melds that have the best chance for completion.

The cards in your hand and on the table give you information about your chances for completing certain combinations. For example, if you can keep only two cards from the ♠7, ♠8, and ♣8, and you’ve already used the ♦8 in another run, you should keep the spades because you have two chances for success this way — the ♠6 or the ♠9. Keeping the two 8s gives you only one possible draw, the ♥8.

Another typical problem is knowing when to break up a pair in order to increase your chances elsewhere. For example, imagine that you have to discard from a collection such as the one shown in the figure below.

Illustration of a rummy hand: four of spades, four of hearts, eight of hearts, eight of diamonds, and ten of hearts. ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Time to choose or lose.

The solution to this problem is to throw the ♥10 away. Keeping your two pairs gives you a reasonable chance to make three of a kind, and the ♥10 gives you only a single chance of making a combination — by drawing the ♥9.

In general, you don’t want to split up your pairs. But life (or at least Rummy) isn’t always so simple. Suppose that you have the cards shown in the figure below.

Illustration of a rummy hand: four of spades, four of hearts, eight of hearts, eight of diamonds, and ten of hearts. ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Dismantle a pair and perhaps draw a building card.

If you need to throw out one card, throw a 4 away. The ♠7 is a useful building card, meaning that it fits well with the ♠8; mathematics says that the nest of 7s and 8s gives you four possible cards with which to make a combination (the ♠9, ♠6, ♣8, and ♥8).

You have the same number of options if you throw the ♠7 away and keep the two pairs. But the real merit in throwing away one of the 4s is the degree of freedom you attain for a future discard. By throwing one 4 away, you allow yourself to pick up another potentially useful building card (such as the ♠7) at your next turn, and then you can throw away the other 4. By contrast, throwing away the ♠7 fixes your hand and gives you no flexibility.

The odds favor your draw to the run rather than your hopes for a set. When you make a run, you can build on it at either end. A set, on the other hand, has only one possible draw. For this reason, be careful about which cards you discard. If you must give your opponent a useful card, try to let them have the sets of three or four of a kind instead of helping them build their runs.

Keeping your eye on the discard pile

You can’t go through a game of rummy thinking only about the cards in your hand — you also need to watch the cards thrown into the discard pile. Monitoring the discard pile helps you keep track of whether the cards you’re hoping to pick up have already been thrown away.

For example, if you have to keep two cards from the ♠7, ♠8, and ♣8, consider whether the ♠6, ♠9, or ♥8 has already been discarded. If both spades have already gone, you have no chance of picking them up — at least not until you work your way through the entire stock, at which point you may get a second chance at the cards when the deck is reshuffled. In such a stuck position, you should settle for a realistic chance, however slim, of picking up the last 8 by discarding the ♠7. Try to avoid drawing to an inside run — keeping, for example, a 3 and a 5 in the hopes of drawing the 4. Holding onto builders (cards that may be helpful elsewhere) is better than relying on a single card.

You can’t review the discard pile for clues. You have to remember which cards were thrown away — or be very adept at taking stealthy peeks at the discarded evidence!

Thinking about your opponents’ hands

Contemplating what your opponent has in their hand helps you make smarter choices about what cards you should discard. After all, you don’t want to throw away that ♥K if your opponent can use it to complete a run with the ♥Q and ♥J.

You compile a picture of your opponent’s hand by reading the negative and positive messages you get from their plays. For example, if you see your opponent throw away the ♥Q, you can be sure that they aren’t collecting queens. That information in itself doesn’t make discarding any queen safe, however, because they may be collecting high diamonds. But if do you subsequently throw down the ♥Q, and they pick it up, their action provides you with an informative message; you can safely infer that they are collecting high diamonds.

Quick Read Summary

Rummy is an engaging card game that challenges players to enhance their initial hand. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced player, understanding how to play rummy is essential. Here, we'll walk you through the basics, including rules, scoring, and strategies to win.

Objective of rummy

  • The goal of rummy is to create combinations of cards in two main categories: runs and sets (or books).

  • Runs: These consist of consecutive sequences of three or more cards of the same suit.

  • Sets (books): Sets are comprised of three or four cards of the same rank. When using two decks, a set can include two identical cards of the same rank and suit.

Basic rules of rummy

  • Dealing: The number of cards dealt varies based on the number of players. In games with 2 to 4 players, each player receives 10 cards, while 5 or more players require two decks, and each player gets 7 cards.

  • Setup: Designate a scorer and a dealer. The remaining cards form the stock, with the top card placed face-up beside it as the discard pile.

  • Gameplay: Players take turns clockwise. On their turn, they can draw a card from the discard pile or the stock. If possible, they can lay down combinations (runs or sets) on the table. Otherwise, they must discard a card onto the discard pile.

  • Laying off: Players can add cards to existing combinations on the table, a move called "laying off." For example, if a player has three sevens on the table, another player can put down the fourth seven from their hand.

Additional rules and tips

  • You can't pick up a discarded card and immediately throw it back.

  • If you accidentally pick up two stock cards and see either, put the bottom card back for the next player.

  • If you don’t want a card you’ve just picked up from the stock, don’t throw it away immediately. Place the card in your hand, and then extract it. This prevents other players from knowing whether you kept that card.

  • When playing with wild cards, like jokers, they can substitute any card.

Scoring and winning

  • The first player to be able to put all of their cards into combinations on the table and discard their remaining card goes out, and wins the game. You play several games until one player reaches 100 points and wins. You can also play a longer game to 250 points.

  • Points are based on card values: 2-10 cards are worth face value, face cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings) are 10 points, wild cards are 15 points each, and Aces are 1 point.

  • Going out in one turn ("going rummy") doubles your score.

  • Players tally their points based on their remaining cards, and the winner collects points from others.

Strategy in Rummy

  • Aim for melds with the best chance of completion.

  • Consider the cards in your hand and on the table when deciding which cards to keep or discard.

  • Prioritize runs over sets, as they offer more opportunities for expansion.

  • Be cautious about giving your opponents useful cards.

  • Monitor the discard pile to gauge which cards have been discarded.

  • Think about your opponents' possible combinations based on their plays.

Rummy is a game of strategy, skill, and observation. As you gain experience, you'll refine your tactics and develop a deeper understanding of your opponents' hands. With these fundamentals in mind, you're ready to enjoy the exciting world of rummy and aim for victory!

Hungry for more? Go back and read the article or check out the book.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Barry Rigal is an internationally recognized Bridge player who has won countless competitions. They include the North American Bridge Championships as well as the Camrose Trophy Home International Series, which he has won five times. Barry is also the author of the previous editions of Card Games For Dummies.

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