Kaluki in Europe and North America

Note: Jamaican Kalooki and South African Kalookie are covered on other pages.

Kalookie in Britain

Kalookie is popular in Britain both in clubs and private games; there seems to be a preponderance of Jewish players. In putting together the corresponding description, I have referred to rules issued by the Victoria Sporting Club in London and the Tiberius Sporting Club in Portsmouth, kindly sent to me by David Stratful and Bob Ekins respectively, and to information from and Andrew Williamson and Spencer Pearson.

Players, cards and objective

Kalookie is a rummy game which can be played by from two to five players. Two standard packs of cards plus two jokers are used - 106 cards in all. The cards have point values as follows:

    Ace   . . .   11 points
    King, Queen, Jack, Ten   . . .   10 points
    2 to 9   . . .   face value
    Joker   . . .   15 points (*)

(*) When used in a meld to substitute for another card, the joker takes on the point value of the card it represents. It counts 15 penalty points when in the hand of a player at the end of play.

Through drawing and discarding, the players try to meld (lay down) their 13 cards by forming them into sets of equal ranked cards and runs of consecutive cards of a suit. The hand is won by the first player who melds all their cards in this way - this is known as calling up. All the other players score penalty points for the cards remaining in their hands. Anyone who accumulates more than 150 penalty points over a series of hands is eliminated from the game, unless they buy themselves back in by paying a new stake into the pool. When all players but one have been eliminated, the last surviving player wins the game and takes the money in the pool.

The stakes and the deal

Before playing it is necessary to agree on the following stakes:

  • call up - the amount to be paid to the winner of each hand by the other players
  • kalookie - the amount paid to a player who wins a hand by putting down all 13 cards at once
  • initial stake - the amount paid to the pool by all players at the start of the game
  • buy-in stake - the additional amount paid to the pool to re-enter the game by a player whose score exceeds the target

Various schemes are possible, with different relative sizes of the four stakes. The two sets of casino rules suggest 1 unit for a call up, 2 units for a kalookie, 5 units for the initial stake and 5 units to buy in. (For example, if a call-up pays 10p, a kalookie will be 20p, and the initial stake and buy-in will be 50p.) Andrew Williamson gives a different scheme, in which the initial stake is 3 units, 1 unit is paid for a call up, 2 for a kalookie and 2 for buying in.

If there are five players, the seats and the right to deal first are determined by shuffling together five cards - an ace, two, three four and five - and dealing them to the players. Whoever gets the ace has choice of seat and deals first; the holders of the 2, 3, 4 and 5 sit around the table in clockwise order from the dealer. (With fewer than five players, use the same procedure with cards from ace to the number of players.) The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right must cut the cards. The dealer deals out the cards singly until each player has 13. The next card is placed face up in the centre of the table to start the discard pile and the remaining undealt cards are stacked face down beside it to form the stock.

Melding

A meld is a combination of cards from a player's hand which is placed face up on the table and left there. This is how players progressively eliminate cards from their hands, the aim being to meld all of one's cards. In order to understand the rules of play, it is first necessary to know what constitutes a legal meld. There are two types of meld.

  1. A set consists of three or four cards of the same rank, which must all be of different suits (no duplicate cards). So for example heartQ-clubQ-spadeQ and heart9-diamond9-club9-spade9 are valid sets, but diamond4-diamond4-club4 is not.
  2. A run consists of three or more consecutive cards in a single suit. For this purpose the order of cards is A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 - that is aces rank high only. So heartA-heartK-heartQ and spadeQ-spadeJ-spade10-spade9-spade8 are valid runs but diamond3-diamond2-diamondA and club2-clubA-clubK are not. When melding six or more consecutive cards in a suit, the player has the choice of putting them down as a single run or dividing them into two (or more) runs. Normally it is better to meld them as a single run, because this gives the other players fewer chances to build (see below).

