House Rummy


House Rummy is a version of Rummy created and played by Adam Werle and friends. House Rummy combines the best features of the card game Rummy and the tile game Rummikub, namely the creation of runs and books, recombination of plays, competitive scoring, luck, and the pleasure of handling cards. House Rummy has a rhythm in its phases of play and progression of hands that is delightful in itself, but which also encourages strategy and complex solutions, and leads to close games.

We play House Rummy in two versions, the older Classic House Rummy, and the newer Epic House Rummy. See below for the rules of the game, and further below for notes, tips, and clarifications. Follow this link for a short version of the rules (pdf).


  1. Deck. The deck consists of the usual 52 cards, plus 2 jokers.
  2. Sides. In 2-player and 3-player games, everyone plays for their own side, and scores alone. A 4-player game is played by 2 sides (teams) of 2 partners each. Partners share a single score, but play individually. Every player has their own playing space, where the plays over which they have most control are laid. Players sit so that play alternates between sides.
  3. Game. A game lasts for 6 hands.
  4. Hand. A hand consists of the following phases. After the deal, the stock is opened. Then the players try to meld, then to make more plays. The first player to go out earns a bonus for their side, then the hand ends after full out. Some hands end when the discard pile is closed.
  5. Deal. In a 2-player game, every player is dealt 10 cards. For 3 players, 8 cards, and for 4 players, 7 cards. The deal passes to the left after each hand.
  6. Turn. The player to the left of the dealer goes first. On a player’s turn, they draw, play, and discard, in that order. Play passes to the left.
  7. Opening the stock. The stock must be opened before play can begin. After dealing, the dealer turns over the top card of the stock, leaving it on top of the stock. The first player may draw this card and begin their turn, or pass, in which case the next player can draw it or pass, and so on. If all other players pass, then the dealer must draw the card. When a player draws this card, they have opened the stock. They then take their turn, and play proceeds normally. The top stock card is considered warm (see below).
  8. Card restrictions. There are some common restrictions concerning how certain cards can be used. For short, we will call cards hot, warm, or cold, according to their restrictions. A hot card must be played during the same turn that a player draws it. A warm card need not be played, but cannot be discarded on the same turn that a player draws it. Cold cards have no restrictions. They can be played, kept, or discarded. (See notes.)
  9. Drawing. A player draws once per turn. There are three ways to draw. For one, a player can draw 1 card from the stock. Alternatively, they may draw from the discard pile. They can take any discard, but must also take every discard above it. The bottom drawn discard is hot. In Epic House Rummy, all other discards (other than the bottom one) are warm. In Classic House Rummy, only the top discard is warm, and all other discards (other than the top and bottom ones) are cold. Last, only in Epic House, a player can demand a particular card from another player. This is called drawing by demand. If the other player has the card, then they hand it over. If not, then the active player loses the rest of their turn. A card successfully drawn by demand is hot.
  10. Melding. Before a player can play freely, they must meld by laying down plays from their hand that meet a certain cost. The cost to meld is 10 points in the first two hands, then 15 in the third and fourth hands, then 20 in the fifth and sixth. Until a player melds, they cannot touch plays on the table, except to replace a joker.
  11. Plays. After drawing on their turn, a player makes plays if they can. Once they meld, a player can make new plays, and add to existing plays, in any player’s space. Plays can be books (sets) or runs (sequences). A book consists of 3 or 4 cards of the same value, but of different suits. A run is a sequence of 3 or more cards of the same suit. Counting in runs is circular—that is, a king can be followed by an ace, an ace by a 2, and so on.
  12. Rearranging. Players who have melded can rearrange already played cards, within any player’s space, to make new plays. A melded player may freely move cards from their own space to others, but may not move cards away from other players’ spaces (including their partner’s), except by stealing (see below). By the end of a player’s turn, all plays on the table must be whole—that is, they must be proper books or runs. One may not rearrange another player’s cards just to reduce their score—for example, by turning a book of 4 into a book of 3.
  13. Stealing. Moving cards away from another player’s space is called stealing. A player must pay for every stolen card by playing at least 1 card from their hand in the same play that the stolen card goes to. The stolen card can go to any player’s space.
  14. Discarding. After playing, a player ends their turn by discarding 1 card from their hand to the discard pile. Cards in the discard pile are fanned so that their values can be read. A player must discard if possible, but if they have only warm cards left in their hand, then they end their turn without discarding.
  15. Jokers. A joker can stand in for any card. Jokers are interpreted flexibly, meaning that they can take on any value that allows them to fit into a play, and can change their value during a player’s turn.
  16. Joker replacement. Before melding, a player can replace a joker on the table with an equivalent card from their hand. They take the joker into their hand, and can keep, play, or discard it (it is cold). The replacement card can be anything that makes the play whole—it does not have to have the same value that the joker had.
  17. Going out. When a player plays or discards the last card in their hand, or another player successfully demands their last card, they have gone out.
  18. First out. The first player to go out during a hand is designated first out, and earns the first out bonus for their side. In Classic House, this bonus is 25 points, and first out does not play again in that hand. In Epic House, first out’s opponents (but not their partner in a 4-player game) reveal the unplayed cards in their hands at that moment, whose total value becomes the first out bonus. Only in Epic House, first out continues playing on their next turn. On that turn only, they draw 3 cards from the stock (unless fewer than that remain in the stock, in which case they draw that many), or draw normally by demand, or from the discard pile. If they attempt to draw by demand and fail, then they have failed to reenter the hand and are out for good.
  19. Full out. The hand ends after one side has gone out for good, or after the stock is exhausted. If this happens during someone’s turn, then that player finishes their turn. In Epic House, first out has gone out for good only when they have gone out twice. In all other cases, going out is for good. The moment when any player in a 2-player or 3-player game, or the second member of a team in a 4-player game, has gone out for good is called full out, and the player who caused full out (by playing, discarding, or drawing by demand) is said to have ended the hand.
  20. Closing the discard pile. If the player who ends the hand closes the discard pile by discarding their last card, then the hand ends immediately. But if they play their last card, then all players who are still in the hand get 1 more turn (while the stock lasts).
  21. Scoring. When the hand has ended, cards in a player’s space count towards their score. Further, in Classic House, the total value of a player’s unplayed cards is subtracted from their score as a final penalty. But in Epic House, unplayed cards count for nothing at the end of the hand. Played cards are worth 5 points each, except that a book of 3 cards is worth only 10 points total. When unplayed cards count against a player’s score, whether as a final penalty, or as part of an opponent’s first out bonus, then unplayed number cards count as their face value (2-10), jacks 2, queens 3, kings 4, aces 11, and jokers 15. The side that earned first out adds the first out bonus to their score. A side’s total score cannot be less than zero.

