Gin Rummy or Gin is among the best two-handed card games. It features the simplicity of rummy combined with genuine strategic depth.
Gin was invented by Elwood T. Baker and played by his family back in 1910. Then it was forgotten. Baker’s son Graham was astonished to find the game being played at New York clubs in the 1930s. Somehow the game had survived or resurfaced after two decades! Gin became a fad in the early 1940s, probably because film stars adopted it as their favorite.
John Scarne was a magician who befriended Houdini, mobsters, and Presidents. Along the way he invented some classic card games. Read his fascinating story here.
Scarne took standard Gin and enlivened it with more varied melds, a contract meld requirement, and direct interaction between opponents through new discard rules. He called his creation Skarney Gin. While based on Gin Rummy, Skarney Gin is a very different, more sophisticated game. Try it if you like Gin Rummy.
First we’ll summarize the rules for standard Gin Rummy, aka Oklahoma Gin. Then we give rules to a simple variant called Sequence Gin. Next come the rules to the high-end Skarney Gin. We wrap up with Colonel, a variant of Gin Rummy in which players lay non-scoring melds to the table. If you like Gin, you owe it to yourself to try all these gin variants -- we guarantee they’re the best!
Oklahoma Gin (aka Gin Rummy)--
This is a game with a 52-card deck for two players. Cards rank A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K. The Ace is always the low card. Card values are--
10 points each 10, J, Q, K
Point value equals the card rank A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
The goal in a Hand is to be first to meld all the cards in your hand to go out (go gin). Or to meld enough cards such that the value of those left is less than or equal to the value of the turn-up card, and also less than the value of your opponent’s unmelded cards.
The goal for Game is to be the first player to 100 points across hands.
Valid melds are either--
1. 3 or 4 cards of the same rank
2. A sequence of 3 or more cards in the same suit
Deal each player 10 cards each. Turn one card face-up to start the discard pile. The remaining face-down cards become the draw pile.
In his turn, each player---
1. Takes one card into his hand. This may either be the top card of
the discard pile, or the top card from the draw pile.
2. If he wants to or can, he goes out (thereby ending the hand).
3. Discards one card face-up on top of the discard pile. Unless mutually
agreed otherwise, cards in the discard pile should be squared up so
that only the single topmost card is visible.
There are two ways to go out--
1. Going gin, whereby all cards in the hand have been melded.
2. Melding all cards in hand but with remaining non-melded cards
having a total value of less than or equal to that of the original
turn-up card that started the discard pile. This is called knocking.
When a player goes gin, he scores a 20 point gin bonus, plus the total value of all unmelded cards in his opponent’s hand.
When a player knocks, he places his hand face-up on the table. His opponent then shows his own melds, and is allowed to meld any unmatched cards (if possible) on the melds of the player who knocked.
Total the remaining unmatched cards for each player. If the player who knocked has a total less than that of his opponent, he scores the total value of unmatched cards of his opponent. If the player who knocked has a total greater than or equal to that of his opponent, he has been under-knocked. The opponent scores a 20 point under-knocking bonus, plus the difference in value between the two hands.
When a player goes out, either by gin or by knocking, he optionally discards to conclude his hand.
In this variant of Gin Rummy of my own invention, players may only meld sequences (not 3 or 4 of a kind). Players score a 1 point per card bonus for each card in a long sequence of 6 or more cards. Score a 1 point per card bonus for each face card (K, Q, J) in sequences. These bonuses do not apply to whether one can knock or whether an under-knock occurs. They only apply when calculating the final hand scores.
All other rules are as per Oklahoma Gin above.
Skarney Gin adds an extra meld to Oklahoma Gin. 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--
1. Set (3 or 4 of a kind)
2. Sequence (3 or more cards in suit in sequence)
3. Poker Meld (3 or more cards in sequence, regardless of suits)
Aces can be either high or low in melds. 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.
The first meld a player makes in each hand must be his contract meld. The contract meld consists of exactly three 3-card melds. The melds may be any combination of 3-of-a-kind sets, 3-card same-suit sequences, or 3-card poker melds. After a player lays down his contract meld, in subsequent turns he may lay off either one or two cards on each of his melds on the table. He can not lay off cards on his opponent’s melds. Of course, the player can also lay down any new melds he likes (each consisting of three or more cards).
Play differs from regular Gin in that there is no “discard pile.” (After dealing cards to each player, you do not turn up a card to start the discard pile.) Instead of discarding, a player holds up one card from his hand and offers it to his opponent. The opponent may say “I’ll take it,” and put it into his hand. If the opponent rejects the card, the player must put it back into his own hand.
