What is Shanghai Rummy?
Shanghai Rummy, also known as California Rummy, is a variation on the popular game of rummy. The basics of the Shanghai Rummy card game are simple to grasp, and the ease of play makes it a popular choice among campers and families alike.
How to play Shanghai Rummy?
Shanghai Rummy players range from 3 – 8 players, and all you need to play are decks of cards. Specifically,
- For 3 – 4 players, 2 decks are required, only 1 Joker.
- For 5 – 8 players, 3 decks are required, only 2 Jokers.
To determine who goes first, each player draws a card from the deck after shuffling, and the player with the lowest card goes first, becoming the dealer for the first round. Each player then draws 11 cards from the deck. Finally, the remaining cards are placed face down at the centre of the board, becoming the draw pile. One card from the draw pile is placed face up, creating the discard pile.
The aim of Shanghai Rummy is to form ‘melds’, which are specific combinations of cards. Valid melds in Shanghai Rummy include sets and runs. Sets are combinations of the same card, while runs are a sequence of consecutive numbers 1♣ 2♣ 3♣ 4♣ For sets, the suit of the card is unimportant, whereas runs require all cards to be from the same suit.
At the start of their turns, each player can choose to draw a card from the draw pile or to take the top card of the discard pile. After drawing, the player must then discard a card of their choosing. The discard goes to the top of the discard pile. All cards below the top of the discard pile are ‘dead’ cards and cannot be taken.
An out-of-tur player can take the top card of the discard pile by “buying”. If a player opts to buy, they will need to draw another card from the draw pile. Each player is limited to a certain number of buys per round.
A player can only meld on their turn, and each turn has a 1 meld limit. Players can only meld once they have the necessary cards top fulfil the win conditions. For example, if a sequence of 4 is required to win, and the player possesses a sequence of 5, the player must discard the extra card before being allowed to meld. Melding is optional, and one can choose to hold off on melding even with the necessary cards.
Once a player has melded, they can “lay off” any number of cards on the following turns, which is to add cards to melds from any player. Laying off cannot be done on the same turn as melding.
The game ends once a player has played all cards in their hand. Since every turn begins with a draw from the draw pile, a player must be able to win with the draw, as discarding will end their turn.
The dealer then rotates clockwise for each following round, for a total of 10 rounds.
Shanghai Rummy has a specific set of win conditions for each round, and in consequence, has rules in place to prevent ‘cheap wins’ from lucky draws.
Jokers in California Rummy
Jokers can substitute any card from a run or sequence, provided that the number of Jokers does not exceed the number of non-Jokers. For example, a set of 6♣ 6♣ – Joker is legal, whereas 6♣ -Joker – Joker is illegal. A player who has laid down is allowed to substitute a Joker from any meld with the correct card on their turn.
A player can only play cards on their turn, and since buying is done out-of-turn, a player cannot play the cards immediately. If more than 1 player wants to buy the card, the closest player in terms of turn order gains precedent. Remember that turns follow clockwise.
The number of buys allowed per round are shown below:
- Round 1 – 7: 2 buys per round.
- Round 8 – 10: 3 buys per round.
A player who has melded can no longer buy cards on that round.
Players are limited to one meld per turn. Melding involves sets and runs.
Sets must be of the same number, and runs must be from the same suit. Runs cannot wrap around the ends of the rank, meaning a run of Q♠ K♠ A♠ 1♠ 2♠ is not allowed.
Aces are considered larger than the King. Hence, A♦ 2♦ 3♦ 4♦ is not a valid run.
Players who have melded can add to the melds of other players. For example, if there is a meld of 2♦ 3♦ 4♦ 5♦, a player can add to it using a 6♦.
In summary, the Shanghai Rummy rules are:
- Each player draws 11 cards, and a single card is placed face up in the discard pile.
- The dealer takes the first turn.
- At the start of their turn, each player chooses to draw 1 from the draw pile or discard pile.
- A player can choose to meld if they fulfil the winning conditions of the round.
- After melding, a player ends their turn by discarding a card from their hand.
- For each discard made, any player can ‘buy’ the card by claiming it. Each buy must be followed with a draw from the draw pile.
- The turn order rotates clockwise.
- Once a player has melded, they can no longer buy cards.
- Players who have melded can ‘lay down’, adding cards on melds made by other players on their turn.
- The game continues until a player has no cards in hand.
Shanghai Rummy hands change each round, and the winning conditions get increasingly difficult as rounds go on. Most players prefer to have a list of the win conditions for convenience.
The win conditions for each round are shown below:
- Two Sets of 3
- One set of 3 and one sequence of 4
- Two sequences of 4
- Three sets of 3
- One set of 3 and one sequence of 7
- Two sets of 3 and one sequence of 5
- Three sequences of 4
- One set of 3 and one sequence of 10
- Three sets of 3 and one sequence of 5
- Three sequences of 5
Shanghai Rummy scoring is additive for each round. Each player starts with a score of 0, and points are added for each card remaining in the hand at the end of a round. The winner, with no cards remaining, gains 0 points. The number of points per card is listed below:
- 2 – 9: 5 points
- 10 – K: 10 points
- Ace: 15 points
- Joker: 20 points
At the end of the final round, the winner is the player with the least points.
- The basis of Shanghai Rummy strategy is to know your outs. Since the win conditions are always known, be mindful about what cards can get you closer to the win.
- Buy early. Buying a card helps you meld quickly, and the 1 card penalty is no big deal.
- Meld early. Melding allows you to complete melds from other players, and makes it easier to clear cards.
- Meld sets if possible. Sets are harder to add to, which prevents other players from playing their cards.
- Meld sequences at the ends. Since wrapping around is not allowed, making sequences that start with 2 or end with A limits the possibilities for other players.
- Be alert. If a player mistakenly discards a card that can be used for laying down, you can claim the card by calling Shanghai, and the player will need to draw a card from your hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a run in Shanghai Rummy?
A run in Shanghai Rummy is a sequence of cards of the same suit. An example is 4♥ 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥, which is a run of 5.
How many cards do you deal in Shanghai Rummy?
Each round of Shanghai Rummy starts with 11 cards per player.
Can you play Shanghai Rummy with 2 players?
Not really. Shanghai Rummy is balanced around 3 or more players. Other Rum games might be more suitable for 2 players, like for example Gin Rummy.
What happens when all cards from the draw pile are drawn?
The discard pile, except for the top card, is shuffled and placed face down, becoming the new draw pile.
Are there any variants of the game?
Yes. In the list below you can find the most popular variants with instructions on how to play them.