Jokers may be used in any set or run to substitute for any missing card or cards. If you use a joker at one end of a run - such as spade6-spade5-joker - you must make it clear when you meld the run which card the joker is intended to represent, and this cannot be altered later. If you put down a three-card combination consisting of a natural card and two jokers, you must say whether it is a set or a run, and if it is a run you must say what two cards the jokers represent. However, you do not specify the suit represented by a joker used in a set.

Initial meld. The first meld put down buy a player, which may consist of more than one set or run, must consist of cards to a total value of at least 40 points. If the intial meld contains jokers, they take on the point values of the cards they represent. A player who has made an intial meld of 40 or more points can on later turns lay down further melds of any value, however small.

Building rules. After you have laid down your intial meld you can in the same or later turns add cards from your hand to any meld on the table - your own or other people's - to make a larger valid meld. This is called building. You can add the corresponding card of the fourth suit to a three-card set (if it contains a joker there will be a choice of suits that can be added), or you can add further consecutive cards to either end of a run. However, you cannot add more than two cards to the same end of a run in a single turn - when putting down three or more consecutive cards of a suit, they must be melded as a new run rather than a build. In builds, as in original melds, a joker can be used as a substitute for any card.

Although it is possible to build in the same turn when you lay down your initial meld, the values of cards that you build cannot be counted towards the 40 points needed to make your initial meld valid.

Re-use of jokers. You can in certain circumstances reuse a joker previously melded by yourself or another player. This can only be done by a player who has already laid down an intial meld of at least 40 points, and the released joker must immediately be used in a new meld or build; a joker that has been melded can never be taken into the hand of a player.

  • If a set of three cards contains a joker, the joker can be released in exchange for equal ranking cards of both missing suits from the player's hand. For example, if spade10-diamond10-joker has been melded, a player who has a heart10 and a club10 can add both of these cards to the set, taking the joker in exchange and using it elsewhere. If you just build one of these 10's onto the set, you form a closed four-card set of 10-10-10-joker, from which the joker can never be taken. To a three-card set with two jokers you could add any two of the three missing suits, releasing one of the jokers and forming a closed four-card set.
  • If a run contains a joker, a player who holds the card that the joker represents can place it in the run, in place of the joker, and reuse the joker elsewhere.

Except in the cases where a joker can be reused as described above, melds and runs once placed on the table can never be rearranged - they can only be added to.

The play

The player to the left of the dealer plays first, and thereafter players take turns in clockwise order round the table. A player's turn consists of three parts:

  1. drawing one card, either from the top of the face-down stock or from the top of the discard pile;
  2. if able and willing, melding some cards, to form new sets and runs and/or build on existing melds;
  3. discarding one card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile.

Drawing at the start of your turn and and discarding are compulsory. Melding is optional, and cards that could have been melded can be kept in your hand for a future opportunity if you prefer.

The very first play of a new deal is exceptional. The player to the left of the dealer is free to draw either the face-up card or the top card of the stock and add it to their hand, may make an intial meld if able and willing to, and must then discard.

Subsequently, players are not allowed to take the top card of the discard pile (the previous player's discard) until they are ready to lay down their intitial meld of 40 points or more. If unable or unwilling to make their initial meld, they can only draw from the stock. The initial meld can include the card taken from the top of the discard pile, or a player may make their initial meld on a turn when they drew from the stock.

After you have made your initial meld, on subsequent turns you are free to take the previous player's discard from the top of the pile instead of drawing from the stock. The discard you take does not have to be melded immediately, but can be kept in your hand for later use.

The play ends when a player wins by drawing from the stock or discard pile, melding all but one of their cards, and discarding their last card. This is known as calling up. Note that even when calling up you must end your turn with a discard - it is not legal to draw, meld all your cards and discard nothing.

Note that there is no "laying off", as in some other rummy games. When a player calls up, the play ends immediately and the other players have no opportunity to dispose of any cards they are holding, even if they could have been melded or built onto other melds.

