House Rummy

Overview

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 pleasure of handling cards, the creation of runs and books, competitive scoring, recombination of plays, and luck. 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.

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).

Rules

  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 his 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 every player has his own playing space, where the plays over which he has 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 his 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, he draws, plays, and discards, 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 his 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, he opens the stock. He then takes his turn, and play proceeds normally. This card can be played or not, but cannot be discarded on the same turn that it is drawn.
  8. Drawing. There are three ways to draw. First, a player can draw 1 card from the stock. Second, he may draw from the discard pile. He can take any discard, but must also take every discard above it. He must play the bottom discard during that same turn. If he draws more than 1 discard, then the top card need not be played, but cannot be discarded on the same turn that it is drawn. Third, only in Epic House Rummy, a player can demand a particular card from another player. This is called drawing by demand. If the other player has the card, then he hands it over. If not, then the active player loses his turn. A player draws only once per turn.
  9. Melding. Before a player can play freely, he must meld by laying down cards from his hand that amount to a minimum number of points. 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, he cannot touch cards on the table, except to replace a joker.
  10. Plays. After drawing on his turn, a player makes plays if he can. Once he melds, 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.
  11. 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 his own space to others, but may not move cards away from other players’ spaces (including his partner’s), except by stealing. 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 his score—for example, by turning a book of 4 into a book of 3.
  12. 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 his hand in the same play that the stolen card goes to. The stolen card can go to any player’s space.
  13. Discarding. After playing, a player ends his turn by discarding 1 card from his 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 his last card was the card that opened the stock during that same turn, or was the top discard at the beginning of his turn, then he ends his turn without discarding.
  14. Jokers. A joker can stand in for any card. Jokers are interpreted flexibly—that is, they can take on any value that allows them to fit into a play, and can change their value during a player’s turn.
  15. Joker replacement. Before melding, a player can replace a joker on the table with an equivalent card from his own hand. He takes the joker into his hand, and can keep it or play it. The replacement card can be anything that makes the play whole—it does not have to have the same value that the joker had.
  16. Going out. When a player plays or discards the last card in his hand, or another player successfully demands his last card, he has gone out.
  17. First out. The first player to go out during a hand is designated first out, and earns the first out bonus for his side. In Classic House Rummy, this bonus is 25 points, and first out does not play again in that hand. In Epic House Rummy, first out’s opponents (but not his 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 Rummy, first out continues playing on his next turn. On that turn only, he draws 3 cards from the stock (unless fewer than that remain in the stock, in which case he draws that many), or draws normally by demand, or from the discard pile.
  18. Full out. The hand ends either when one side has gone out for good, or when the stock is exhausted. In Epic House Rummy, first out has gone out for good only when he has 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 the situation is said to have ended the hand. But if a player draws the last card of the stock before full out, then the hand ends when that player finishes his turn.
  19. Closing the discard pile. If the player who ends the hand closes the discard pile by discarding his last card, then the hand ends immediately. But if he plays his last card, then all players who are still in the hand get 1 more turn—unless someone draws the last card of the stock, in which case the hand ends when that player finishes his turn.
  20. Scoring. When the hand has ended, cards in a player’s space count towards his score. Further, in Classic House Rummy, the total value of a player’s unplayed cards is subtracted from his score as a final penalty. But in Epic House Rummy, 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 its 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. After dealing, the dealer should announce the hand, and how much it costs to meld. 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 in 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 are 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. Some cards must be played right away. These include the bottom card that a player draws from the discard pile, which must be played during the same turn that it is drawn, and stolen cards, which can be moved, but must stay on the table, and be part of whole plays by the end of a player’s turn. The reason for the restriction on the bottom discard is to prevent a player from drawing it unless he can use it. Other 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 the top discard. These cards are somewhat restricted in order to discourage card hoarding, while still allowing for diverse plays. Other cards carry no restrictions. The following table summarizes these rules.
    must be played cannot be discarded no restrictions
    stolen card
    bottom discard
    top discard
    top stock card
    other stock card
    draw by demand
    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 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 pay for stealing by adding to what is on the table, justifying your theft by showing that you can make something new out of what you stole. 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? Imagine that one player successfully demands another player’s last card before anyone has gone out, thereby giving the second player first out. In this case, the card is handed over, the first out bonus is awarded, and the player who demanded the card finishes his turn. In Classic House Rummy, this could also end up being the last turn of the hand, if there are no partners (that is, it is a 2- or 3-player game), and the current player closes the discard pile. In Epic House, first out gets at least one more turn.
  17. What happens when draw by demand causes full out? Imagine that a player causes full out because he successfully demands another player’s last card, and the second player is the last member of his 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 he (the current player) has the power to end the hand after his 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 the 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 rules differences concern drawing by demand, how long the hand lasts, and how bonuses and penalties are calculated. 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 his next turn. Last, the lack of arbitrary bonuses, and the possibility of drawing by demand, give Epic House players a little more control over scoring and playmaking. The following table summarizes these differences.
    Classic House Epic House
    first out bonus 25 points unplayed cards
    first out continues no yes
    draw by demand no yes
    final penalty unplayed cards none