Shanghai Rummy (Rules and Gameplay Instructions)

Shanghai Rummy is a popular version of the classic Rummy game with several unique features. This Shanghai Rummy rules guide explains it in a few simple steps.

Shanghai Rummy belongs to the Rummy family of card games characterized by complex rules and lots of space for the players’ tactics.

This game is also known as California Rummy, but Shanghai Rummy suits it better since it originates in China. 

If you’re already familiar with the rules of the Continental card game or the Wizard card game rules, you’ll certainly learn to play Shanghai Rummy fast and effortlessly.

Key highlights of this Shanghai Rummy rules guide: 

  • What is Shanghai Rummy?
  • Shanghai Rummy rules
  • Shanghai Rummy scoring
  • Shanghai Rummy rules in pictures
  • How to play Shanghai Rummy (video tutorial)

Read our step-by-step guide on how to play Shanghai Rummy below.

What is Shanghai Rummy?

Shanghai Rummy Card Game Info Image

In Shanghai Rummy, players match cards into formations and aim to end each round with empty hands. It is challenging but not too complicated and keeps you entertained for hours.

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

Ages: 10+

Difficulty: Moderate

Length of Play: 20 – 120+ minutes

Type of Game: Matching-type card game

Similar to: Rummy, ContinentalGin Rummy, Ruckus

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

Our take: Shanghai Rummy is an excellent alternative for those who like rummy-style card games, adding a fresh twist to this classic game.

What You’ll Need to Play Shanghai Rummy

To play Shanghai Rummy, you’ll need the following:

  • Decks: 2
  • Number of Cards: 104
  • Cards Omitted: Jokers

Tip: Add one more 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).

Shanghai Rummy Rules

Shanghai Rummy is played over 10 rounds, each with its unique, relatively complex rules. If you’re new to the game, you might want to keep them at hand until you get used to them. 

Starting the Game

Before you start playing, there are a few basic concepts you should understand. 

Shanghai Rummy revolves around two types of card assemblies:

  • Sets: Three or more cards of the same ranking (e.g., three 5s or three Qs)
  • Runs: Three or more cards in consecutive order and same suit.

Twos and jokers are considered wild cards in this game. That means that you can use a two/joker to replace any card in a set, with a few constraints:

  • You can only use one wild card per set (unless you’re building an entire set of 2s) 
  • At least half of your cards in a run must be genuine (unless the excessive 2 fits the run naturally). 

Every run starts or ends with an ace, but you cannot “go around the corner.” 

Example: King, ace, 2, 3 is NOT a valid run.

Now that you understand the fundamental principles of the game, proceed with the setup:

  • Deal 11 cards to each player.
  • Put the rest of the cards in a stockpile 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 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 pass these challenges? 

  • On each turn, a player picks one card either from the draw pile or the discard pile (so-called “upcard”). If it’s a good fit, they keep it. If it’s useless, they can discard 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, discard one of your cards face-up on a discard pile. 
  • The next player on the turn (the game proceeds clockwise) can take the previously discarded card, or anyone else can buy it (we’ll get to that shortly).

Once a player melds all the required sets and runs for the round, they are “down.”

They continue playing, however, by adding cards either to their own older melds or to those of their opponents. At this stage, the players cannot buy cards anymore.

The hand/round ends when one of the players “goes out,” i.e., discards their 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 draws their 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 each 
  • 10 – King = 10 points each
  • Aces / Dueces = 20 points each

The player with the lowest score at the end of all rounds wins the game.

Shanghai Rummy Rules in Pictures

Step 1

Shanghai Rummy rules 1 image

In Shanghai Rummy, you aim to build sets of 3+ cards of the same rank or runs of 3+ consecutive cards of the same suit. Aces and 2s are your wild cards.

Step 2

Shanghai Rummy rules 2 image

Each player receives 11 cards to start with. Rest the remaining deck as your stockpile. Flip its top card and place it on the side as your discard pile. 

Step 3

Shanghai Rummy rules 3 image

In each turn, a player picks one card either from the draw pile or the discard pile. If it’s a good fit, they keep it. If it’s useless to them, they can discard it.

Step 4

Shanghai Rummy rules 4 image

The next player can take the discarded card, or any other player can buy it in exchange for drawing 2 extra cards from the stockpile.

Step 5

Shanghai Rummy rules 5 image

Based on the rules of the current round, players collect and lay out prescribed combinations of cards. They continue by adding the remaining cards to the existing melds.

Step 6

Shanghai Rummy rules 6 image

When one of the players discards their last card, the round ends. Everyone counts their scores based on the cards left in their hands. The winner is whoever has the lowest score.

How to Play Shanghai Rummy – Video Tutorial 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you play Shanghai Rummy with the kids?

Shanghai Rummy is probably too demanding for most younger kids. If you want to try some similar yet slightly easier alternatives, it’s worth trying Ruckus instead.

Is there a limit to buying in Shanghai Rummy?

Yes. In Shanghai Rummy, 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 discard all the cards in your hands in one play, you “go out blind.” This earns you a bonus of 25 points, or 50 points if you’ve not even used any wild cards. 

You can subtract this score from your points to achieve a lower total. 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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