This North American Rummy game exists in many versions and has many different names. The play is similar to 500 Rummy in that a player may take several cards from the discard pile, but there two major differences.
- The first card dealt to each player is face up, and its value determines that number of cards the player will be dealt. The players therefore start with unequal sized hands.
- There are wild cards, which along with the aces have a high value, typically 100 points. It is therefore important to meld these high-value cards, or at least to dispose of them before the end of the play. One wild card is determined by an exposed card in the dealer's hand, and therefore varies from deal to deal. Some versions have additional wild cards.
I have collected over 25 descriptions of this game from different players, and no two of them agree in every detail. The variants affect every part of the game: the number of cards used, the deal, the card values, the wild cards, the melds that are allowed, the rules of play and the scoring. I will try to cover these variants by first describing a game that uses the commonest version of each rule, and then listing the variants I have seen.
The name 5000 Rummy reflects the fact that the game is often played to a target score of 5000, but many players use other targets and the game may be named accordingly: 1500 Rummy, 2000 Rummy, 2200 Rummy, 2500 Rummy, 2800 Rummy or 10000 Rummy. Other names include Backwards Rummy, Bitchin' Rummy, Circle Rummy, Crazy Rummy (though this name is more commonly used for a different variant with fixed hand sizes), Dumbbell Rummy, Dummy Rummy, George, Hillbilly Rummy, Polish Rummy and Wild One. I would like to thank the many contributors who over several years have sent me descriptions of these different versions of this game.
Players and Cards
3 or 4 players use a standard 52-card pack; from 5 to 8 players use two 52-card packs (104 cards) shuffled together. Deal and play are clockwise.
The first dealer is chosen by a random method: for example all draw cards and the lowest deals. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. Before the deal, the dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts the cards.
Instead of dealing the cards around the table one or a few at a time as in many games, the dealer gives each player in turn their whole hand of cards before moving on to the next player. For each player, starting to the dealer's left:
- The dealer deals one card in front of the player, face up for all to see. The rank of this card determines the number of additional cards that player will be dealt.
- The dealer deals the remainder of the player's hand face down. For example if a player's first card is a 7, the dealer gives the player 7 more cards face down before moving on to the next player. A player whose first card is a picture (jack, queen, king) receives 10 more cards: if the first card is an ace, the player receives 11 more cards.
The dealer will be the last to receive cards. The dealer's first (face up) card is wild for the current deal. For example if the dealer gets a 4 face up, the dealer takes four more cards face down, and fours are wild.
The dealer stacks the remainder of the cards in a neat face down pile to form a stock from which cards can be drawn. The top card of the stock is turned face up and placed next to the stock to begin the discard pile.
All players pick up their cards, both the face up one and the face down ones, and play begins.
As in all forms of rummy, the aim is to form combinations: sets of three or more equal cards and runs of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit.
- A set consists of three or more cards of the same rank, for example three kings or five sevens. When this game is played with more than one deck, a set may contain identical cards, so for example 5-5-5 is a valid set.
- A run consists of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. For this purpose, the cards rank in order A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A. The ace can therefore be at the low end of a run, next to the 2, or at the high end next to the king, but not in the middle of a run.
A wild card can be used as a substitute for any missing card needed to form a set or run. For example if 6's are wild, 8-6-10 is a valid run.
The player to dealer's left begins, and players take turns in clockwise order around the table. A turn consists of three parts:
- The player either draws the top card from the stock or takes one or more cards from the top of the discard pile. The card or cards taken are added to the player's hand. A player is always allowed to draw the top card from the stock or the discard pile. A player can draw more than one card from the discard pile provided that
- the deepest buried card that is taken is melded in the current turn, and
- the player also takes all cards that are on top of (discarded later than) this deepest buried card.
- The player may lay down (meld) valid runs and sets, and cards that extend runs and sets that have already been laid down by any player. Melded cards are always kept face up in front of the player who melded them, for scoring purposes. When adding to a set or run put down by another player, you must state which set or run you are adding it to, and the other players need to take notice of this. For example if player A has melded 6-7-8 and player B had added 9 to it, other players need to be aware that a 5 or a 10 can now be added (but not another 9), even though the 9 on the table is lying in front of player B and not next to player A's run.
- To end the turn, the player must discard one card face up onto the discard pile. If a player takes just one card from the top of the discard pile, it is not legal to discard that same card, leaving the discard pile exactly as it was before the player's turn. The cards of the discard pile are overlapped, so that all can be seen.
- Wild cards
- If you hold the real card that is represented by a wild card that has been used in a run, you may meld the real card in step 2 of your turn, placing it in front of yourself. The wild card remains in place.