A player can not offer to his opponent the same card he just accepted from his opponent in the prior turn. If the pro-offered discard is an Ace, and the player accepts it, that player loses his draw from the draw pile on his next turn.
Whether the second player accepts the discard (and puts it into his hand) or not, he still always starts his turn by drawing the top card from the stock pile. The single exception is if he accepted the offered discard from his opponent and that card was an Ace.
When a player has only 1 card left in his hand, he does not offer a potential discard to his opponent. Instead, he just says “last card” and keeps that card in his hand.
Scoring differs from regular Gin in that Aces are worth 15 points (instead of 1 point). A player who goes gin receives the total value of all cards in his opponent’s hand (regardless of whether they are meldable or not). The player who goes out does not receive any points for cards his opponent has already melded to the table.
Going gin also scores a gin bonus of 20 points. This doubles to 40 points if the opponent has not yet put his required contract meld to the table.
Since Skarney Gin does not have a discard pile, you must go out by melding all cards in your hand without a discard.
There is no knocking in Skarney Gin. The hand ends by a gin. If players draw all the way through the deck (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 scores the difference in the unmelded point totals.
A Game is 200 points or more across hands.
As you’ve probably guessed, this game is way different from standard Gin!
The number of cards in a player’s hand varies during a hand. There is no knocking, only gin (or else the hand ends when the draw pile is exhausted). And there is the presence of a third meld, the poker straight in which cards are in sequence but not in suit.
Poker straights are often easier to extend than sets or sequences in one suit.
You’ll have to think very carefully about when to lay down your contract meld. Too early and you could end up stuck with a single card in hand and little flexibility. Too late, and your opponent may gin and catch you with all cards in hand. Remember that all cards in hand count against you if your opponent gins (whether matched or not). And, only cards in hand count in the scoring (cards melded to the table are not part of the score).
We’ve simplified by leaving out Scarne’s system for scoring Games for the purposes of settling.
See John Scarne’s Encyclopedia of Card Games, one of the classic card game compendiums. The book has a chapter on Skarney Gin and its rummy relative, Skarney.
If you like Skarney Gin, you might also try Scarne’s partnership scoring rummy, Skarney.
Colonel is a variation of standard Gin Rummy in which the two players lay melds on the table. This adds interest to the game as the melds progressively yield more information as the game evolves. This is a fast, fun, simple card game for two.
As in standard Gin Rummy, this the two players use one 52-card deck. Cards rank from Ace (high) to 2 (low). The Ace is always played as high card in sequences (A-K-Q-J...), never as the low card (A-2-3...).
The goal is to win the hand by being first to go out of cards. Like Gin Rummy, the only scoring is done at the end of the hand.
The allowable melds are:
1. Sets of 3 or 4 cards of the same rank
2. Sequences of 3 or more cards in the same suit
Dealer starts the hand by dealing each player 10 cards face-down, one at a time. He turns one card face-up to start the Discard Pile, and the remaining cards remain face-down and become the drawing Stock.
In his turn each player:
1. Either draws the top card from the Stock or takes the face up card from the top of the Discard Pile
2. Optionally melds as many sets and sequences as he or she can.
The player may also optionally add one or more cards to any set or sequence already on the table,
regardless of who originally placed that meld on the table. Thus one can play cards on the
3. Discards one card to the top of the Discard Pile. This should cover up all previous cards in the pile.
The first player to play all cards from his hand wins the hand. You can either go out on a discard or solely through melding.
The player who rummies (goes out) scores 10 points for each Ace, King, Queen and Jack remaining in his opponent’s hand. All other cards score their pip value.
If the game ends by the exhaustion of the Stock, players each total the points in their hands. The player with the lower total wins the hand. He scores points by subtracting his remaining point total from his opponent’s.
At any time a player may challenge his opponent. The opponent may either accept or reject the Challenge. If he accepts the Challenge, both players total the points in their hands, and the player with the lower point total wins the hand. He scores the total points in his opponent’s hand -- without deducting his own remaining point total.
If the player rejects the Challenge, play of the hand continues as per usual.
Tension in this game centers on when to play your melds to the table. Doing so early reduces your chance of being stuck with lots of cards in hand, should your opponent rummy. However, this also exposes your sets and sequences so that your opponent can play his cards on them to reduce his hand.
A player who is having trouble melding might stock up his hand with low point total cards, then challenge his opponent. The large hand with a deceptively low point total will often succeed in a Challenge.
Colonel is described in George F. Hervey’s compendium of card games, published in the UK several times by Hamlyn since 1973. I know of no other published source for this game.