Rummy is a relatively simple, and very popular, card game played by many all over the world, both for fun and gambling purposes. There are several variations, but the basic principle is pretty much the same in all of them. Rummy is known as a matching game whose objective is to build sets containing three or four cards of the same rank or three (or more) suited cards in sequence.
The exact history of the game isn't easily traceable, and there are several theories about how the game evolved. On this page we look at them in some detail and provide the rules for basic Rummy. We also look at some of the other commonly-played variants of the game.
Origins of Rummy
There are several theories regarding the origins of Rummy and some disagreement about exactly how the game developed. Of these theories, there are three that seem to be the most widely held. One is that it evolved from a game called Conquian, another says it started as a form of poker, and the third claims it originated in China.
Conquian (Spanish for "with whom") is a card game some say originated in Spain and others say Mexico. Respected game scholar David Parlett considers this game to be the first version of Rummy from which all others are derived. Conquian spread from Central America into Texas and the American Southwest during the late 19th century, where it became known as Cooncan. It later made its way to England, known as Rum; and the name eventually evolved into Rummy.
The poker theory was put forward by John Scarne, an American magician and author who was something of a card game expert. In his book, "Scarne on Cards," he suggested that Rummy evolved from a game called Whiskey Poker, which later became known as Rum Poker and finally Rummy. The third main theory is that Rummy evolved from a game called Khanhoo, reported to have been played in China during the 1800s.
Rules of Basic Rummy
Basic Rummy, also known as Sai Rummy, is one of the simplest and most widely-played versions of the game. A standard deck of 52 cards is used, and the game can be played until a player reaches a predetermined score or until an agreed number of rounds have taken place. Between 2 and 6 players can play.
To begin, the deck is shuffled and each player draws a card. The player drawing the lowest card deals the first round, with the deal moving clockwise in each subsequent round. The number of cards dealt to each player depends on how many players are taking part. With two players, each receives ten cards. When there are three or four players, each receives seven cards, and with five or six players it's six cards each.
Once the cards are dealt, the dealer places the remainder of the deck face down to form what is known as the stock pile. The top card is turned over and placed face up to form the discard pile. Play starts to the dealer's left, with the first player drawing a card from either the stock pile or the discard pile. At the end of his turn, he must remove one card from his hand and place it face up on the discard pile before play continues clockwise.
During his turn, a player may choose, if able, to either meld or lay off. Melding is when he lays a set face up in front of him. A set can consist of three or four cards of the same rank, or three or more cards of the same suit in sequence. Three kings would therefore be a set, as would the 3, 4 and 5 of hearts. Aces can be either high or low.
Laying off means placing cards onto a meld previously made by any player. If a meld of three queens has been made, for example, then a player could place the fourth queen onto that meld. If a meld of 8, 9, 10 of clubs has been made, then a player could place the 6 and the 7 of clubs onto that meld.
The first player to lay down all of his cards wins the round, which ends at that point, and the other players add up the values of all the cards remaining in their hands. An ace is valued at 15 points, face cards at 10 points, and all other cards at 5 points. The exception is the queen of spades, which is valued at 40 points.
The winning player is awarded a score equal to the overall value of all the cards in the other players' hands. Each player also deducts from their current score the value of the cards they had left in their own hand. Play then moves on to the next round.
Variations of Rummy
There are far too many different variations of Rummy to list them all here. Some of the most popular are Indian Rummy, Gin Rummy, Kalooki, 500 Rummy, Canasta, and Continental. In each of these versions, the main features of the game are largely the same as basic Rummy. There are usually just a few slight differences such as the number of cards used, how many cards are dealt to each player, the scoring system, and the use of jokers.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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