Rummy is a collection of games with some commonalities, and also many variations. They are all considered by most folks to be fun, and sometimes challenging games, and are very popular is some areas of the world. For those interested in where Rummy games came from, please check out Rummy History.
Rummy games typically revolve around taking turns drawing and discarding cards, in an attempt to build up runs (or sequences) of 3 or more cards in the same suit, or sets of 3 or 4 cards with the same rank but different suits. Rummy isn’t limited to cards however, as there are also Rummy-like games using tiles or cubes.
The main variances between types of Rummy games tend to be rules in how the initial game is set up, how the runs and sets are built, whether other players can build upon existing runs and sets, how the end of each hand is played, and how scoring is done. Some games will be played with more than one deck of cards, and the number of cards dealt to each player at the start of the game is another common difference. In some games the sets and runs are laid out for all players to see, in others they are played “close to the vest”, which can often result in an exciting (or frustrating) surprise win, coming seemingly out of nowhere.
In addition to the major variations that result in different Rummy games, like Straight Rummy, Gin Rummy, Indian Rummy, etc., there are also minor variations of the well-known games that are common. One example is whether an Ace card will be low, high or both. These will be smaller differences or preferences that can be applied to a game by common consent of the players before the game starts.
A "run" in Rummy games is typically a sequence of 3 or more cards of the same suit. Another way to look at it is that there are no cards missing between the lowest card and the highest card of the run. For example, this is a valid run:
But these are not valid runs:
4-5-7 4-5-6-7 4-5
A "set", sometimes called a "book", is a group of 3 or 4 cards, all with the same rank but with different suits. If the game is using more than one deck then a set usually can not have more than one card with the same suit. For example, these are valid sets:
But these are not:
9-9-9-9 9-9-6-9 9-9
A single card can only be used once as part of one set or run, and cannot be reused in different melds at the same time.
In most Rummy games the ace card will be "low" by default, or in other words, will be treated the same as a one. However it is not uncommon to have a minor variation in which the Ace will be valued higher than a King. It can even be allowed to be either low or high, depending on the context in which it is used. However, even when the Ace can be either low or high, it usually cannot be both. In other words, runs that “go around the corner” like Q-K-A-2-3 are typically not allowed. As you’ll soon see, one of the common tenets of Rummy is that there are flavors or variations for just about everybody, so it is not impossible to play a game that allows Aces to appear in the middle of a run, but players should confirm that with each other before starting a game.
Unless otherwise mentioned, when a game allows an Ace to be high or to be either low or high it will be valued at 15 points to reflect its greater value and versatility. If the Ace is only allowed to be low in a game then it will typically only have a value of 1 point, unless the game’s rules dictate otherwise.
Some games and variants will allow the use of wild card cards. Typically the joker cards are used, although in some games an additional card is selected at the beginning of each hand that will also be wild cards. In those cases then the top card on the stock pile after the cards have been dealt is drawn, flipped over and tucked under the stock pile such that the rank of the card is visible so all players can see it.
If a joker is played and another player has the card that the wild card is substituted for, then when the player takes their turn they can replace the joker with that card and take the joker for their own use.
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 pile. The top card of the old discard pile remains face up to start the new discard pile. Play then continues as before.
In some games or game variants the game will end when the stock pile runs out of cards. Usually in those cases the points for the cards remaining in each players hand will be totaled and play moves into the end game status.
Dealing the cards
Like most card games players take turns being the dealer, with that responsibility moving to the player on the current dealer’s left between each hand. When dealing, the first card goes to the player on the dealer’s left, and after the cards are dealt, the player on the dealers left is the first to take a turn.
Some kinds of Rummy games will stipulate in their official rules things like how the dealer is chosen, what order the players will sit around the table, etc. However I've found that in casual play things like that don't matter to most people, and they are seldom followed.
Stock Pile: A face-down pile of cards that are left over after cards have been dealt to the players at the start of a hand. Players may draw a card from this pile at the start of their turns.
Discard pile: A face-up pile of cards. This is where players will discard unwanted cards at the end of their turns. Most games allow players to draw a card or cards from this pile at the start of their turns instead of from the stock pile.
Upcard: The top card on the discard pile.
Meld: A meld is the action of forming runs or sets and laying them down on the playing table. In some games the cards are held in the hand until the player is ready to meld all or most of their cards and end the game. In other games the melding may be done as an optional part of every turn.
Laying off: Some games allow players to add cards to an existing meld, either their own or those of an opponent. This action is called “laying off”.
Going out: Going out happens when the player disposes of all their cards and it marks the end of the current round of the game.
Deadwood: At the end of a hand any cards that a player has not melded or laid off are called deadwood. In most games the deadwood contributes to the players score in some way.
Knock: The knock is a way for a player to signal that they are ready to end the round despite still having deadwood cards in their hand. The knock is used in the Knock family of games, but some others will also use the concept, such as Carousel. The name comes from the traditional gesture of actually knocking on the table, but any for of signal, such as saying "I'm knocking" is sufficient.