If you have a neighborhood poker game, you might be interested in mixing up the card games a bit by gambling on some other games. The card game rummy has been a popular gambling game for decades, although it’s not as in favor as it used to be. Lots of variations exist, but I think it’s best to learn the most basic version 1st. Then you can branch out into other variations.

Rummy is popular in all kinds of settings and with all kinds of players. Kids play rummy. People play socially. It’s often played for money, but that’s not necessary to enjoy it. (In that respect, it’s markedly different from poker.) When rummy is played for money, it’s traditionally played for low stakes.

The purpose of this post is to explain the basics of how rummy is played. I’ve included the rules of play, and I’ve also include some strategy hints, ideas about rules variations, and examples of how to bet and gamble on the game.

The Rules for Playing Rummy

You play rummy with 2 to 6 players. It’s not a partnership game, either, like spades. It’s an every-man-for-himself situation.

You play with a normal 52-card deck without the joker. The cards are ranked as follows, from highest to lowest:

  • King
  • Queen
  • Jack
  • 10
  • 9
  • 8
  • 7
  • 6
  • 5
  • 4
  • 3
  • 2
  • Ace

Your goal is to “go rummy.” You’ve gone rummy when you have a hand with no odd cards. This means your hand has all melds–either matched sets of cards or sequences of suited cards.

Here are definitions of those terms:

Matched sets – 3 or 4 cards of the same rank. (Like a 3 of a kind or a 4 of a kind in poker, only there’s no kicker. If you have all the 8s in the deck, for example, or even just 3 of them, you have a matched set.)

Sequences – 3 or more cards of the same suit with consecutive rankings. (Like a straight flush in poker, only you don’t need 5 cards or more. One thing poker players should remember is that an ace is always low in rummy. You can’t make a sequence of AKQ, but you can make a sequence of A23.)

Melds – Matched sets and sequences are both examples of melds.

A game of rummy starts when the cards are dealt. The deal rotates around the table after each hand, to the left, as is traditional with most card games. It’s traditional for the dealer to shuffle the cards and offer the player to his right the opportunity to cut the deck. After this, each player gets 7 cards, dealt one at a time, face-down, starting with the player to the dealer’s left.

The cards that are leftover after the deal are the stock, and they’re put in the center of the table in a pile. Rummy is usually played 4-handed or less, but with 5 players or 6 players, you can still play. Since having more players reduces the size of the stock, sometimes in a 5-player or 6-player game, the players get 6 cards each.

The top card of the stock is usually turned face up and placed next to the stock. This is the beginning of the discard pile. In some games, like gin rummy, the up-card has an effect on scoring. In other games, the top card isn’t turned over at all.

Rummy is a game of scoring. You determine your score at the end of the hand by totaling the number of points in your hand. The face cards (jack, queen, and king) are each worth 10 points. The other cards are worth their face values, with an ace being worth 1 point. Cards in a meld are worth 0 points.

Here’s how a hand plays out in rummy:

The 1st person to act is the player to the left of the dealer. Play rotates clockwise around the table. The 1st player picks up the top card of the stock. If he can use that card, he keeps it, but he must discard another card from his hand. If he can’t use it, he can discard it. If the top card of the stock has started the discard pile, the 1st player can pick it up instead of using the top card of the stock.

The 2nd player then gets the option to take the top card from the stock or from the discard pile. He also must discard a card. Play continues this way around the table until someone goes rummy. Remember, going rummy means that all the cards in your hand consist of melds. If the stock pile runs out of cards before someone goes rummy, then the hand ends there instead.

The player with the lowest score wins. In the event of a tie, the players who tied share their winnings. But in many rummy games, the process at the end of the hand works like this:

The players put down their melds on the table before taking score. Then everyone has the opportunity to “lay off.” Laying off is when rummy players get to add their odd cards to the melds that were shown at the end of the game. Your goal, when laying off, is to reduce the number of points in your hand. You can only lay off your odd cards on melds, not on other odd cards.

In some variations of rummy, you lay your melds down during game-play instead of at the end. In those variations, it’s customary to lay off cards during the game, when the meld is played. If you’re gambling, and I’m assuming you are, since you’re reading this blog, you should wait until the end of the game to put down melds and lay off cards.

Winning Money Playing Rummy

It’s customary for the payoffs in rummy to be handled in “units.” The denomination of the units should be agreed to by the players before the game.

One way to handle the payoffs is like this:

  • Having the lowest score = one unit
  • Having rummy = 2 units
  • Having rummy on the 1st pick = 4 units
  • Having a 6 or 7 card sequence = 4 units

A more common way to handle the money is based on points. The loser’s total is subtracted from the winner’s total, and the loser pays the difference in points to the winner. You can play for any amount per point that everyone agrees to—a dollar a point, $5 a point, etc.