- Calling "rummy"
- Any card can be discarded. However, if a card is discarded which can be used to extend a set or run on the table, any player who has already melded can call "rummy", take the discard and meld it, announcing the set or run it is added to, and discard a card (if possible). The turn to play then reverts to the player whose turn to play should have been next had it not been for the "rummy" call.
- End of the play
- The play can end in one of two ways:
- A player has only one card left after melding and discards it, so having no cards left in hand. This is called "going out". Note that this final discard must be "unplayable": it cannot be a card that could have been added to a meld on the table. A player who has no unplayable cards has to "float" - see below.
- There are no cards left in the stock pile, and the player whose turn it is cannot or does not wish to take a card or cards from the discard pile.
- In either case, the play ends immediately and the hand is scored.
- If a player melds all his or her cards, and has nothing to discard, this does not end the play. Instead, the player "floats", holding no cards. In future turns, the player must draw a card from the stock (not from the discard pile since it is illegal to draw and discard the same card). If the card drawn is playable it must be melded and the player floats again. If it is not playable, the player discards it and goes out. A player who calls "rummy" while floating melds the card but is unable to discard, so continues to float.
Players score the value of all the cards they have melded. For this purpose:
- Aces and wild cards are worth 100 points each, provided that aces are not wild;
- If aces are wild, they are worth 200 points each;
- Kings, Queens, Jacks and Tens are worth 10 points each if not wild;
- Numeral cards from 2 to 9 are worth 5 points each if not wild.
Also, if the play ended by one of the players going out, that player scores the value of all the cards remaining in the other players' hands, which they failed to meld.
Further deals are played until one or more players reaches a cumulative score of 5000 or more. At that point, the player who has most points is the winner.
There are numerous variations of this game: no two descriptions that I have seen agree in every detail. Below I have tried to list all the variants I have seen. Please note that some combinations of variants work better together than others, and in some places I have noted which variants should or should not be combined.
Cards, Wild Cards and Card Values
Depending on exactly how the deal is managed, there is the possibility that some players may begin with hands of only 3 or even 2 cards, which may be undesirable. To avoid this, some groups omit some small cards from the pack. It seems to be quite common to play without twos, so that a double deck contains 96 cards. Some take this further: I have seen variants played with 2×44 cards, where the lowest card is a 4, and with 2 or more decks of 36 cards containing nothing below a 6. If low cards are omitted, aces are always high in runs, next to the king.
Another way to avoid the smallest hands is to make all the twos permanent wild cards. In this case a player who receives a two as an upcard will be dealt another 15 or 20 cards, according to what dealing variant is used.
Many players add jokers to the deck. These act as permanent wild cards. Some groups have other permanent wild cards such as tens or one-eyed jacks.
To reduce the chances of running out of cards some players add extra decks. For example three or four players can play with a double deck (with 4 jokers if used) and five or more could use a triple deck (with 6 jokers if wanted).
Some players have a lower value of 50 for aces. If aces are 50 and wild cards are 100, then wild aces would normally be worth 150, but some groups do not allow aces to be wild - see below. Some play that wild cards are always worth 200, whether they are aces or not, and that aces are 100 when not wild.
Some groups value 9's and 8's as 10 points instead of 5. Some have special high values for other particular cards, for example 45 for the queen of spades.
Dealing and Choosing the Wild Card
Some groups treat the face up card dealt to each player as indicating the total number of cards that player should receive, rather than the number of additional cards. In this version, for example, a player who was dealt a 6 first would get only 5 cards face down, not 6.
In some groups a jack indicates 11 cards, a queen 12 cards and a king 13 cards, rather than pictures all indicating 10 cards. Some give 14 or 15 cards rather than 11 for an ace.
When permanent wild cards are used, they usually correspond to a larger number of cards, such as 15, 20 or even 25. Alternatively, some play that a wild card dealt as an upcard is buried in the pack and replaced by another card. One description with 2's as permanent wild cards says that the player receiving a 2 can choose whether to be dealt 2 or 12 cards in total.
Some avoid dealing hands with very few cards by burying any small card dealt as an upcard - for example if a 2, 3 or 4 is dealt it is buried and replaced.
Some groups determine the wild card for the hand by exposing the dealer's last card rather than the first card. Some determine the wild card by an extra card dealt face up to the dealer, after the number of cards indicated by the dealer's initial upcard have been dealt.
If the indicator card is a permanent wild card, some give the dealer additional cards until a card that is not a permanent wild card is found. Others bury the permanent wild card in the deck and deal a replacement indicator card.