Notes, tips, and clarifications

The following notes clarify the rules, and offer tips on House Rummy gameplay, strategy, and etiquette. Some clarifications are introduced in the form of frequent player questions. In fact, all of these questions are addressed in the rules above, but their answers are not always obvious, and so are worth clarifying here. Scroll down, or follow one of the links below.

House etiquette: Announce the hand
House etiquette: Play transparently
House etiquette: Repairing mistakes
Can I draw twice in one turn?
Can I meld with two plays?
Which cards can I discard, and which do I have to play?
Can I replace a joker after melding?
How is joker replacement different from stealing?
Can I meld and steal in the same turn?
Can I use the same cards to meld, and to pay for stealing?
Can I move cards after stealing them?
Can I steal entire plays?
Can I pay for stealing by replacing the stolen card?
Can I give away my partner’s cards?
Can someone end the hand before I get a turn?
What happens when draw by demand causes first out?
What happens when draw by demand causes full out?
Why are books of 3 worth only 10 points?
Can I make a book of more than 4 cards?
Can a game end in a tie?
Classic House versus Epic House
  1. House etiquette: Announce the hand. In some houses, it is considered a courtesy for the dealer to announce the hand, and how much it costs to meld, immediately after dealing. For example, “Third hand, fifteen points to meld.”
  2. House etiquette: Play transparently. It is good etiquette to play transparently, so that other players can follow what you do. This involves, first, performing actions in the proper order. For example, draw, then play, then discard. Second, once cards are played, they must stay on the table. The only exception to this is replaced jokers, which can go into your hand. In no case can you put stolen cards in your hand. Third, when you draw from the discard pile, it is good form to leave the cards that you draw on the table until your turn is finished. Although the cards may be on the table, they are considered to be in your hand until you play them. After you discard, you may put any unplayed cards with the other cards in your hand.
  3. House etiquette: Repairing mistakes. It is not unusual for players to make mistakes, because we tend to play at the limits of our skill in order to score as many points as possible. The etiquette around mistakes therefore involves both forgiveness and responsibility. First, you will be forgiven when you make mistakes. Second, you are responsible for making your plays transparent, so that other players can follow along, and check for mistakes. When a play is determined to be a mistake, the other players will then help to restore the table to how it was before you made the play.
  4. Can I draw twice in one turn? No.
  5. Can I meld with two plays? Yes. For example, two books of 3 are worth 20 points total, which is enough to meld in the fifth or sixth hand.
  6. Which cards can I discard, and which do I have to play? Some cards carry restrictions on how they can be used, and for good reasons. However, it can be difficult to keep these restrictions straight. Hot cards must be played during the same turn that they are drawn. These include the bottom card drawn from the discard pile, and draws by demand. The reason for these restrictions is to prevent players from taking such cards unless they can use them. Warm cards need not be played right away, but cannot be discarded in the same turn that they are drawn. They can be discarded on a later turn. In this category are the top card of the stock, and some discards. These cards are somewhat restricted in order to make things interesting. Cold cards carry no restrictions. The following table summarizes these rules.
    must be played
    cannot be discarded
    no restrictions
    draw by demand
    bottom discard
    top discard
    other discard, Epic
    other discard, Classic
    top stock card
    other stock card
    replaced joker
  7. Can I replace a joker after melding? No. After melding, you can no longer replace jokers, but you can steal them.
