Long before Texas holdem became the player-vs-player card game of choice, gin rummy was highly popular. It was the feature game of many underground and casino tournaments decades ago.
The famed professional gambler Stu Ungar was originally a gin rummy master who won many tourneys. As you’ll notice, though, there are no high-profile gin rummy tournaments nor legends like Ungar playing today.
What happened to make this 2-player game nearly obsolete on the casino scene? I’ll answer this question throughout the following post.
First, though, I’d like to cover the basics of gin rummy in case you don’t know the rules well. Of course, you can skip this section if you’re already adept at playing it.
How Do You Play Gin Rummy?
This game features a standard 52-card joker. However, gin rummy differs notably from many other casino card games in how it ranks each card.
The ranks in order of highest to lowest include: king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and ace.
The glaring difference here is the ace. Normally the highest-ranking card, it’s the lowest-ranking card in gin rummy.
The goal is to reach a predetermined number of points before your opponent. In most cases, the winning score will be worth more than 100 points.
Gin rummy is a game that’s meant for two people. Therefore, you only need to beat a single opponent to win.
To score points, you must form "melds," which can fall into one of two categories:
Three or four cards of the same rank (e.g. 7-7-7).
Three or four consecutive cards of the same suit (e.g. 6s-7s-8s).
Aces can only form melds with other aces or the lowest run. For example, Ad-2d-3d would work, but Kd-Qd-Ad would not.
Deadwood cards are those that cannot form melds. These cards contribute to the "deadwood count," meaning a combined point value that goes against you. Face cards are worth 10, numbered cards are worth their respective values, and an ace is worth 1.
Playing a Gin Rummy Hand
Each round begins with the dealer distributing 10 cards to their opponent. Once both players receive their cards, the next card is placed face-up and represents the "discard pile." The face-down pile, meanwhile, is referred to as the "stock pile."
When the round begins, the non-dealing player can either take the upcard on the discard pile or pass. If they grab the upcard, they’ll need to place one card in the discard pile.
Assuming nobody takes the upcard, then the non-dealer must take one card from the stock pile. From then on, both players will be able to take a card from either the stock pile or discard pile.
They continue in this fashion until one of them finishes the round by either "going Gin," "knocking," or just two cards are left in the stock pile. In the latter case, the round ends in a tie and nobody receives any points.
What Is Knocking?
A player with less than 10 points can announce knocking. At this point, they separate their melds from the deadwood.
The other player, meanwhile, shows their melds and can "lay off" deadwood cards that fit into the opponent’s melds. The only exception is when their opponent has a Gin hand (covered next).
Here’s an example of knocking:
The knocking player holds a meld of three jacks.
The other player has a jack and can lay off the jack, thus reducing their deadwood count by 10.
If the knocking player has a Gin hand, then the defending player won’t be able to lay off any deadwood cards.
The knocking player subtracts their deadwood count from the opponent’s deadwood count. They then receive the difference in points.
What Is Going Gin?
If a player’s 10 cards all go into melds, then they can "go Gin." The round abruptly ends, and the player who’s going Gin will receive a bonus of 25 points, plus any deadwood count in the defending player’s hand. As explained before, the defending player can’t lay off any deadwood cards in this situation.
Where Can You Normally Find Gin Rummy Games?
The main two ways that you can enjoy gin rummy include:
Starting a game with a friend.
Playing at an app/website that offers free gin rummy.
Given that this is a two-player game, you can get the action started relatively easily. You just need a buddy or acquaintance who understands the rules.
You can also seek out opponents who are willing to play for real money. Assuming you run in local gambling circles, then you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding an opponent.
Of course, you don’t need to play for real money or find a live opponent. Many free gaming sites offer gin rummy.
In this case, you can just download an app or visit a website. The app/site in question will then match you up with an opponent.
What About Gin Rummy in Casinos?
Gin isn’t entirely extinct from casinos. In fact, some casinos offer gin rummy tournaments as a promotion of sorts.
The Gin Rummy Association, for example, holds a World Series event at Bally’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. You can currently buy into this annual tourney for $1,500.
These types of events can be found in other casinos as well. They’re also available at card clubs and in underground gambling settings.
Why Is Gin Rummy Rarely Found in Casinos?
You’re not going to find a thriving gin rummy scene in gambling establishments. Casinos are into making money, and this game just doesn’t provide worthwhile profits.
The main problems with rummy from the casino’s standpoint include:
It doesn’t offer a house edge.
Games don’t move fast enough.
Casinos would need to charge extreme rake.
Players wouldn’t like these conditions.
Regarding the first point, casinos offer luck-based games because they make guaranteed profits over time. An American roulette wheel, for instance, gives the house a 5.26% advantage over players.
Sure, the casino will lose to some people even with this edge. They’ll still win $5.26 out of every $100 wagered, though, on average.
Of course, not every casino game provides the house with a solid advantage. Blackjack, for instance, can feature a 0.5% house edge or lower.
However, blackjack also moves at a quick rate. Depending upon the dealer and บาคาร่า how many players are seated, tables can see over 100 hands per hour. This quick play rate allows casinos to capitalize even with a smaller edge.
With gin rummy, casinos need to charge rake, where they take a certain percentage out of each pot. If two players bet $100 against each other for a game, then the house would collect a percentage of the $200.
However, gin rummy games don’t always move so fast—especially with one or two players who take their time. The casino needs to make up for this slow play rate by charging more rake.
All of this leads to the fourth and final point: gamblers won’t play in casinos if they need to pay extreme rake. They can simply start a home game and avoid paying any rake at all.
Why Casinos Still Offer Gin Rummy Tournaments
Some gaming venues do offer tournaments for gin rummy. They may make a little money off these events by charging rake on buy-ins. With a $1,500 buy-in, for example, they might take $150 (10%).
When the setup and staff costs are taken into account, though, casinos don’t earn serious money off such events. They merely hold gin rummy tournaments as a promotion.
The idea is to get more players in the door. Before or after the event, the players might gamble on other games and generate profits for the casino. Furthermore, some of them will stay at the resort and spend money on dining, entertainment, and shopping.
Why Is Poker Available in Casinos, but Not Gin Rummy?
Poker variations like Texas Hold’em and Omaha don’t differ much from gin rummy. They’re player-to-player games where the casino must collect rake to earn profits.
Therefore, it seems strange that hold’em is acceptable whereas gin rummy isn’t. The key difference, though, is poker’s immense popularity.
Ever since the mid-2000s, Texas hold’em has been huge. Many people visit local casinos to test their skills against opponents and hopefully make money.
Casinos still don’t make much, if any, profit from providing poker tables. They offer hold’em and Omaha tables, though, to get people in the door.
Much like with gin rummy tournaments, players are apt to try casino games when they’re not at the poker tables. Texas hold’em tourneys are also big draws that can bring in additional resort and entertainment revenue.
Can You Play Real Money Gin Rummy Online?
Real-money online gin rummy exists to a small extent. After some research, I’ve found that online casinos based out of India and Malta both offer real-money gin play.
More gaming sites like these might exist, but these are the only two that I found after searching. The selection of online gin rummy sites where you can play for money are limited.
Again, this game doesn’t have quite the same appeal as Texas Hold’em and Omaha. As a result, it’s not as big in real-money online circles.