Winning by melding 13 cards on the same turn (having previously melded nothing) is known as a kalookie, and is rewarded with a higher payment than calling up. If other players have already melded, a kalookie can be achieved by a combination of new melds and builds, but as usual you must meld new combinations to a value of at least 40 points from your hand before you are allowed to build on other players' melds.

If after discarding you end your turn with one, two or three cards you must warn the other players by announcing the number of cards that you hold. A player who fails to do this is barred from winning on their next turn.

If the stock runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and placed face down to form a new stock. The card discarded by the player who drew the last card of the old stock is placed face up beside the new stock to start the new discard pile. In the rare case when the stock runs out a second time, there is no second reshuffle. Instead the game is declared void (no score or payment) and the same dealer shuffles and deals a new hand.

The scoring

There are three parts to this: the immediate payments between the players at the end of each hand, the payments to the pool, and the recording of penalty points to determine when players are eliminated, and who will eventually win the pool. The size of the payments for initial stake, call-up, kalookie and buy-in will have been agreed in advance (see above).

At the start of the game, each player must pay the initial stake to the pool.

The winner of a hand is paid the stake for a call up or a kalookie as appropriate by each of the other players who played in that hand. (Players who have been finally eliminated from the game do not pay). Also, the total point value of the cards held in the hands of each of the other players is reckoned (counting jokers as 15) and recorded as penalty points. A cumulative total of penalty points for each player is kept on a score sheet.

Players whose total of penalty points is more then 150 are eliminated from the game unless they choose to buy in, paying the agreed buy-in stake to the pool and having their penalty point score reduced to the highest score of any of the players who have 150 or less. Buying in is subject to the following restrictions.

  1. Each player can buy in only twice during a game. When they go above 150 for the third time they are eliminated.
  2. Buying in is only possible if there are at least two players in the game with a score of 150 or less. If the scoring of a hand takes all the players except one over 150, that player has won and the others have no possibility of buying in.

When the scores of all the players have been calculated at the end of a hand, it can happen that several players are over 150 and have the option of buying in. In this case they must decide in turn whether to do so, starting to the left of the player who won the hand that just ended, and going round the table clockwise.

When there is only one player left with a score of 150 or less, that player is the overall winner and takes the pool, which consists of all the initial stakes and buy-in payments that have accumulated during the game.

Rather than using cash for the initial stakes and buy-ins and for settling after each hand, it is possible to record the whole thing on paper and settle up at the end. In this case you keep two accounts - one for the penalty points and another for the hand payments. This might appear as follows:

Penalty pointsPayments
AndyMarkJohnFrank
8542*62
*924584
123145*K92
127(127)98*
156198*174
AndyMarkJohnFrank
-1-1+3-1
+2-2+2-2
0-4+8-4
-1-5+7-1
-2-6+10-2
Pool including buy-ins:
Total:
-5-10+20-5
-7-16+30-7

In the left table "*" marks the winner of the hand by an ordinary call up, "*K" denotes a win by kalookie. Brackets indicate a buy-in: on the fourth hand Mark went over 150 and bought in, bringing his acore down to 127.

In the right table the payments must always balance. After the fifth hand only John had a score of 150 or less, so no further buy-ins were possible: the game ended and John took the pool. In the last rows the pool payments and buy-ins are added.

Variations

Some play that a player who wins by Kalookie does not need to meet the 40 point minimum for laying down.

Some play that only two cards in total can be added to a run in any one turn.

Some allow a joker to be taken only from the interior of a run, not from the end.

Some allow aces to be used as either high or low, so that A-2-3 is a valid run. An ace used as low counts 1 point when laid down, but an ace remaining in a player's hand always counts 11 penalty points.

Some set the maximum score you can have as 151 rather than 150; some play to 301 or 501.

