Shanghai Rummy (Rules and Gameplay Instructions)

Are you looking for a classic yet original card game? Try Shanghai Rummy, a popular version of the traditional Rummy game that both beginners and experienced players enjoy. This Shanghai Rummy rules guide will teach you how to play the game in a few minutes.

Similar to Continental or Wizard (see our Continental card game rules or Wizard rules if you don’t know these games yet), Shanghai Rummy belongs to the rummy-style family of card games characteristic by their complex yet clear rules and lots of space for creativity.

This game is also known as California Rummy, but Shanghai Rummy suits it better since it originates in China. Since it requires just classic playing cards, the game can be played anywhere. Still, I recommend you reserve a good amount of time for it: It can take 2+ hours.

This Shanghai Rummy rules guide will cover the following: 

  • What is Shanghai Rummy?
  • What you’ll need to play Shanghai Rummy
  • Shanghai Rummy rules
  • How to play Shanghai Rummy (video tutorial)
  • FAQs
  • Other similar games to Shanghai Rummy (our guides)

Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to play Shanghai Rummy.

What is Shanghai Rummy?

Shanghai Rummy is a classic card game where players match cards into prescribed formations and aim to end each round with empty hands. It is challenging but not too complicated and can keep you entertained for hours.

Number of Players: 3+ (ideally up to 6) 

Ages: 10+

Difficulty: Moderate

Length of Play: 20 – 120+ minutes

Category: Matching-type card game

Similar to: Rummy, Continental, Gin Rummy, Ruckus

Main Objective: Have the lowest score after ten rounds of play. 

Why We Love It: Shanghai Rummy is another alternative for those who like rummy-style card games. Perfect choice for those looking for a classic game with a fresh twist.

What You’ll Need to Play Shanghai Rummy

Shanghai Rummy typically requires just two identical decks of 52 playing cards

Nevertheless, it is highly recommended to add one additional deck of cards for every two additional players beyond three (e.g., five players use three decks; seven players use four decks, and so on).

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Shanghai Rummy Rules and Gameplay

Shanghai Rummy is played over ten rounds, each with its rules. If you’re entirely new to Rummy (or card games in general), you might want to keep these rules at hand until you get used to them. 

Starting the Game

Before you start playing, you should understand two important types of card assemblies you will come across in this game:

  • Set: Three cards of the same ranking (e.g., three fives or three queens)
  • Run: Cards of consecutive order and same suit.

Besides that, you should also know that twos and jokers are considered wild cards in this game. 

That means that you can use two/joker to replace any card in a set (but always just one per set, unless you’re building an entire set of twos) or run (at least half of your cards in a run must always be genuine, though, unless the excessive two fits the run naturally). 

Every run starts or ends with an ace, but you cannot, so to say, “go around the corner” (i.e., King, Ace, Two, Three is NOT a good run).

Now when you understand the basic principles of the game, proceed with the initial setup:

  • Deal 11 cards to each player
  • Put the rest of the cards in a pile face-down to the center of the table. 
  • Flip the top card and place it next to the pile as a new discard pile.
  • The person to the left of the dealer goes first.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy

Players aim to achieve a different number or combination of sets and runs in each of the Shanghai Rummy rounds. The requirements go as follows: 

  1. Round: 2 sets of three cards
  2. Round: 1 set of three and 1 run of four cards
  3. Round: 2 runs of four cards
  4. Round: 3 sets of three cards
  5. Round: 1 set of three and 1 run of seven cards
  6. Round: 2 sets of three and 1 run of five cards
  7. Round: 3 runs of four cards
  8. Round: 1 set of three and 1 run of ten cards
  9. Round: 1 run of five and 3 sets of three cards
  10. Round: 3 runs of five cards

So, how do you get to pass these challenges? 

  • In each turn, a player can pick either one card from the draw pile or a card from the discard pile (so-called “upcard”) next to it. If the card fits him, he keeps it. If it doesn’t, he discards it.
  • Now check whether you have a set or run to lay out (also known as “going down”). If you do, lay the meld down on the table in the correct order. 
  • To end your round, you must discard one of your cards face-up on a discard pile. The next player on the turn (the game proceeds clockwise) can take it, or anyone else can buy it (I’ll get to that shortly).
  • Once you’ve melded all the required sets and runs, you are “down.” You continue playing, however, by adding cards either to your older melds or to those of your opponents. At this stage, you cannot buy cards anymore.
  • The hand/round ends when one of the players “goes out,” i.e., discards his last card. 

Buying cards

If someone discards a card you need, but it’s not your turn to take it, you can still buy it. To do so, call “BUY!” before the next player succeeds in drawing his card. 

If you’re not fast enough, the card you want can be either taken by the next player or called dead (out of the gameplay) if it gets covered by another player’s discarded card.

To buy an upcard, you must draw 2 extra cards from the draw pile. You also cannot play any of your new cards immediately. Instead, you must wait for your legal turn.

Shanghai Rummy Scoring 

At the end of each hand, players count the sum of all the cards left in their hands. For this purpose, cards have the following values: 

  • 3 – 9 = 5 points 
  • 10 – King =10 points 
  • Aces / Dueces = 20 points 

The player with the fewest points at the end of all rounds wins the game.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy – Video Tutorial 

Shanghai Rummy Frequently Asked Questions

Can you play Shanghai Rummy with the kids?

Shanghai Rummy is a moderately tricky card game that is probably too demanding for most younger kids. If you want to try some similar yet slightly easier alternative, I recommend trying Ruckus.

Is there a limit to buying in Shanghai Rummy?

Yes. You are not allowed to buy cards more than three times per hand in the first eight rounds and more than four times in rounds nine and ten. 

What does it mean to “go out blind” in Shanghai Rummy?

If you manage to discard all the cards in your hands in one play, you “go out blind.” This earns you a bonus of 25 or 50 points if you’ve managed o do it without using wild cards, which you can subtract from your score. Note that this is an optional rule.

Other Similar Games to Shanghai Rummy (Our Guides) 

If you enjoy this challenging card-matching game, check our guides to the following Shanghai Rummy alternatives:

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