Jersey Gin

Jersey Gin is an adaptation of Gin Rummy for three players. A three-player Gin game similar to this one first surfaced in Jersey City, New Jersey, where it was discovered by noted card game expert John Scarne. Scarne analyzed the rules of the game and found them to be “full of mathematical bugs”; he took the liberty of correcting the rules to make them fairer. He then published his corrected rules under the name “Jersey Gin”.

Object of Jersey Gin

The object of Jersey Gin is to arrange your hand into melds and be the first to knock, hopefully ensuring that the total of your unmatched cards is lower than that of your opponent.

Setup

To play Jersey Gin, you’ll need one standard 52-card deck of playing cards. We’d be pretty pleased to know that you’re using a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You should also have something to keep score with, like a pencil and paper.

Shuffle and deal ten cards, face down, to each player. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up; this card, the upcard, is the first card of the discard pile.

Game play

Everything in Jersey Gin revolves around melds. Three or four of a kind is one type of meld. Another is a run or sequence of three or more cards of the same suit, in sequence, such as 5-6-7♣. Cards rank in their usual order. Aces are always considered low, and cannot be used consecutively with the king. That is, neither Q-K-A nor K-A-2 are considered valid melds.

Each card also has a point value in Jersey Gin. Aces have a value of one point, face cards have a value of ten. All other cards are worth their face value. These values are used to calculate a player’s deadwood, the value of the cards in their hand that cannot be formed into melds.

Play of the hand

The player to the left of the dealer goes first. They start their turn by drawing one card. This may be either the top card of the discard pile or the top card of the stock. They then end their turn by discarding a card, face up, from their hand. Play then passes to the next player to the left, who does the same thing, and so on and so forth.

The discard pile should be kept squared up at all times: fishing through the discards is prohibited. If a player wants to use the information of what the discard pile contains, it is their responsibility to remember what has been discarded throughout the game.

Ending the hand

When a player’s deadwood score reaches ten or less, they may knock by discarding their card face-down and knocking on the table. Each player then lays their hand face up on the table, with each meld identifiably broken out. The two players that didn’t knock may reduce their deadwood counts by adding cards to their opponents’ melds, which is known as laying off. The difference between the knocker’s score and that of each of their opponents is added together to arrive at the knocker’s total score for the hand. For instance, a player knocks with a deadwood count of 9, while their opponents have 11 and 14. The knocker scores (11–9) + (14–9) = 7 points for the hand.

If the player with the lowest underwood score is not the player who knocked, the lowest player is said to have underknocked. They score for the hand as if they had knocked, plus a ten-point underknock bonus.

Rather than knocking, a player may elect to continue playing until their deadwood score reaches zero. When this happens, they declare gin and reveal their hand, scoring the opponent’s deadwood total plus a 40-point bonus. The opponents may not lay off deadwood on a gin hand.

After the end of the hand, the deal rotates for the next hand. Game play continues until a player reaches 100 points. This player then scores an additional 100 bonus points. Each player scores a box bonus of 25 points for each hand that they won.

The break (when the stock runs out)

Unlike in standard Gin Rummy, the game doesn’t just end when the stock runs out. Instead, when the stock is reduced to three cards, the break occurs. The next player to draw is called the breaker. Special rules apply after the break. Players cannot knock, and a card can only be drawn from the discard pile if it can immediately be used in a meld.

After the breaker completes their turn, they lay their melds face up, keeping their deadwood concealed in their hand. The next person to play draws, then lays their melds out in the same way, and may lay off any cards that they can on the breaker’s melds. The third player completes their turn similarly, with the opportunity to lay off on either of their opponents’ melds. If there are still cards left in the stock, then it is the breaker’s turn again, who may now lay off on any meld.

If a player goes gin, it is handled in the usual way, as described above. Otherwise, the hand continues until the stock is completely out of cards and the final player has discarded. At that point, the hand is scored, treating the player with the lowest deadwood as though they had knocked. If there is a tie involving the breaker, the breaker wins it; if the other two players tie, the player to the left of the breaker wins it.

Gin Rummy strategy

On Wednesday, we posted the rules of Gin Rummy. As simple as the game is, its strategy is complex. While we can’t cover every one of the ins and outs of Gin Rummy strategy, this post will hopefully give you a few things to think about during your next Gin game. There has been a great deal more written about Gin Rummy strategy over the years, including in the classic Scarne on Cards by John Scarne (1965), which contains an excellent analysis of Gin Rummy (as well as many other games such as Hearts, Red Dog, and Pinochle).

The chief skill that will help with Gin Rummy is a good memory. It is very important to remember what has been discarded, and by whom. First of all, it keeps you from chasing after unlikely melds. If you are going after a meld of fours, and a four is in the discard pile, your chances of getting your meld are diminished by 75%. Likewise, if you have the 5♣ and 6♣, your chances of making a meld of them are halved if the 7♣ is in the discard pile.

Watch the score

When the scores are approaching 100, it is important to keep an eye on exactly how far away your opponent is from ending the game. If possible, keep your unmatched card count low enough that if your opponent knocks, the game goes on.

Keeping a reserve

It’s generally a good idea to keep a few low cards in your hand, preferably three or four with a total value under ten. These cards will become your deadwood when you are ready to knock. Otherwise, you may be ready to knock, but get stuck with a succession of high unmatched cards to deal with before you can get your deadwood down to where you can knock.

High or low?

There are advantages and disadvantages to going after melds with high cards like 9s, 10s, and face cards. Because of their high point totals, they are more dangerous to keep around; you might get stuck with them should your opponent knock before you can form them into a meld. On the other hand, because of this danger, your opponent will likely be discarding them more frequently, making it easier to form melds out of them.