Neil Darbyshire reports that in Blackpool the minimum count required for an initial meld is 51 points, and the maximum score is 100: with a score of 101 or more you must buy back in and leave the game. This game is sometimes played in a tournament format with four players per table (where possible) and around 16 to 24 players. Players whose scores go over 100 can buy in but move to form a new table, where play is started when four players have bought into it. Buying in is allowed until a total of eight tables (including the original tables) have been formed. The winners of these eight games play a semi-final at two tables with two winners at each table, and these four winners play at the final table to determine the overall winner.

Some play that when a kalookie occurs, double penalties are charged for all cards remaining in players' hands.

Some play that there is no reshuffle of the discard pile in the event that the stock runs out. Instead the game is void (no score or payment) and the same dealer deals again.

Damian Griffin describes a variant played with three decks of cards including three jokers, so 159 cards. Jokers in hand cost 25 penalty points; other card values as above. It is possible to meld a set of three identical cards, such as clubK-clubK-clubK and to use jokers as substitutes for one or more of these cards, but not two idental and one of a different suit, so for example diamondK-diamondK-spadeK is not a valid meld. The game is played to 301 with two buy-ins allowed.

Swedish Kalooki

A Swedish version of Kalooki is described in Dan Glimne's Kortspels Guiden (Wahlströms, 2000). It is similar to the British version described above, but with a target score of 100 (with 101 or more you must retire or buy in). The ratio of stakes is 1 for call-out, 3 for Kalooki, 5 for initial stake or buy-in.

North American Kaluki

Many American card game books contain rules for Kaluki - for example there are rules for Kaluki in the USPCC Official Rules of Cards Games, reproduced on the Bicycle Cards web site. If these brief descriptions are to be trusted, it seems that North American Kaluki is rather different from the European game. The major differences are as follows:

  • The pack includes four jokers - 108 cards in all.
  • 15 cards are dealt to each player when two, three or four play; five players are dealt 13 cards each; six receive 11 cards each.
  • The requirement for an initial meld is 51 points, but cards built on other players' melds can be counted towards this requirement, provided that the player makes at least one new meld of his own.
  • Cards cannot be taken from the discard pile before have put down your initial meld. You can, however, take the top discard to use as part of your initial meld.
  • Aces can be counted as high or low (but not both at once), so A-K-Q and A-2-3 are valid runs, though 2-A-K is not.
  • Aces count 15 points. A joker in the hand of a player at the end counts 25 points.
  • Having made your initial meld you can reuse a melded joker by substituting a valid natural card for it - only one card is needed to take a joker from a set.
  • There is no pool or buying in. At the end of each hand the winner scores the total value of all the cards remaining in the hands of the other players.
  • Apparently there is no special score for Kaluki (melding all your cards in one turn).

In his Encyclopedia of Games, John Scarne describes a slightly different version of Kaluki played on the East Coast of the USA, with the following differences from the above game:

  • Aces count 11.
  • It is possible to meld a set of three or four jokers, counting them as worth 15 each, though it is usually unwise to waste jokers in this way.
  • When the cards are cut, the bottom card is shown; if it is a joker, the player cutting takes it and receives 14 cards in the deal to make a hand of 15.
  • Immediately after the deal, the dealer may take the face-up card and discard another in its place (but may not draw from the stock instead). Play then starts with the player to dealer's left.
  • Throughout the play, the previous discard can only be taken if it is used immediately in a meld.
  • Each hand is a separate event. The losers each pay the winner one cent for each card in their hands, except jokers, for which they have to pay two cents. These payments are doubled if the winner went Kaluki.

Other pages on European and North American Kaluki

Kalooki rules are also available at the Rummy.com web site.

Rummy.ch is a German language site offering rules for Kalooki and many other rummy games, plus strategy articles and reviews of online rummy sites and a forum.

Kaluki Software and Online Games

At RummyRoyal you can play Kaluki online for fun or real money. Two styles are available: Kalooki 40 or Kaluki 51 (with an initial meld requirement of 40 or 51 points respectively).

The Rummy program from Special K Software supports ten Rummy variants, including Kaluki, which you can play against computer opponents.