Rummy Strategy Tips

Rummy resembles stud poker in this respect:

It’s all about remembering which cards have already been played. In the case of rummy, it’s about which cards have been picked up and which cards have been discarded. If you can remember this, you can avoid discarding cards that might help your opponent. You can also use this information to discard cards which can’t make melds.

If you’re unable to remember the cards, you really don’t have a chance against players who can. It’s important to work on your memory skills. One of my favorite memory experts is Ron White. Some of his training materials might be helpful, although that’s probably overkill for most casual players.

The next step, after learning how to remember what’s been played, is to analyze probabilities.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you have the 8 of spades and the 8 of diamonds in your hand. And the 8 of hearts was discarded earlier in the game. This means that the probability of getting another 8 is minimal, as 3 of the 4 cards are already accounted for. At this point, unless you think you can use those 8s to form sequences, it might be wise to discard those 8s. This also helps you decide between keeping 2 cards of the same rank or keeping 2 cards that are suited and in sequence.

Another skill from poker that translates to rummy is putting your opponents on hands. When your opponent picks up a card from the discard pile, is he trying to make a sequence or a set? This can also inform your decisions about what to discard.

Blocking your opponent from making a rummy requires you to make an educated guess about what he’s going for. The only way to do this is by paying attention, remembering what cards have been played, and putting your opponent on a hand.

Rules about Mistakes During the Game

In rummy, there are rules (or traditions) for how certain mistakes are handled during the game. Here are some common situations which might come up, along with how to handle them:

  • If there’s a mistake with the deck, the game is voided. This means if there are too many cards, not enough cards, duplicate cards, etc., then the game is ended immediately and no money changes hand.
  • If there’s a mistake with a hand, it’s handled based on when it’s caught. If a player gets too many cards or not enough cards, and if he notices it and brings it up before the game starts, it’s a misdeal. The cards are collected, re-shuffled, and re-dealt. If the player doesn’t notice the problem until after the game starts, or if another player notices after the game starts, the hand is dead. The player must place his cards face down and sit out the game, but he still has to pay off the winner. (So pay attention during the deal.)
  • If a player accidentally sees or exposes another player’s card during the deal, it’s a misdeal. During any misdeal, there’s a new shuffle and a new deal.
  • If a player exposes one of his cards during the deal, nothing happens. You’re responsible for your own cards.
  • If a card from the deck is exposed during the deal before it goes to a player, it’s a misdeal.
  • During game-play, if a card from the stock is exposed, it’s shuffled back into the deck. The game continues after the stock has been re-shuffled.
  • If a player discards 2 cards by accident, he must take one of his cards back. If the next player has already picked one of those cards up, the player who made the mistake must take back the other card.
  • If a player has an incorrect hand because he discarded 2 cards, he must play from the 2 cards he’s discarded until the number of cards in his hand is correct. Usually this means he must pick up one of those cards from the discard pile on his next turn. He cannot meld on this turn.
  • If a player discards a card without drawing a card, he can draw a new card unless the next player has already played. If the next player has already played, he must wait until it’s his turn again and draw a card without discarding. He cannot meld on this turn.
  • If a player puts down an invalid meld, he must put those cards back in his hand. But if another player has laid off on that hand, those laid off cards stay on the table. (The original player must still pick up his incorrect meld.)
  • If a player goes out incorrectly, he must place all his melds on the table and continue in the game with whatever cards he has left.
  • If a player announces his score incorrectly, he can correct it before the cards are shuffled and before the money is settled up. After the new shuffle and the money being paid, he must use the score he announced.
  • If a player goes out of turn, he must return the card he picked up. If no one notices until after he’s discarded a card, the player whose turn it was loses his turn. (You must protect your cards AND your turn.)
  • If a player draws more than one card from the stock, he must expose the extra card to the other players and return it to the stock.

Those should cover all the unusual or irregular situations that might come up during a game of rummy.


That’s the basic game of rummy in a nutshell. Once you’ve learned how to play basic rummy, it’s easy to pick up the most common variations of the game, which include:

  • 500 rummy
  • Gin rummy
  • Knock rummy

The game is also played online for real money these days. The popularity of online rummy for real money has never come close to matching that of poker, but it’s a fun way to gamble on the internet, too—especially if you enjoy classic card games.

Like many card games, rummy is a game of chance, but it also has a big element of skill involved. The key skill to mastering strategy in rummy is remembering who played which cards and when. The subsequent skill is making educated guesses about WHY the other player(s) played the cards they did.

The other wonderful thing about rummy is that it doesn’t have to be played for money at all. It’s easy enough and appropriate to be played with children. I learned to play rummy from my mom, and we never wagered any money on the game.

The only card game I liked better than rummy when I was growing up was spades. If you’ve never played, ask the guys at your home poker group on Thursday nights to give it a try for an evening. Players who are good at 5-card and 7-card stud should excel at rummy, too.

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