How to Play Gin Rummy (The Card Game) and Win

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Gin rummy (or simply gin to most players) is a two-player card game that’s existed for over a century and is still incredibly popular today. What is the draw of this mysterious card game and what tactics can you employ to increase your chances of winning? Let’s take a closer look.

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What is gin rummy?

Rummy is a variety of card games that have been around in one form or another for hundreds of years. According to Parlett Games, the earliest Rummy game mentioned in print was described in The Standard Hoyle published in New York in 1887. The gin format was devised in 1909 by Elwood T. Baker and his son C. Graham Baker who were looking for a new version of the game that worked as a social and competitive medium.

Gin Rummy uses a standard 52 card deck and follows the tradition of drawing and discarding cards which is a hallmark of all rummy games. We’ll discuss how to play the game in more detail later but first let’s have a brief look at current gin competitions.

Current gin competitions

While the gin rummy tournament scene has dwindled over the years, there are still a few notable tournaments taking place across the world. And while online card playing is becoming increasingly popular, the very best players can still test their metal in the World Series of Gin Rummy run by the Gin Rummy association with a $50,000 first prize.

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How to play gin rummy

On paper, gin may seem like a complicated game, but after playing a few hands it becomes almost self-explanatory. Here are the steps to a gin rummy game:

  1. Get two people (although 3 people can be accommodated) and a standard deck of 52 cards with the Jokers removed.
  2. In gin, the King cards are the highest with Aces having the lowest value.
  3. Each player draws a card and the person with the lowest value becomes the dealer. In future rounds, the loser of the previous round becomes the dealer.
  4. The dealer deals ten cards face down to each player.
  5. The remaining cards are placed face down on the table. This is the stockpile. One card should be drawn from the stockpile and placed face up next to it. This is the start of the discard pile.
  6. Each player sorts their cards into sets or runs. A set is 3 or 4 cards of the same rank (i.e. three 5’s) and a run is a sequence of 3 or more consecutive cards (i.e. 2, 5, 6).
  7. Starting with the dealer, each player takes turns choosing whether to take the face-up card in the discard pile. If both refuse, the player whose turn it is can take a card from the stockpile. If the card is useful it can be added to current melds and a different card from the hand discarded. If it is not useful, it can be placed straight onto the discard pile. The other player then takes their turn, and this repeats until the end of the game.
  8. The game ends when either only 2 cards are left on the stockpile or if a player knocks on the table to signify that they have reached gin, that is they have used all their cards in melds.
  9. All the cards are then exposed, and scores are totaled up. The person reaching gin (that is those who knocked) gets 25 points immediately. In gin, points are awarded for the cards that have not been placed into melds. These are called deadwood cards. The difference between the value of your deadwood cards and your opponents are the points awarded. So for instance, if you have a two of hearts as your only deadwood card and your opponent has a five of diamonds and a Queen of spades you would gain 13 points (your card was worth 2 but your opponents were worth 15).
  10. More hands are played until a player reaches 100. At this stage, they have won the game.

Tactics to help you win at gin rummy

Here are a few tactics to help you win at gin rummy:

Memorize the cards that are being discarded:

If you keep track of the cards that you and your opponent put on the discard pile, you will have a better understanding of what to collect and not collect for your melds as you will know which cards have already gone.

Memorize the cards that your opponent picks up

You can see the cards your opponent picks up from the discard pile. This should give you a clue as to the type of sets and runs they are looking to create and may help you choose which cards you discard.

Look for runs first, then sets

As runs can be added onto at either end, they are generally easier to create than sets.

Knock as soon as you can

Your deadwood cards must be worth less than 10 points before you knock but as soon as they are, end the game. Waiting too long could mean letting your opponent reach gin.

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And finally…

It’s easy to see why gin rummy has stood the test of time and remains popular today. It is a game of tactics and thought, not bluffing and deception like poker. I hope our guide helped you to understand the game a little better and you now feel more armed for your next round.


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