How to Play Shanghai Rummy

How to Play Shanghai Rummy


Explore Shanghai Rummy – a card game of strategy and melding finesse. Originating from the Contract Rummy and Mahjong, this card game is a timeless delight. In this blog, unlock the secrets to mastering this strategic card game. Discover comprehensive insights into the game's rules, variations, and proven strategies that will elevate your gameplay. Anticipate a wealth of knowledge on how to navigate the nuances of melding sets, drawing wisely, and outsmarting opponents. It's your guide to becoming a Shanghai Rummy maestro – let the game unfold!


The objective of Shanghai Rummy is to be the first to complete all the required phases by melding sets of cards in the same-rank sets or consecutive runs in the same suit. Players progress through phases, completing one before moving to the next. The first to finish all phases with no cards left is the winner. The scoring may vary, and players often accumulate points based on the cards left in their opponents' hands at the end of each round.


Shanghai Rummy, a card game derived from Contract Rummy, traces its roots to the early 20th century. Initially, the game was played using tiles, much like Mahjong. Known by various names, including California Rummy, it gained popularity for its strategic melding of card sets and runs. The game evolved through informal play, with rules solidifying over time. Today, people enjoy Shanghai Rummy as a social and family card game in an engaging setting.

What is Shanghai Rummy?

Shanghai Rummy is a card game that combines elements of Contract Rummy and Mahjong. It typically involves multiple rounds, each with a specific set of melds that players must complete to go out. Players draw and discard cards to form sets and runs, aiming to accumulate the lowest score possible. The game's dynamic nature and varied meld requirements add strategic depth, making it an engaging and social card game enjoyed by players of all ages.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy


Players aim to complete sets and runs over several rounds. A set comprises three or four cards of the same rank, and a run is three or more cards in sequential order.


Jokers can substitute any card. A natural run must have at least one non-Joker card, but sets can be entirely made of Jokers.


In Shanghai Rummy, a "buy" happens when a player grabs the face-up card and draws two more from the deck but can't use them right away. They have to wait for their turn. If multiple players want it, the one to the left of the dealer gets priority. There's a cap on how many buys are allowed.


Players sort and arrange the cards in hand to form sets or runs.

Card Values

Number cards hold face value where the face cards are worth 10, and Aces represent 1 point. Jokers have no point value. Aim to minimize points over several rounds.

Shanghai Rummy Card Game Rules


  • Accumulate the lowest score by forming sets and runs across multiple rounds.

  • Shanghai Rummy is played with a standard 52-card deck plus Jokers.

  • The dealer deals eleven cards to each player and turns the remaining cards face down as a “drawing stack.” The card on the top of the stack is turned face up to begin a discard pile.

  • The player may draw the card either from the top of the draw stack or the card from the discard pile. Subsequent players may take one card from the draw stack.
Initial Meld:

  • Players must meet specific requirements to lay down sets or runs for the first time.

  • Jokers act as wild cards, substituting any card.
  • Natural runs must include at least one non-Joker card.

  • Out-of-turn players can "buy" the upcard, drawing two more cards but must wait for their turn to play them.
  • Priority is given to the player closest to the dealer's left if multiple players want to buy.

  • Players can lay down sets or runs once initial meld requirements are met.
  • Additional melds are allowed during the same round.

  • Number cards have a face value, face cards are 10, and Aces hold 1 point.
  • Jokers carry no points.
  • Aim to minimize points over multiple rounds.

  • There's a cap on the number of buys allowed.
Ending a Round:

  • A round concludes when a player goes out by playing all their cards, with others totalling their remaining points.

  • Players incur penalties for cards that are not melded at the end of a round, adding to their overall score.

  • The game typically spans multiple rounds.
  • The player with the lowest total score at the end of the agreed-upon rounds emerges as the winner.

Sequence of Hands

Two sets of three

The game starts by strategically collecting pairs of identical cards.