In general, don’t have a strict policy one way or another about playing high cards. It’s in your best interest to not play too predictably, since a savvy opponent will take advantage of that fact.

Of course, the best card to discard is one that helps neither you nor your opponent. Watching the discards helps you determine which cards those are.

Kings and queens in particular are often good discards. Since they are the highest cards in the game, their usefulness is comparable to other cards only in melds of kings and queens. When it comes to runs, each king can only be used in one three-card run, that being J-Q-K. Queens fare a little better, since they can be part of 10-J-Q and J-Q-K. But all other cards can form three different three-card runs: a jack can be part of J-Q-K, 10-J-Q, and 9-10-J. Queens and kings are also worth ten points each, making them undesirable to keep around. Aces and twos have the same disadvantages as kings and queens respectively, but represent a far lesser liability against your hand due to their low point values.

As far as melding is concerned, the most valuable cards are 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, and 9s. These cards can be used in six possible three-card melds and five possible four- and five-card melds. The 7 in particular is valuable, because it is present in all seven of the possible seven-card melds (not that you will have seven-card melds that frequently).

It’s usually safe to discard a card of the same rank as an opponent’s prior discard. But be careful—a good player may discard a card of the same rank that they need in some other suit to complete a run, in an attempt to trick you into throwing it their way.

Choosing melds

Sometimes you will have a card which will go well with two different completed melds, such as 6-7-8-9♦ and 9♠-9♣-9♥-9♦. Which should you put the 9♦ with when you lay down your hand? The answer is always with the 9s—your opponent cannot lay off cards to a four-of-a-kind meld, and the absence of the 9♦ stops them from laying off the 10♦ onto the run.

Gin Rummy

Gin Rummy, also known simply as Gin, is a classic game of skill for two players. Gin Rummy is probably the most well-known and most often-played of the Rummy family of card games. Its heyday was in the 1930s and 1940s, when it was associated with Hollywood and Broadway stars.

Object of Gin Rummy

The object of Gin Rummy is to arrange your hand into melds and be the first to knock, hopefully ensuring that the total of your unmatched cards is lower than that of your opponent.

Setup

You will need one deck of 52 playing cards. Using anything other than Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards comes as a great disappointment to all involved.

You will also need something to keep score with. Pencil and paper work fine, or you can use something fancy like a smartphone app designed for the purpose, of which there are many.

Deal ten cards to each player. Place the deck stub in the middle of the table, forming the stock, and turn one card face up next to it, which is designated the upcard, or top card of the discard pile.

Game play

Gin Rummy revolves around melds, which are combinations of three or more cards. Valid melds include three or four of a kind, or a run or sequence, such as 5-6-7, of the same suit. Aces are low, and kings are high, and a sequence cannot progress from one to the other (K-A-2 is not a valid meld).

Cards also have a point value, used in calculating the amount of deadwood, or unmelded cards, each player has. Aces are worth one point, face cards worth ten, and all other cards their face value.

Game play begins with the non-dealer. They may take either the top card of the discard pile, or the top card of the stock. They then end their turn by discarding a card from their hand. Play then passes to the dealer, who follows the same procedure, and so on and so forth. The discard pile is to be kept squared up at all times, and fishing through the discards is not permitted; if a player wants to use the information of what the discard pile contains, it is their responsibility to remember what has been discarded throughout the game.

When a player’s deadwood total reaches ten or less, they may knock, which is discarding face-down and knocking on the table. Both players then reveal their hands, sorting them into melds on the table. The player that did not knock may reduce their deadwood total by adding cards from it to the knocker’s melds. Thereafter, the players both total up their deadwood; if the player that knocked has the lower deadwood total, as is usual, they score the difference between the two deadwood totals. However, if the non-knocker has the lower total, they score the difference, along with a ten-point bonus for undercutting the knocker.

As an alternative to knocking, a player may elect to play on until their deadwood score reaches zero. Rather than knocking, they declare gin and reveal their hand, scoring the opponent’s deadwood total plus a 25-point bonus. The opponent may not lay off deadwood on a gin hand.

In the rare event that the hand continues until only two cards are left in the stock, play stops, and the hand is considered a draw. No points are scored.

After the end of the hand, the deal rotates, and the cards are shuffled and a new hand is dealt. Game play continues until a player reaches 100 points. This player then scores an additional 100 bonus points, and each player scores box bonuses of 25 points for each hand that they won.

Variants

Gin Rummy is a fairly old game, and over the years many variants have been concocted to spice up the game. We won’t get into all of them here, but many of them can be combined as the players choose to make a truly customized Gin experience.

Gin Rummy as a betting game

Gin Rummy can be played as a betting game. Prior to the game, both players agree to the monetary value of a point and write it down on the score sheet. Play commences as above. After all bonuses have been taken into account, the difference in points is calculated, and the loser pays the winner the difference multiplied by the amount agreed to before the game.

Oklahoma Gin

Oklahoma Gin is exactly the same as normal Gin for the most part. However, rather than a knock being possible at 10 or fewer points, the value of the first upcard of each hand is used to determine this threshold for that hand. If an ace is the first upcard, knocking is not allowed; the winner must go gin.

A further variant described by David Parlett in the 2008 edition of The Penguin Book of Card Games sets the knock threshold equal to whatever the current upcard being displayed happens to be. This allows a player to stall their opponent by discarding low cards in an attempt to prevent them from knocking.

Around-the-Corner Gin

In Around-the-Corner Gin, king and ace are considered consecutive for the purposes of sequences, meaning K-A-2 is a perfectly valid meld.