How to Play Rummy

By: Karolyn A. Schalk  | 
Rummy is a card game that originated in the Old West. As times changed, so did the game.

In this article, we will review the basic rules of Rummy and other more advanced variations, including Gin Rummy, Knock Rummy, and 500 Rum. We will provide strategies, such as melding and laying off, as well as helpful tips that can help you maneuver through each round and beat your opponents.

Let's get started by looking at the how to play Rummy.

Number of players:
Two to eight

To be the first to attain a determined number of points or score the most points by a specified time limit.

The cards:
Standard 52-card deck

Deal ten cards to each player. Play moves clockwise from the dealer's left. Players take turns drawing from stock, discarding, and building melds (see below). Players try to be first to go out (that is, deplete their hand of cards) or to stop play (knock) while they have more points.

Melds in all Rummy games:
Melds in Rummy consist of groups of three or more cards of the same rank or sequences of three or more cards in one suit.The next section introduces Gin Rummy, which requires players to meld cards as quickly as possible. If you have a good memory, that can give you an edge on your opponents.


Gin Rummy

Back in the 1930s, Gin was a minor branch of the Rummy family tree when suddenly Hollywood stars embraced the card game. Gin Rummy quickly became a national craze and has remained popular ever since. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Two

Object: To meld your cards as quickly as possible.

The cards: Standard 52-card deck. Aces are always low.

Playing: Draw high card to choose dealer. Deal ten cards to each player. The dealer starts the discard pile by turning one card faceup. This is the first upcard. The rest of the cards are placed facedown to serve as the stock.

The opponent of the dealer has first refusal of the first upcard. If taken, the player then makes a discard. If refused, the dealer has the opportunity to take it. If neither wants this card, the opponent draws the top card from the stock and discards.

Turns alternate. You may either take the top discard or the top card from stock. Sort your cards into melds if you are able and then discard. If it is your turn, and you have taken a card, and all your cards except one card can be arranged into melds, say, "Gin."

Make your final discard facedown with that mismatched card and put your hand faceup on the table. Laying off is not allowed after gin is reached (see below).

A gin hand is usually composed of three melds like this one.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A gin hand is usually composed of three melds
like this one in which three cards match
in two melds and four cards match in one meld.

Knocking: You can also end play before your opponent reaches gin by "knocking." After picking up a card during your turn, discard a card facedown and rap on the table or say, "Knock." You must place your melds faceup on the table, and put your unmatched cards into a separate pile beside them. The unmatched cards are called "deadwood." Total deadwood points can't be greater than 10 points (see "scoring").

It is a good idea to plan a knock as early in the game as you can before your opponent has exchanged many cards from his or her hand. With a hand of 10-9-8-7-6-K-K-K-6-3, your deadwood adds up to 9 points -- a score that your opponent might possibly beat late in the game. Thus, knocking isn't advisable in that situation.

Laying off: If you knock, your opponent may lay off as many cards as possible onto the melds you've tabled. For example, laying off a 5 to a 8-7-6 run or a K to K-K-K set. This reduces your opponent's count of deadwood (see below).

Scoring: When tallying deadwood, aces count one point, picture cards count 10 points, and all other cards are scored at face value. If you gin, your score is the total of your opponent's deadwood points and a 25-point bonus. If you knock and your deadwood is less than your opponent's deadwood score, you receive the difference between the two deadwood scores.

If you knock and your opponent's deadwood count is equal to or lower than your deadwood count, your opponent receives a 20-point bonus for the "undercut," plus the difference in the deadwood scores. If your opponent manages to lay off all unmelded cards, that player receives a 25-point bonus for "ginning off" and the difference in the deadwood scores.

The loser of the game deals the next hand. In a game in which two cards are remaining in the stock and no player knocks or can make gin, the hands are thrown in and no points are scored. The dealer then redeals. A typical score for reaching Gin is 100 points.

Tips: Gin is a good game for memory training: It will pay to recall which cards have already been played, especially the ones taken by your opponent. Be aware, however, that your opponent will also notice the discards you pick up!

When involved in a game:

  • Don't pick up a discard unless it gives you a meld or unless you have a very poor hand and your pick opens up a few chances. An exception might be to pick up a low-count discard (an ace or deuce) when you have a bad hand and a safe discard to make.
  • Don't hold on to a high melding chance that only one card can fill. For instance, don't hold on to 10-Q if you can draw any better or lower cards.
  • Don't expect to find a third ace when you have two unless you get lucky and draw it from the draw pile. That's not a card your opponent would discard except with a very good hand.
  • Don't play for Gin when you can knock early.

If you want to try another advanced version of Rummy, the next section will review the basics of Knock Rummy, in which you need to knock and stop play when your count of deadwood or unmatched cards is less than your opponents'.


Knock Rummy

Knowing when to knock is the key to winning Knock Rummy, another member of this card-game family. Here's how to play:

Number of players:
Two to five. Six players are possible, but that number of players reduces the amount of play.

Object: To knock and stop play when your count of deadwood or unmatched cards is less than your opponents'.

