John Scarne was a magician who befriended Houdini, mobsters, and Presidents. Along the way he invented some classic card games. In Skarney Gin Scarne took standard Gin Rummy and enlivened it with more varied melds, a contract meld requirement, and direct interaction between opponents through new discard rules.
Players: Like standard Gin Rummy this game is for 2 players only.
Cards: A standard 52-card deck, without Jokers, is used in this game.
The Deal: The dealer deals 10 cards to their opponent and themselves, one card at a time. The remaining cards are placed face-down on the table between the players. Note that there is no discard pile in this game, so don't flip the top card of the stock pile to start a discard. Players take turns being the dealer each round.
Objective: The goal of each round of the game is to dispose of all the cards in the player's hand by forming them into one of the accepted types of melds. The winner scores points based on the cards that the opponent still has in their hand at the end of the round.
Skarney Gin adds an extra kind of meld to the typical Rummy game. The poker meld is a set of cards in sequence (they do not have to be in the same suit). So there are three kinds of melds in Skarney Gin:
- Sets (3 or 4 of a kind)
- Runs or sequence (3 or more cards in the same suit and in sequence)
- Poker Meld (3 or more cards in sequence, regardless of suits)
Aces can be either high or low in Runs. So you can play A-2-3 or Q-K-A. You can not make “round the corner” melds with Aces, such as K-A-2.
Like Contract Rummy and some other Rummy games, Skarney Gin requires the first time that a player lays down melds in each round that it meets certain requirements. The player must form 3 separate valid melds (each a set, run, or poker meld) of three cards each. In other words, before the player can do anything else, they must lay down exactly 9 cards that form exactly 3 separate melds.
Play commences with the non-dealer, and turns alternate throughout the round. Players do the following actions when it is their turn:
Draw: The player draws the top card of the stock pile.
Meld: If the player has already fulfilled the contract, (see above,) they may form additional melds on the table in front of them if they have the cards to form valid combinations. If the contract has not yet been melded then the player will need to wait until they are able to do so.
Lay off: If the player has already formed their contract melds then they may lay off cards on their existing melds. No more than 2 cards can be added to a meld in a single turn, but one or two cards can be added to more than one meld in a single turn if desired. The player may only lay off on their own melds, not those of their opponent.
Discard: The player then selects a card to potentially discard. Remember there is no discard pile, so instead it works like this: The player selects the card and displays it to his opponent and asks, "Do you want this card?" If they do want it then the card is given to the opponent and the player's turn is over. If not then the card is kept in the player's hand and the turn is completed.
It is not allowed to offer a card that the player received from their opponent on the prior turn.
If the offered card is an Ace, and if it is accepted, then the accepting player may not draw from the stock pile to start their turn. If it's not an Ace then they draw from the stock pile like normal.
If the player is down to their last card they are not permitted to offer it to their opponent. Instead they just say, "Last card." and keeps the card.
End of the Round
The round ends when one of these events happen:
- A player is able to meld or lay off all of their cards and says, "Skarney."
- If all the cards in the stock pile have been drawn (with the exception of the last two cards, which are never drawn), the hand ends without the last player offering a potential discard. The player holding the lower total value for unmelded cards in his hand is the winner.
When the round ends the players add up the total point value for the cards remaining in their hands. If a player won by melding all their cards then they have a point total of zero and receive the value of their opponents remaining cards as points. If the round ended due to the stock pile being depleted then the player with the lowest value of cards receives the difference between the players as points. Note that all cards still in the hand are counted, whether or not they could have been melded.
Cards have the following point values:
|Face cards||10 points|
If the winner of the round was able to "go Skarney" (forming all of their cards into melds before the stock pile ran out) then they receive a 20 point gin bonus. If the opponent has not yet melded their contract then that bonus is doubled to 40 points.
Additional rounds are played until a player is able to accumulate a score of 200 or more points.
The following named variations of Skarney Gin are documented:
Round-the-corner Skarney: This game is the same as Skarney Gin, except "round the corner" sequences are allowed. This means that Aces can be used as a bridge between high and low cards, in other words, sequences like K-A-2 are allowed.
Skarney Gin for three players: Like Gin Rummy Skarney Gin is primarily a 2-player game, however it is possible for three players to enjoy a game together, although it's played 2 players at a time. Sort of. The way it works is that only two of the three are actually playing against each other at the same time.
Players start out by choosing who will sit out the first round, perhaps by drawing random cards with the lowest card indicating the player who will sit out. The other two players will play a standard round of Skarney Gin. The player who is sitting out for the round can still be involved by keeping score or by acting as the dealer.
When the round is completed then the winner is credited the score like normal. The loser will be the one who sits out on the next round and the player who sat out for the previous round will play the next round with the winner.
Rounds will continue to be played, with players alternating based on who wins or loses the prior round, until one player reaches a score of 200 points.
Skarney Gin Captains: Similar to Skarney Gin for three players variation described above, this game is also intended to be played by 3 players. The difference however is that the player designated as the "Captain" plays every round and the other two players will work together to try and beat the Captain.
For example, say player A is the captain for the first game, and he or she plays against player B and C. Player B plays the first round against the captain and continues playing until he or she loses a round, then player C takes over. Scores for B's and C's rounds are kept together and the captain's score is kept separately. Rounds continue until the game score total is reached by one side or the other.
If additional games are played then B becomes the Captain and plays against A and C for the next game. The Captain role will continue to rotate for any subsequent games.
Skarney Gin Partners: This is a game for 4 players, in two teams. It's actually two games happening at the same time, with opponents switching back and forth for each round. For example, say players A and B are a team and are playing against players C and D. For the first round players A and C will sit across from each other and will play a round of Skarney Gin with each other. The same goes for players B and D. For the next round players A and B will switch positions, and then player A will play against D, and B will play against C.
Scores are kept by team and is the combination of both winning scores in the individual games. For example, if A is playing against C and A wins by 68 points. In the same round B is playing against D and D wins by 20 points. That means that team A-B wins by 48 points, and that is the score that is recorded.
Rounds continue with players alternating opponents until one team reaches 300 points. All other points and bonuses are the same as in stock Skarney Gin.