Contract Rummy

Contract Rummy is believed to have originated from a game called Zioncheck that was devised by Ruth Armson. David Parlett suggests that Contract Rummy card games followed on from Contract Bridge which was popular in the 1930's. Other names for Contract Rummy include Shanghai Rummy, Liverpool Rummy, Joker Rummy, Progressive Rummy, Combination Rummy, King Rummy and Continental Rummy.

Some of these are slight variations on the original Contract Rummy but the basic principles are the same. There are a series of deals, each of which have a set requirement, or contract, in terms of the type of melds that need to be achieved for going out and are of a fixed character. The contract must be formed first, before any other cards may be laid down. The contracts become progressively more demanding on each round.


Players: 2 to 5+ players. The optimum number of players is 3 or 4.

Cards: With up to four players shuffle together 2 standard decks of 52 cards. For five or more players use 3 decks. The number of jokers used should be one fewer than the number of players, so for 3 players add in 2 Jokers, for 5 players add in 4 Jokers, etc.

The Deal: The dealer is chosen at random. Cut the cards and deal one card out to each player. The person with the lowest card starts out as the dealer, Ace is lowest in the draw. Each round, the dealer moves to the left. Play will start with the player to the dealer's left and continues around to the left.

For the first four rounds the dealer will deal 10 cards to each player, one at a time. For the last three rounds, each player receives 12 cards.

After the cards are dealt to all players, the dealer places the remaining cards face down in a pile on the table forming the stock pile. The top card is flipped over to start the discard pile.

Objective: Just as in Standard Rummy the objective of the game is to form your cards into Sets and Runs, although there are slight differences in what constitutes valid sets or runs outlined in the next section. For each round of the game there is a different "Basic Contract" that must be fulfilled before anything else can be done. The contracts are a specific mix of Sets and/or Runs, and are as follows:

Round Cards Basic Contract
1 10 Two Sets
2 10 One Set, One Run
3 10 Two Runs
4 10 Three Sets
5 12 Two Sets, One Run
6 12 One Set, Two Runs
7 12 Three Runs

It should be noted that the minimum number of cards required to form the Basic Contract of the deal increases by one card for each subsequent round. For example, in Round 1 you only require 6 cards to form two sets. In Round 2, you require at least 7 cards to form one set and one sequence, and so on. In Round 7, the first meld of this deal ends play and it must be achieved with no unmatched cards. In other words, it must be a complete hand.


In Contract Rummy a minimum of 4 cards is required to form a run, instead of the usual 3 cards in most other Rummy games. In addition, any three cards of the same rank may form a set regardless of suit, and therefore a set formed of A-A-A is a valid set.

Also, where two runs are required in a Basic Contract, they must be of different suits. If they are not of different suits, then they must not be in consecutive order. For example, a sequence of 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9 counts as just one run. However, 2-3-4-5-7-8-9-10 is considered to be two runs because of the break between the 5 and the 7.

Ace can be counted as high or low, but not both at once. So sequences like J-Q-K-A and A-2-3-4 are valid melds, but K-A-2-3 are not.

Game Play

Play commences with the player to the left of the dealer taking a turn and continues clockwise until the round ends.

Players do the following actions when it is their turn:

  1. Draw: The player begins by drawing one cards from either the stock pile or the discard pile and adding it to his or her hand.

  2. Buy (the "May I?") (optional): If the card on top of the discard pile (the upcard) is not wanted by the player whose turn it is, that card may be asked for by another player. Hence the term "May I?". This means the card can be picked up and "bought" by the other player even though it is not their turn yet. The player who "buys" must also pick up a card from the stock pile, which is known as a "penalty card". The player that does this may not meld, lay off or discard since it is not his turn. Also he must still must pick up another card on his turn, which means that he will have two extra cards, though one or both may help him complete a contract. If more than one player wishes to buy the upcard the precedence is given to the player whose turn comes first.

    After the buy is completed control returns immediately back to the player whose turn it is, who draws the top card of the stock pile. He may not draw the next card on the discard pile, having already refused the first one.

  3. Meld (optional): If the player has cards that can be formed into the basic contract then they may lay them down at this time. This is called "fulfilling the contract". Only the specific number of cards needed for the contract may be melded when fulfilling the contract. No other cards can be laid down by the player until the turn after their contract has been fulfilled.

  4. Lay off (optional): Starting with the turn after the player has melded the contract they may lay off cards on any melds already on the table. There is no limit as to how many cards that may laid off in one turn.

  5. Joker Substitution (optional): Once a player has laid down the basic contract he is eligible to take a joker into his hand from a meld on the table by replacing it with the card it represents. A joker in a sequence may be moved to either end by a player who wishes to lay off the natural card on the meld (but no sequence may be comprised of more than 14 cards).

    Jokers played as part of a group are considered "dead"; they cannot be reclaimed and played elsewhere.

  1. Discard: And the end of his or her turn the player must discard one card from their hand to the face-up discard pile.

Depleted Stock

It can occasionally happen that the stock pile runs out of cards. If a player wishes to draw a card when there are no cards left in the stock pile, then you take all the cards of the discard pile except the top one, shuffle them together, and place them face down to make a new stock. The top card of the old discard pile remains face up to start the new discard pile. Play then continues as before.

End of Hand

Play continues in this way until one player has gotten rid of all their cards by melding and laying off.


When a player goes out then all the remaining players add up the points of the cards they still have in their hands. Cards have the following point values:

Card Value
Joker 25 points
Ace 15 points
Face cards 10 points
Others face value

A the end of the seven rounds the player with the lowest score wins.

Optional Rules and Variations

The following rules may be added to the standard game if all players agree to the variation before the first player takes their turn. It’s not an all or nothing deal, the game participants can pick and choose which variations they like.

  1. More Jokers: It is common to use both jokers in each deck of cards used for the game, instead of limiting the jokers to one less than the number of players.

  2. Dueces wild: The game can be played with all the 2s acting as Jokers. If so then they are also worth 25 points at the end of the round.

  3. Score variations: Some play with number cards (2 through 10) counting as 5 points each instead of their pip or number value. Some play with jokers counting as 15 points.

  4. No buying: Some players play without the option for the buying step of the turns described above, in order to be less confusing for new players for example.

  5. Multiple buys: After someone has bought the discard out of turn, it is possible for a different player to take the next card of the discard pile in the same way, also taking a penalty card from the stock pile along with it. There is no limit as to how many times this can be done, but the same player is not allowed to take two successive cards from the discard pile in this way.

    Only when the other players have had the opportunity to take any cards they want from the top of the discard pile does the person who was about to play draw from the stock and continue their turn.

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