One set of three and one run of four

Balance sets of three with a sequential run of four cards, requiring thoughtful card selection.

Two runs of four

Elevate the complexity by forming two separate sequences of four cards each, adding an extra layer of strategic depth.

Three sets of three

Diversify your hand with three distinct sets of triplets, intensifying the challenge as the game progresses.

One set of three and one run of seven

Bridge the gap between a set of three and an extended run of seven cards, requiring a delicate balance.

Two sets of three and one run of five

Focus on pairs and a shorter run of five, navigating the intricate balance of the game.

Three runs of four

Organize three independent sequences of four cards each, showcasing advanced strategic thinking.

One set of three and one run of 10

Make a set of three with an extended run of ten cards, testing your ability to manage diverse card combinations.

Three sets of three and one run of five

Achieve a strategic trifecta of triplets and a run of five cards, showcasing your mastery of the game.

Three runs of five

With the pinnacle of skill and concentration, organize three distinct sequences of five cards each to claim victory in this engaging card game.

Shanghai Rummy Variations

Progressive Rummy

In this variation, the challenge increases with each round as the number of cards dealt grows. Contracts become more complex, pushing players to improve their skills progressively.

High Low Jack

This game adds a strategic element by assigning extra points to the Jack of Diamonds ("High Jack") and the Jack of Spades ("Low Jack"). Players must decide whether to collect one, both, or neither, introducing a strategic dimension.

Three Thirteen

This Shanghai variation requires a focus on strategy and planning as each player is dealt thirteen cards. Form specific sets and runs to go out, with the player with the lowest score winning. It demands careful consideration of which cards to keep and discard.


Sevens introduce a new challenge requiring sets and runs to include at least one seven. Players must decide whether to keep or discard sevens, adding a strategic layer to the game.

Bonus Cards

Bonus Cards bring an extra twist with extra cards awarded at the start, each carrying undisclosed bonus points. Players must decide whether to focus on combinations matching bonus cards or alternative strategies for points.

Shanghai Rummy Strategy

Here are some tips to improve your chances of winning at Shanghai Rummy:

Stay Flexible

Adapt to the changing contracts and card combinations in each round. Be willing to switch strategies based on the game's progression.

Keep Track

Stay aware of which cards have been played and which are still in the draw pile. This knowledge will help you make smarter decisions when drawing and discarding cards.

Use Jokers Wisely

Jokers are powerful assets but don't squander them on low-value sets or runs. Save them for situations where they can contribute to higher-value combinations.

Play Defensively

If you're falling behind in meeting the round's contract requirements, play defensively. Disrupt opponents' strategies and aim to prevent them from finishing before you.

Monitor Score

Shanghai Rummy scoring can be complex, so keep track of points throughout the game. This will guide your decisions on which cards to keep and which to discard.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you play Shanghai Rummy?

Players aim to form sets and runs by drawing and discarding cards in each round with the goal of going out first. The game typically consists of ten rounds, and points are scored based on the cards left in hand.

How much is a Joker in Shanghai Rummy?

Generally, Jokers can be worth 15, 25, or 50 points in Shanghai Rummy. So, ensure all players agree on a point value before starting the game.

What is another name for Shanghai Rummy?

Shanghai Rummy is also known as California or Contract Rummy, based on regional variations.

What are the sets in Shanghai Rummy?

Sets in Shanghai Rummy consist of either three or four cards of the same rank, while runs are formed by three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Players aim to create these combinations to minimize their point totals at the end of each round.


In summary, Shanghai Rummy, born from the legacy of Contract Rummy and Mahjong, offers a dynamic card-playing experience. Evolving from its tile-based origins in the early 20th century, the game has become a cherished social activity. The goal is simple: achieve the lowest score through the smart set and run melding. With variations like Progressive Rummy and Sevens, Shanghai Rummy remains an enduring and enjoyable game that demands both skill and adaptability from its players.
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