Gin Rummy

Designer: Elwood Thomas Baker, Charles Thomas Baker

Artist: uncredited

Publisher: Uncredited

Another gin! Why can’t I beat my partner in this game?

We are going old school. Ever since playing SCOUT with 2, the missus has been pining for more 2 player card games using a traditional deck. I myself haven’t really dabbled much in traditional card games. I went straight from monopoly and mahjong to Princes of Florence. So not surprisingly, both of us have never played gin rummy. So off to the internet I go to hunt for rules.

I half expected a slew of house rules for such a classic card game and I wasn’t wrong. Thankfully, the variations in play aren’t too many, its just with scoring. The basic game itself is straightforward. At first first blush, the game reads like a basic suit collection game. Players are dealt a hand of 10 cards and must form melds with 3 or more cards. Melds can be runs of the same suit or sets of similar cards (triples or four of a kind). The goal is to form a “gin” or a hand that is completely melded with no left over points called “deadwood”. Deadwood is essentially leftover cards that count against a player. So, a gin would mean you end the hand with no deadwood. Besides calling gin, a player can also “knock”. Knocking indicates that a player is calling an end to the round with some unmelded cards. Usually, players can only knock if they have 10 or fewer deadwood points in their hand.

The basic scoring is simple. If someone knocks, then the deadwood point differential between players is the score for the player who initiated the knock. However, if the player who initiated the knock has more deadwood points than the opponent, then the opponents not only gets the points but also received a bonus of 10 extra points. Essentially if you knock, you are betting that you have a smaller deadwood than your opponent. If not, your opponent will get the win plus a few extra points.

If a gin is called, then the game is won with 25 extra bonus points. However, before that, your opponent gets to reduce their deadwood by trying to extend your melds with their leftover cards. This is meant to reduce the penalties for the opponent.

I realize there are a ton of variant scoring out there, including the number of bonus points awarded. It does get a little hairy trying to figure out which scoring criteria to follow. I am not convinced that scoring structure above is optimal, as the point spread between hands are quite huge, with some wins scoring 50+ points. Makes it hard to catch up.

We have been enjoying gin rummy more than expected. I did not expect that after my first reading of the rules. In fact, I think we may like it even more than SCOUT. Playing rummy reminds us a lot of playing mahjong, a game that will never go out of fashion with us. When melding suits, one must pay attention to the card combinations to maximize the probabilities of getting the cards you need to meld suits. This means being able to visualize how cards can be rearranged to form trios. This is definitely a skill and one which I am terrible at. That possibly explains why I am getting trounced in this game.

One aspect I think both of us disliked about rummy is card counting. It is clear that if you count cards, you will win more often. More so than Mahjong, one has to remember the discarded cards on the table to prevent setting yourself up with an impossible meld. In Mahjong, the tiles are all laid out for everyone to see. There is no need to memorize. With rummy, the discard pile is hidden. I suppose we could house rule this to show which cards have been tossed out. Be that as it may, rummy has a huge memory component to the game, one which I dislike more than I should.

I think many subsequent plays of gin rummy clearly demonstrates that skill is involved in assembling a good hand to score point. Like Mahjong, my skill in doing so lags behind that of my wife and it shows. In rummy, she still wins most of the hands and calls Gin quite frequently while I still stumble around to form melds. While I am competitive in most board games, not so in gin rummy. It is painful, but I welcome it.

I certainly look forward to exploring many more traditional card games. But this is top of the pole

Initial impression: Good
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