How to Play Gin Rummy – Gin Rummy Rules & Strategy

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Learn how to play gin rummy from start to finish with this guide to the essential rules and strategies.

Gin rummy is a card game for two players where the objective is to turn all of your cards into “sets” and “runs” before your opponent does.

Even though the game has been around since 1909, it remains one of the most popular two-player card games in the world due to it being easy to learn and the fact it can be played for hours on end.

Gin Rummy hand
Image: Britannica

Gin Rummy Rules

There aren’t too many rules to speak of.

The only things you need to know when learning how to play gin rummy is that it’s strictly a two-player card game, the jokers are taken out of the deck, and aces can only be used as low cards. Therefore, you cannot make a run with Q♠ K♠ A♠.

Face cards and tens are all scored at ten points, aces are scored at one point, and all other cards are assigned their numerical values. Bonus point scoring may vary depending on the rummy rules you are playing, whether it’s based on a specific region or house rules.

How to Play Gin Rummy

Objective

Gin Rummy is similar to another classic card game, Tonk. So, if you know how to play Tonk, Gin Rummy will be easy to pick up.

The objective is to be the first one to score 100 points or another predetermined amount of points. During each hand, the object is to make “runs” and “sets” while simultaneously eliminating and/or limiting your “deadwood.”

All cards are kept in your hand until a player knocks as to not give your opponent an advantage.

  • A “run” is a sequence of three or more cards of the same suit, such as 3♥ 4♥ 5♥.
  • A “set” is three or four cards of the same rank, such as Q♠Q♦Q♥.
  • “Deadwood” are your leftover cards that are not currently part of a run or a set.

Step-By-Step Guide

  1. The dealer is determined by an agreed-upon method and alternates from hand-to-hand or round-to-round.
  2. The dealer deals ten cards to each player once at a time, beginning with their opponent, and places the next card face up on the table, beginning the discard pile.
  3. The opponent decides whether to take the upcard or to pass. If both players pass, then the opponent begins the game by pulling a card and placing a card from their hand on top of the discard pile.
  4. Players can choose to draw the upcard or they can take the next card from the deck.
  5. Players will alternate taking turns until one player declares their hand over by “knocking” or when only two cards remain in the deck. If no knock occurs, the hand is declared a draw and no points are awarded.
  6. The player who knocks can only do so when they have 10 or fewer points worth of deadwood or if they go gin. Going gin is when you make sets and/or runs with all 10 of your cards. A “big gin” is if you are able to do so with 11 cards, including the card that was just pulled.
  7. The players will then both turn their cards over face up, with their sets and runs organized and their deadwood put to the side.
  8. Should the player who knocks not go gin, then the defending player is entitled to “lay off” their remaining deadwood cards onto their opponents completed sets and runs. For example, should the knocking player have 7♦ 8♦ 9♦ and the defending player have the 5♦ and 6♦ in their deadwood pile, they are allowed to lay off those cards onto their opponents run.
  9. The score for that hand is taken (see scoring below).
  10. A new hand is dealt and play continues until a player reaches the minimum winning score.

Scoring

Scoring is based on two things: deadwood and bonuses. Post-game bonuses are mostly irrelevant except when you are playing for money.

Most players will play for a certain stake per point, with high-stakes games usually a $1 or more per point. The amount the winning player earns is determined by the difference between their winning score and the losing score.

  • Knock Points – Following a legal knock, the knocker scores the difference between their deadwood and the opponent’s deadwood. A legal knock can only take place when the knocker has 10 or fewer points of deadwood following their discard. For example, if the knocker has 10 points of deadwood and the opponent has 22 points of deadwood, the knocker is awarded 12 points.If the knocker has equal or fewer points worth of deadwood than their opponents following lay offs, then the opponent wins the hand via undercut (see below).
  • Gin Bonus – Should the knocker successfully go gin, they get a bonus 25 points added on top of their knock points.
  • Big Gin Bonus – Should an opponent successfully score a big gin, they receive an additional 31 points on top of their knock points.
  • Undercut Bonus – Should a player knock but their opponent has equal or fewer deadwood points, then the opponent scores a bonus 25 points on top of the deadwood difference. An undercut bonus cannot take place if the knocker goes gin.
  • Game Bonus – The player who reaches 100 points first gets an additional 100 points added to their score.
  • Line Bonus – Each player receives 25 bonus points for each hand they win during the game.
  • Shutout Bonus – If the winner shuts their opponent out, their total score is doubled, not including the line bonus.

Gin Rummy Strategies

Keep Track of Cards

Keep Track of Cards

You have to know if cards that you are chasing have already been discarded. Keep a keen eye on what cards have been thrown away.

Get Runs, Not Sets

Get Runs, Not Sets

Runs and suited connectors are highly versatile. These cards are able to be added onto and thrown away easier. They also have a higher potential to help you score gin and big gin even faster. Keeping these cards also will give you a much higher chance of adding your cards to your opponents’ cards if they knock and potentially lead to undercuts.

Trash Your Big Cards Early

Trash Your Big Cards Early

In order to avoid being stuck with deadwood, it’s often best to get rid of your high cards, even if you have a pair or have suited connectors. You’ll want to do this as early as possible. On a similar note, if your deadwood is mainly low cards, it’s often worth throwing away potential connecting cards in order to knock faster.

Knock Early

Knock Early

The earlier you knock, the higher the chance is that your opponent will be stuck with a whole lot of deadwood, giving you a lot more knock points. The later you knock, the more potential your opponent has to score an undercut. The later the game goes, you may want to think about passing up the opportunity to knock altogether and go after gin instead.

Conclusion

It’s really easy to learn how to play rummy while hands and games are completed rather quickly, making gin rummy one of the most fun games in the world for players of all skill levels. Knowing a bit of basic strategy will help you immensely and take your game to a whole new level.

FAQs

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Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert
Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert

Blaise is an Expert Gambling Writer and a professional poker player in Brazil. He has played and traveled throughout Latin America for the last four-and-a-half years and recently won his first WSOP Circuit ring! He received his Master's in Sport Management and Sports Analytics from St. John's University. Blaise also holds a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from SUNY Purchase, where he still holds the school's Men's Soccer record for goals in a season. Blaise has worked for Catena Media, OddsSeeker, WSOP, PokerNews, and Poker.Org in various capacities. He has a passion for extensive research and aims to provide accurate…