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Guide to Playing Rummy

Rummy is a simple card game that takes only seconds to learn.

It uses the same foundational structure as several other card games. Learning how to play rummy will help you pick up other skill-based card games easily.

By the time you’re done reading this page, you will know how to play the basic rummy card game. You will also know some strategies for rummy to help you master the game.

How To Play Rummy

Before you can start playing rummy online or with your friends, you need to know some essential rummy rules.

But before we get to that, here is what you need to know about how to start a game of rummy.

  • Rummy is played with a standard 52-card deck.
  • You need at least two players, and you can play with up to six players.
  • Choose a dealer before you begin. The most common way to select a dealer is to have all the players draw a single card. Whoever has the lowest card is the dealer for that round.
  • Switch dealers for subsequent rounds.
  • Decide how many rounds you will play before you begin. You can choose a specific number of rounds or set a target point value.

Now that you know how to start a game, you are ready to learn about the basic rules for playing rummy.

How Each Round of Rummy Works

The dealer will give each player cards. But the number of cards each player gets depends on how many players you have.

Keep in mind that the number of starting cards differs for some rummy variations.

Number of Players Number of Cards Per Player
2 10
3 7
4 7
5 6
6 6

Once players have their starting hands, any remaining cards will go into the stockpile. You’ll then turn the first card of the stockpile over to start the discard pile.

The player to the left of the dealer takes the first turn. Every player has to start their turn by drawing a card. They can choose to draw the top card from the stockpile or to take the discard.

The objective of rummy is to collect melds. Melds are collections of three or more cards. There are two specific ways you can collect a meld.

  • Sequence or run: 3+ consecutive cards of the same suit, such as 5, 6, 7 of diamonds. Aces are always low according to rummy game rules. You can make a sequence of ace, 2, 3, but queen, king, ace is not allowed.
  • Sets: Three or more cards of the same value or rank, such as 2c, 2d, 2s.

If you have a meld when you start your turn, you can place it face-up on the table in front of you. Other players can lay off your cards, which means they add to your melds once you have laid them down.

When you are ready to end your turn, you will choose a card from your hand to add to the discard pile.

All the players will take turns drawing a card, laying down their melds if they have one, and discarding, until one player runs out of cards.

Rummy Scoring Rules

The player that runs out of cards wins the round and gets 0 points. All the other players must tally up their scores based on the remaining cards in their hands.

Here are the point values used for rummy scoring.

  • Any card between two and ten = 5 points
  • Some variations count each number card individually (2 = 2 points, 6 = 6points, etc.), but it is easier to add them when you use fives instead.
  • Aces = 15 points
  • Queen of Spades = 40 points
  • Other face cards = 10 points

Write down all the players’ scores at the end of each round. Your scores from each round will get added together until you reach the target point value you chose before gameplay began.

The player that reaches the target point value first loses. When you are playing with multiple people, the first, second, third, and fourth places will be determined by who has the lowest score.

If you are using a predetermined number of rounds, the player with the lowest score at the end of the last round wins.

That’s it. Those are the rummy games rules you need to know. The game really is that simple. Once you have these basic rules down, you may enjoy trying a few variations of rummy.

Rummy Variants

There are dozens of rummy variations people play around the world. Many of them are similar, but some rummy variations will have two different names depending on where they are being played.

This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some instructions for popular rummy variations.

Gin Rummy
This uses the rules for rummy outlined above with a few differences. The main differences are that only two players can play, and the players hold onto their melds until they have enough melds to end the round. If the other player goes out before you do, any melds you were holding do not count against you.
13-Card Rummy
As the name implies, this rummy version is played with thirteen cards for each player. It also includes jokers that can be used as wilds.
21-Card Rummy
This rummy variation is often played at cultural events in India, such as Diwali. It uses three decks of cards with jokers, and each player gets 21 cards to begin. Players must have at least three pure runs without jokers in their hand to win. There are unique rules for scoring this rummy variation, including the use of Value Cards.
Canasta
There are several variations of Canasta itself, but the basic version has four players who work together in two teams. Each team works to create a seven-card set meld. Jokers and twos are wild.
Rummikub
This rummy variation uses tiles with colored numbers instead of a deck of cards. One unique feature of Rummikub is that players can use tiles that have already been played to make new melds.
Kalooki Rummy
Kalooki is a rummy game that is popular in Jamaica. All kalooki games are played for only nine rounds. There are different rummy rules for scoring jokers, black aces, and red aces.
Pinochle (AKA 500 Rummy or Persian Rummy)
The objective in most rummy games is to get the lowest score, but Pinochle works the opposite way. Your goal is to get at least 500 points. Each of the melds you have laid down count toward your score, but any cards left if your hand will get deducted.
Contract Rummy (AKA Dueces Wild Rummy, Joker Rummy, or Phase 10)
Contract rummy has seven rounds. Each round has a different goal, and the complexity increases from one round to the next.
Vegas Three-card Rummy
You can play rummy with real money bets using this variation. The player competes with the dealer for a single three-card hand. Whoever gets a lower number of points wins the bet. Players have an opportunity to raise or fold before seeing the dealer’s card. Dealers must have at least 20 points to qualify.

These are just a few of the rummy games played online or in-person around the world.

Most, if not all of these variants use the foundational rummy rules we outlined earlier. But each game has a slight twist or two to make it fun, exciting, and worth checking out.

Now that you know how to play rummy and some of its variants, it’s time to learn some rummy strategy.

Rummy Strategies

It is easy to learn to play rummy, but winning the game is not as simple. Rummy largely depends on the luck of the cards you get dealt and how well you use them to create melds.

However, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds of winning. Here are a few strategies for playing rummy to keep in mind.

  • Pay attention to all the cards on the table! It is easy to focus on the cards in front of you, but then you may be waiting for a card that has already been discarded. Watch the cards that get discarded and the cards in melds. Then adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Discard higher-value cards, such as aces and face cards, first.
  • It is crucial to know the scoring rules for the rummy variation you are playing. For example, if you count number cards at face value, you’ll want to discard higher cards before lower cards. But that won’t matter if all numbers are scored as five.
  • Don’t pick up discards if you don’t have to. Other players will watch your discards and they may not discard another card if they think you need it to complete a meld.
  • By the same token, pay attention to the cards your opponent picks up. That way you don’t play into their hand.
  • Work for high-card melds toward the beginning of the round. Players are more likely to discard face cards, so you can quickly get the cards you need. But you need to discard those high-value cards if you don’t get a meld quickly. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with a lot of points at the end of the round.
  • Remember that sets are easier to get than runs. When you are working toward a run meld, you need a specific card with a specific suit. Sets can include any suit as long as they are the correct rank, so you will get melds faster when you focus on sets.

The best rummy strategy we can offer is to practice as often as you can. When you play more rummy games, you will get better at anticipating melds, watching discards, and modifying your hands.

Where to Play Rummy Online

Playing rummy online

You don’t have to wait for all of your friends to come over for a game night to start playing rummy. Not when you can play rummy online whenever you want.

But before you break out your laptop, there are a few things you need to know about playing online rummy for real money or for free.

When you play online, the rules for playing rummy are the same as when you play in person. However, you may be competing against a computerized player instead of a real person.

Competing against a computer is different than playing rummy with people. Some rummy strategies may not apply because the computer will make its moves regardless of the cards you discard.

Some online rummy games allow you to play a multiplayer version, but most of them use a gin rummy format that only has two players.

If you want to play rummy for free, dozens of gaming websites offer different rummy variations. Some sites are explicitly dedicated to rummy, but other sites have a wide variety of skill games.

Another option is to play rummy at real money online casinos like these.

Vegas three-card rummy is the variation that is most common at online gambling sites. This rummy variant is a casino game you can play with money.

You can also play a demo version if you don’t want to play for cash.

Some online rummy sites also offer tournaments, which you can enter for a small fee. If you win the tournament, you may receive a significant prize!

The History of Rummy

Rummy has been around for several centuries, so it is difficult to trace its exact origins.

There are three main theories about where rummy started.

Rummy history
  • Some people believe rummy was originally a game called Conquain, which came from Mexico.
  • They believe that the Spanish taught the game to Americans in the 19th century, who brought the game back to England. The English changed the name to rummy.
  • John Scarne is an author who believes that rummy started as a game called Whiskey Poker. He believes that the name eventually changed to rum poker, and then the name rummy followed.
  • Another possibility is that rummy came from a Chinese game called Khanhoo, which was a Mahjong variation. The concept of Mahjong is similar to rummy, so there is a strong possibility that these two games have a connection.

No one knows for sure which of these theories is correct. The reality is that there is probably some truth to all of them.

How the Rummy Card Game Became Popular

Oliver Hardy and Flora Robson play rummy

You might wonder how rummy came to be so popular. Historians have discovered written records that refer to rummy by name starting in the early 1900s.

During the Great Depression, people were anxious for inexpensive forms of entertainment. Rummy was the perfect game because it only required a deck of cards, and it was easy for anyone to learn.

So, rummy gained popularity throughout the Great Depression. But the thing that really gave rummy its fame was Hollywood.

In the 1930s, Hollywood actors like Oliver Hardy and Flora Robson were known for playing rummy regularly. Many of the films from that time feature players enjoying a game of rummy.

When people saw their favorite actors and actresses playing rummy on screen, they had to try the game for themselves.

From that point on, rummy was a staple card game in America. The team version of Canasta was invented in the 1950s, which created a new group of enthusiasts.

Rummy might have died out over time, especially as younger generations grew up with video games and more gaming options.

The rules for how to play rummy are so simple that it translated to an online game very quickly. Online rummy has introduced this classic game to a new generation, so the game lives on.

Today, rummy remains a popular game, whether you enjoy playing it online or with a group of friends and family.

Games That Are Similar to Rummy

The basic rules for rummy are simple and similar to many other skill games.

Once you know the game rules for playing rummy, you can enjoy all the different rummy variations and several other similar card games.

If you like rummy, chances are you might enjoy one of these games, too.

  • Mahjong – Traditional Mahjong is almost the same as rummy, except that it uses tiles instead of cards. It is a fun challenge for players who already enjoy rummy.
  • Three Card Poker – The objective of rummy is to create as many melds as possible. Three-card poker has a similar foundation.
  • Draw Poker – Another poker variant similar to rummy is draw poker. You have the chance to draw new cards to make the best hand possible, which is the same process as rummy. However, in draw poker, you only have one chance to draw the right card.
  • Bridge – If you are looking for a challenge, you may want to consider playing bridge. It is similar to the Canasta rummy variation because you play in teams of two. Bridge also involves a bidding process that determines each player’s role for the round.

Rummy is a remarkably simple game, yet it is also exciting and challenging.

Why not give it a shot today? You don’t need to call your friends to get a game together. You can start playing rummy online right now using what you know about how to play rummy and rummy strategy.

It’s not hard to find an online casino with rummy, either. Start with the list of casinos we provided and you’ll be playing rummy for real money in no time! Or you can check out more of the top online casinos here.