The cards: Standard 52-card deck. Aces are low.

Dealing: If you have two players, deal them 10 cards each. Three and four players, 7 cards each. Five and six players, 6 cards each.

Playing: Knock Rummy plays like Gin Rummy, except that players do not have to gin to stop play. A player can knock (rap on the table or say knock). Unlike Gin Rummy, the knocker's deadwood does not have to be less than 10 points. A player knocks after drawing the top card from the stock or the top card from the discard pile and before discarding. The knocker then discards and all players show their cards, separating melds and unmatched cards. Cards are not laid off.

Scoring: If you knock and have the lowest deadwood count, you win the point difference from all other players. If you knock and rummy (that is, all your cards are used in melds), you receive the point difference and a 25-point bonus from each opponent.

If you knock and an opponent has the same amount of deadwood points, that opponent collects the point difference from the other players. If more than one opponent ties your deadwood score, they split the difference.

If you knock and one or more opponents have less deadwood points, the opponent with the lowest score receives the point difference from each player. If they tie, they split the difference. Every opponent who has less deadwood points than you also receives a 10-point penalty from you. Before the first hand, players determine score needed to win game.

Tips: With two players, if you're dealt a deadwood count in the 40s, that may often be lower than your opponent's count. Since losing costs an additional 10-point penalty, however, you should probably make a quick knock only if under 35.

With more players, the added bonus for going rummy may influence you to play out a hand with an early meld. That's OK if your deadwood cards are relatively high (7s and above) or if your unmelded cards have a good chance of making a meld. But if your deadwood count is low, you should end the round as early as possible -- before your opponents draw enough lucky cards to win.

The next section will review the basics of 500 Rum, a wild version of Rummy.


500 Rum

Another popular Rummy game is 500 Rum, also called Pinochle Rum and Michigan Rum. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Two to eight, but this card game works best with three to five.

Object: To score points for melds and to meld and lay off all your cards.

The cards: For two to four players, a standard 52-card deck. For five or more players, use two standard 52-card decks (remember to use card decks that look the same on the back). Aces can be high or low.

Playing: For two players, deal ten cards each; for more players, deal seven cards each. Count a meld by the value of the individual cards: High aces count 15, low aces 1, face cards 10, all other cards their face value. Unlike Gin Rummy, the discard pile is slightly spread so all cards can be seen.

Play begins at dealer's left. Players may take the top card from stock or any card in the discard pile, not just the top discard, on their turn as long as that card is immediately used in a meld or lay off. When you take a card from the discard pile, you must take all cards above the one you take. On the one hand, these extra cards provide additional opportunities to meld; and on the other hand, they make it more difficult to go out. Place your melds on the table in front of you only after you draw a card and before you discard.

During a turn, players may also lay off cards to their own or other player's melds. Since these lay offs count to your score, also keep the lay-off cards in front of you on the table. A card can be laid off on another lay-off card. Thus, if a 7 is laid off a meld of a 6-5-4, an 8 can be laid off on the 7. Sequences "cannot go round the corner"; that is, if either a high or low ace is used in a sequence, a lay-off card cannot be used off of the ace. Thus, a 2 cannot be laid off on an A, K, Q sequence nor can a K be laid off on an A, 2, 3 sequence.

The game is over when a player goes out by melding or laying off all his or her cards. No final discard is needed. If no one goes out, the game is over when the stock runs out.

Scoring: Players total their melds and lay offs, then subtract the value of the cards left in their hand. No bonus points are awarded for going out. If the points left in the hand exceed the points on the table, that score is subtracted from that player's overall score. A player can have a minus score. The first player to score 500 points or more wins the game. If more than one player exceeds 500 at the end of a hand, the player with the most points wins the game.

Tips: The strategy of 500 Rum is nearly the opposite of other Rummy games. Keep high cards longer, because they're worth more. Since a discard can be available later, you may break up a low-scoring meld, allowing you to pick up more cards later. Be careful: Someone else may have the same idea, and you could lose your card!

As you've seen, there are all sorts of ways to play Rummy. Whichever version you choose, fun will be the name of the game.


Play Rummy FAQ

Is rummy a skill or luck game?
Rummy is a game that involves a lot of skill and a bit of luck. While players can certainly get lucky, you'll need skill above all else to win.
Is Rummikub the same as rummy?
Rummikub and rummy do have some shared rules and game characteristics, they're two different and distinct games. Even their structure is different; Rummikub is played with tiles and rummy is played with cards.
What is the difference between Rummy and Gin Rummy?
The rules of Gin Rummy are similar to those of Rummy. The biggest difference between the two games is in Gin Rummy, players don't lay down sets and runs unless they want to end the round.
Where can I play rummy online?
There are a number of online rummy apps and websites. Some allow you to play rummy for free while others may charge fees.
Can I earn money by playing Rummy?
In some circles, rummy is played to win cash prizes. It's kind of a form of online gambling, with tournaments and other rummy events that lead to cash winnings and payouts.