How to Play Rummy

Updated on October 16, 2019
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I mostly write about tech and digital business. I also enjoy deconstructing game strategy.

How to Play Rummy
How to Play Rummy | Source

How to Play Rummy

Rummy is a multi-player, multi-deck card game that has lots of little variations across the world. Here's how I learned how to play Rummy. I even included card graphics so that it's easier to understand the step-by-step instructions. Have fun!

The Object of Rummy

The ultimate object of Rummy is to have no cards left. Otherwise, you'll want to wind up with the lowest number (sum of all card values) that you possibly can. At the end of each round, everyone's points are tallied on a sheet of paper. Whoever has the most points is the loser.

In the very beginning of the game, the object is to get a 40+ point sequence or combined 40+ point set of sequences as soon as you can:

  • jokers are wild
  • aces are 11 or 1
  • royals are 10, and
  • all other cards are their respective number.

So, three aces and a 5-6-7 (that's 11 + 11 + 11 + 18 = 51) would suffice, for example. Or, four aces (11 + 11 + 11 + 11 = 44), or four 10-valued cards (10 + J + Q + K = 40). You can put down as many sequence combos as you can, as soon as you can, to complete that 40+ requirement.

The reason why you want to get your 40+ point set on the table as soon as possible is because it will "unlock" your ability to perform other functions in the game, which will not be possible before that point in time. These functions include:

  • Your ability to place sequences regardless of their total point value: you can't do this until you put your initial 40+ down.
  • Your ability to "build" on the completed sets of other players: when it's your turn, you can discard as many cards as you want by adding to the combos that other people have already laid out. This is called "melding."
  • The ability to choose the face-up card on the table when it's your turn: the face-up pile is off-limits until you've put down your 40+.
  • It's also important to note that any player who does not get their 40+ down before someone else wins the round will yield them a 100 point penalty for that round.

Dealing Cards in Rummy

A typical layout of a Rummy game.
A typical layout of a Rummy game.

Use two decks of cards and make sure there are 4 jokers total—remove any other "filler" or novelty cards. Shuffle the cards well, and let another player cut the deck (pull the top half of the deck off, and then move it to the end of the table, away from the playing area).

Take the remaining portion of cards and deal one card at a time to each player, starting with the person on your right. Each player gets 13 cards. Once everyone gets this amount, pull one final card and place it face-up on the table, and then place the remainder of the cards face down next to it.

Starting the Game of Rummy

In Rummy, you take a card from the face down pile and discard one on the face up pile.
In Rummy, you take a card from the face down pile and discard one on the face up pile.

One player begins by pulling a card from the face-down deck in the middle of the table and then chooses to keep or discard it. (remember: throughout the entire game of Rummy, no player can ever perform an action until they've taken a card from this pile when it's their turn). If they keep the card they've just picked up, they must discard one card from their current hand face-up on top of the face-up pile.

  • You cannot take a card from the face-up stack yet: you can only do so after you've put down your 40+.
  • If they discard the card they've just picked up, it can be placed face-up on the face-up pile.
  • If the player has a 40+ combo in hand, they should place it/them on the table immediately.
  • Once one of these actions are performed, that person's round is over, and it's the next player's turn.

Sequences in Rummy

Valid and non-valid sequences in Rummy
Valid and non-valid sequences in Rummy

All combos that you place down on the table must follow these simple rules:

  • They must consist of a minimum of 3 cards per sequence. For instance, you can't place a 4-5, but you can place a 4-5-6, or a 9-10-J-Q.
  • If they are sequential (i.e., 2-3-4 or 9-10-J), they must either be of the same suit (i.e., all spades, all hearts, etc.) or of different suits not containing a duplicate suit (i.e., a heart, a spade, and a club).
  • If they are cards "of a kind" (i.e., three fives or four kings), they must also have different suits. Since you're playing with two decks, it's possible to get two identical cards. One of those cards can never be used in a combo. For instance, 2 fives of hearts and 1 five of clubs cannot be used, since two of the cards are of the same suit (hearts).

About Jokers in Rummy

As previously stated, Jokers are wild. They can be any card you want. The color of a Joker (red or black) doesn't matter—a red Joker can be a black card and vice versa. It's etiquette to "call" a Joker as both a card and a suit the instant it is placed on the table within a combo.

For instance, if you've played an Ace of clubs, Ace of spades and Joker—it's your responsibility to "call" that Joker to be an Ace of hearts or Ace of diamonds. The reason why is because that hand is still in play, and someone may build (or "meld") to it by adding an actual Ace of hearts or diamonds to it. If they don't know what card it has been named, then they will not be able to proceed.

About "Laying Off" Cards in Rummy

Laying off cards in Rummy when you can add to someone else's sequence
Laying off cards in Rummy when you can add to someone else's sequence

A "lay off" is when a player who has already placed their 40+ combo is able to discard individual cards in their hand by adding them to existing combos that have been placed by other players.

For instance, the person to your right has placed a 10 of diamonds, 10 of spades and 10 of hearts. You're holding a 10 of clubs, and it's your turn. You've already picked up a card from the center deck. You can now pull out your 10 of clubs and place it in that person's combo, completing the set. You can keep laying off cards as many times as possible until you're unable to do so. You can also lay off cards to any of your own existing combos.

If someone's combo contains a Joker, it is possible to "steal" the Joker. Using that last example: say that the person to your right has a 10 of diamonds, 10 of spades, 10 of hearts and a Joker. You're holding the 10 of clubs, and have already picked up a card from the center deck. You can now "steal" that Joker and replace it with the 10 of clubs in your hand.

When laying off cards, remember that the Ace can also be considered a 1. So, you can add it to someone's existing 2-3-4 combo. If someone has an A-2-3 combo, you can lay off a King behind the Ace. In other words, you're completing the sequence— just backwards!

Winning Rummy

A game of Rummy is won when one player has no cards left. This is done when they have laid out enough sequences or combos until they have one card left, which is then discarded on the face-up pile . . . or, they can finish off their remaining hand by melding cards and discarding their final card. If it's your turn and you wind up with only one card left by any means, you've won.

Once someone has won, the remaining players must count up their remaining cards (in-hand cards only). So, if someone at your table wins and you have a king, a 7 and a 4 in your hand, you have 10 + 7 + 4 = 21 points for that round. If you have a Joker in your hand, it does not have a point value (it's a 0). If someone wins and you were unable to put down your first 40+ point combo(s), then you automatically get a 100-point penalty.


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