Throwing the game

Winning at gin rummy is dictated by what you throw away as much as what you hold. Phil Shaw gives you some tips on seeing the deadwood from the trees

Few people younger than 40 realise that before poker, gin rummy was pretty much the card game of choice for hard-core gamblers and casual players alike, from the 1920s through to the early ’70s. However, its glamour faded and poker slowly but surely swept gin rummy into a corner. Part of the reason for its demise was that it’s considered too skilful. Gin rummy retains the elements of chance necessary to make it encouraging to all newcomers, but it’s ultimately about common sense and keen observation. And nowhere is this more evident than in the decision-making regarding discards.

At the start of a game, you arrange your cards into melds and draws, and try to identify your most useless cards for discarding. Obviously, any melds will be kept until the end, but typically you’ll be presented with many options for draws from the cards with which you’re left, since runs and pairs will intersect.

As such, it’s important to assess the interconnectivity of these cards, as well as how it will be affected down the line as you complete melds. By far the best combinations to have are ones such as 6-7-7, where all your outs are live and only one card will be left useless and require discarding later. Inevitably, other similar values will end up being placed with them, so try to bear in mind how they’ll affect things later – for example, 6 would fit well above, whereas 8 would be more precarious.


The key to the opening stage is concealing your hand, which usually means not taking from the discard pile unless you can complete a meld, as this will tip off your opponent as to which cards to keep. You should both try to throw away cards that are useless to you first – for example, those that are adjacent in value and suit to your opponent’s discards (say, 7 or 9 if he throws away an 8) followed by those of the same value.

The most likely time for a game to end is 50-65% of the way through the deck, so you need to make adjustments as this point approaches. For example, high draws should be kept early in the game in the hope of completing them and so eliminating a lot of deadwood, but you don’t want to get caught with them when your opponent knocks.

Similarly, it’s important that you assess your best chance of knocking first, which can come either from the conventional three melds or two plus low deadwood, so simply collecting low cards can often be a valid solution. As the game progresses, you’ll need to prune your draws according to which sides of them are still live and will leave the least deadwood behind.

Because it’s tough to know when a game will end, there’s less emphasis on making perfect hands than knocking as early as possible and taking the points you can get. You’ll often do better in the long run by knocking early and catching your opponent off guard.

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