  8. How is joker replacement different from stealing? These are different in several ways. Players can replace jokers only before they meld, take them into their hands, and replace them rather than paying for them. Players can steal only after melding, must leave stolen cards on the table, and pay for them rather than replacing them. Last, while stealing is an essential part of House Rummy, joker replacement was introduced to the game in order to make it easier to meld.
  9. Can I meld and steal in the same turn? Yes. In fact, it is possible to meld, play, steal, and go out all in the same turn.
  10. Can I use the same cards to meld, and to pay for stealing? No. You can steal only after melding. Therefore, the cards that you play to meld cannot also be used to pay for stealing.
  11. Can I move cards after stealing them? Yes. Once you have made a new play whole, you can move any of the cards in that play to other plays—even during the same turn—subject to the usual rules for rearranging.
  12. Can I steal entire plays? Yes. It is possible to steal entire books and runs from other players, if you play enough new cards from your hand. That is, 1 new card alongside (in the same play with) every stolen card.
  13. Can I pay for stealing by replacing the stolen card? No. You cannot pay for stealing by adding a replacement card to the play from which you steal. You pay for stealing only by playing a card from your hand in the target play—that is, the play to which you moved the stolen card. In other words, you justify your theft by creating new or bigger plays. To put it yet another way, when you replace a stolen card, you are rewarded by reducing your hand. You do not get an additional reward in the form of a free card.
  14. Can I give away my partner’s cards? No. You can give away your own cards for free, but no one else’s, including your partner’s. If you want to move a card from your partner’s space to another space, it is considered stealing, and must be paid for.
  15. Can someone end the hand before I get a turn? Yes. It is possible for the hand to end before you even get a turn, when a player who goes before you achieves full out, and closes the discard pile.
  16. What happens when draw by demand causes first out? Sometimes, one player successfully demands another player’s last card before anyone has gone out, thereby giving the other player first out. In this case, the demanding player gets the card and finishes their turn, but the player who handed over their last card gets the first out bonus.
  17. What happens when draw by demand causes full out? Rarely, a player causes full out because they successfully demand another player’s last card, and the other player is the last member of their side to go out for good. In this case, the player who demanded the card is considered to have ended the hand. This means that they (the demanding player) have the power to end the hand after their turn by closing the discard pile, or not.
  18. Why are books of 3 worth only 10 points? Books of 3 are worth less than runs for two reasons. First, books are easier to make. Second, the difference in scoring makes for interesting gameplay, because it encourages players to convert books into runs, and to hold on to their cards dangerously long in hopes of getting a run.
  19. Can I make a book of more than 4 cards (using jokers)? No.
  20. Can a game end in a tie? Yes.
  21. Classic House versus Epic House. The differences between Classic and Epic House Rummy are small, but they affect strategy significantly. The differences concern drawing by demand, how long the hand lasts, how bonuses and penalties are calculated, and restrictions on drawn discards. The effects on strategy are, first, that the penalty for holding high-value unplayed cards happens sooner in Epic House (at first out), and later in Classic House (at the end of the hand). Second, hands in Epic House last longer, because first out continues playing on their next turn. Last, the lack of arbitrary bonuses, and the possibility of drawing by demand, give Epic House players a little more control over playmaking and scoring. The following table summarizes these differences.
    Classic House Epic House
    draw by demand no yes
    first out continues no yes
    first out bonus 25 points unplayed cards
    final penalty unplayed cards no
    discards other than top and bottom cold warm