Shanghai rummy is a very interesting rummy game that combines elements of gin rummy and other card games. Shanghai's distinguishing factor is the concept of goals that each player has to achieve with each hand.
Why Play Shanghai Rummy?
The game has a nice mix of elements and changes greatly as the game progresses. Early on, it's very much a speed race where the goal is to empty your hand quickly. Later on, it becomes much more of a tactical game where you have to plan carefully your choices of drawing, picking up the discards of others, and your own discards. The progression between the two is very slow, allowing for a gradual change in style. In short, the game has a lot of variety to it without any changes in the rules.
You will need to combine multiple decks of regular playing cards to play this game. Whether or not they have distinguishable backs really doesn't matter, although if someone were exceptionally astute and observant, they could perhaps glean a modicum of information from cards with distinctive backs. You will also need a scorepad.
How many decks will I need? Count the total number of players in the game and multiply this by 19. This will be the number of cards that should be in play in a normal game; this can be exceeded in very rare circumstances (I have never seen this number exceeded). Then, divide this number by 54 (number of cards in a deck plus the jokers, which you need to use) and that is the number of card decks that you should combine.
If you understand the scorepad for Shanghai rummy, then you understand the general idea of how to play the game. The pad is laid out as follows (obviously, substitute Player 1 for someone's name, add columns for more players, and so forth):
Hand Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4
---- -------- -------- -------- --------
The goal for the game is to have the lowest total score. Each player's score for each hand is indicated in their column, in the row correlating to the hand played.
Why does the "hand" column start with 3? The hand number indicates the exact goal of each hand. Before explaining this, however, a basic refresher of the ways to score in rummy is needed:
A run is any sequence of four or more cards in the same suit. For example, the four, five, six, and seven of spades is considered a run. For this, aces can be either high or low (or both) on agreement of the players.
A set is a collection of three or more cards of the same rank. For example, two aces of spades and an ace of clubs is a set. Remember that you'll be playing with multiple decks, so such sets are easily possible.
With each hand, you need to be able to assemble a combination of cards equal to that number, where a set counts as three and a run counts as four (relating to the minimum number of cards needed). So, for the 3 hand, only a set is required; for 11, though, two runs and a set are needed. The only exception to this is 12, which requires three runs instead of four sets. Required for what? Read on...
Playing the Game
Each player is dealt a hand of thirteen cards. Jokers are wild and aces are low or high at the player's discretion. Dealing progresses starting at the dealer's left. After the deal, the dealer sits the remaining cards face down and turns over the top card to start the discard pile. At this point, turns begin and progress to the left until someone is able to eliminate all of the cards in his or her hand.
Each turn consists of the following phases:
Auction of top card: If it is your turn, you have the first opportunity to take the top card on the discard pile. If you neglect this, then each player in turn to your left has the opportunity to take that top card. The top card can be taken out of turn twice in one hand by one player. If a player takes the top discard out of turn, then he or she must also draw two cards off of the deck and add to their hand.
Draw: If you didn't take the top discard card, then you have two choices: you may either just draw the top card of the deck and continue normally with your turn, or you can take the top card off the discard pile along with drawing two cards off of the deck, and then skip the remainder of your turn including your discard phase. See the strategy section below for hints on when to do which.
Drop your cards: This is where the hand number comes into play. If you have cards in your hand that fulfill the commitment (described above in "The Scorepad"), then you can play these to the table. Once you've fulfilled the commitment (you only have to fulfill it once per hand), you can also play cards off of any other set or run played on the table by any other player and if, in the middle of a run of cards someone has used a joker and you have the exact card that can replace it, you can swap the card in your hand for the joker.
Discard: You must discard at the end of your turn unless you have skipped the phase. Discard a single card from your hand to the discard pile, and the turn proceeds to the left.
Scoring and Winning the Game
When someone finishes their turn with no cards in hand, then the hand ends. Each player totals the cards remaining in hand. Jokers count for 50 points each; aces count for 20 points each; 10s, Js, Qs, and Ks count for 10 points each; and all other cards count for five points each. Obviously, the person who ends their turn with an empty hand receives no points. The deal then passes to the left of the last person who dealt until the last hand. At the end of the last hand, scores are totaled, and the player with the lowest total score is the winner.
Here are a few quick strategy pointers to follow if you play this game:
+ Unless you are desperate or you are in hand 11 or 12, just draw a single card. Some people attempt to fill their hand quicky by drawing three cards and skipping their turn, but this easily backfires, especially in the early hands when people drop down in their first turn or two. So, you should try to keep your hand size small if you can to reduce your potential score.
+ Don't plan for the long term, ever. You'll put yourself in the best position by shooting for whatever will make you drop down your cards the fastest. This means that you have to try to determine which combination possibilities have the best likelihood of dropping down and make your moves based on these combinations.
+ Observe what people to your right claim off of the discard pile, and avoid those. This is simple observation; if you're collecting aces and the person next to you picks up an ace, you may want to rethink your strategy.
If You Like This Game...
... you'll likely like these games:
Gin rummy is very similar to this game, except with more of a sense of anticipation but less variety
Canasta is very similar as well, except canasta is more competitive and cut-throat.