In one description the wild card for the hand is determined by a separate card dealt after the dealer's hand is complete: this indicator card is not used in the game: it does not belong to the dealer, nor is it part of the discard pile.
Rules of Play
The play mechanism is essentially similar to that of 500 Rummy, and all the variants of 500 Rummy play can in principle be used in this game as well.
Some groups have restrictions on the use of wild cards in melds. Some play that the number of natural cards in a meld must always be greater than the number of wild cards. Some play that only one wild card is allowed in a meld, but that a meld of six cards or more can be split into two parts, so that one wild card can be used in each. When playing with these restrictions, players need to agree to how to treat wild cards that represent themselves: for example if sixes are wild, some treat the run 6-7-8 as already containing a wild card, while other groups treat the six as natural since it is the correct value and suit to fit into the run, even though it keeps its "wild" value of 100 points.
Some players recognise a set of three or more wild cards as a special kind of combination, which can be extended only by adding further wild cards.
Some allow the real card that a wild card represents in a meld to be traded for the wild card. That is, during the melding part of on's turn, one can play the card that corresponds to a wild card on the table, take that wild card and meld it elsewhere or add it to one's hand.
On the other hand some play that a wild card once melded remains in place, and a player who obtains the real card that the wild card represents cannot do anything with it, other than perhaps use it in a different meld.
Some require a player who takes more than one card from the discard pile to meld the deepest buried card along with two natural cards from the player's hand.
Some always require the card taken from the discard pile to be melded, even when only the top card is taken.
One version requires that if the top card of the stock is drawn, the player must either use it immediately in a meld or discard it.
Many groups play that a player cannot 'lay off' cards, adding them to other players' melds on the table, until after they have melded at least one set or run of their own. Having melded a set or run, a player can then lay off single cards in the same or subsequent turns.
Some do not allow players to call 'rummy' when a playable card is discarded.
On the other hand, some allow a player to call 'rummy' when any meld can be made or added to using cards anywhere in the discard pile. This is known as 'rummy in the pile'. The calling player must take all the cards above the deepest card in the pile that is being melded. This rule is not recommended.
In the variant known by some as George and by others as 2500 Rummy, no runs can be melded, only sets of equal cards. A set can contain at most one wild card, and cards can only be taken from the discard pile when a player has two natural cards in hand that match the deepest buried card that is taken. This version is usually played with a double 48-card pack without twos, and a player's first card indicates the total number of cards to be dealt to the player, counting jack as 11, queen 12, king 13, ace 14 or 15.
One version allows only runs to be melded, not sets.
Ending the Play and Scoring
Some allow a player to go out by melding all his or her cards, leaving no card to discard.
Some play that if a player goes out while one or more other players are floating, the floating player(s) must draw one card from the stock.
Some play that if a player goes out on his or her first turn to play, any other players who have not yet played take one turn before the hand is scored. If another player also goes out, any bonus for going out is given to the first player who did so.
When scoring, some play that instead of giving unmelded cards to the winner to score, each player subtracts the value of the cards remaining in his or her hand from the amount scored for melded cards. In this version scores will be lower and a player can have a negative score. With this type of scoring some add a bonus of, for example, 200 points to the score of the player who went out.
The game ends when a player reaches or exceeds the target score, which may be set at 1500, 2000, 2200, 2500, 2800, 5000 or even 10000. Clearly a higher target leads to a longer game, but the game length is also strongly affected by the card values. Games with permanent wild cards are higher scoring so a higher target is appropriate. Also, games in which unmelded cards are given to the player who goes out are higher scoring and a higher target is appropriate than for a game in which unmelded cards are deducted from the owner's score, especially if there is no bonus for going out.
Some play that if more than one player reaches the target in the same deal, the winner of the game is not the player with the highest score, but the player who went out on that final deal, provided that that player has reached the target. If the player who went out is below the target, then the highest score among the players who have reached the target wins, and if there is a tie for highest score the tying players are joint winners.
Other Web Sites
This game, although evidently quite popular in North America, is surprisingly little documented: so far as I have noticed it is not described in any of the standard card game books.
Another description of 5000 Rummy can be found on the Thirtysomething Gamers site.
The variant known as George, without runs, appeared in the Anyone for Cards package for Windows 3.1, published in 1993.
I would like to thank the many people, some of them wholly or partly anonymous, who have sent me descriptions of versions of this game. They include J.R. Arner, Jim Davidson, Judy-Ann Dvernychuk, Pauline Evans, Sam Finn, Jerry Frank, Woody Frank, Martin Glynn, Larry Hawkins, John Hill, Lois Hurst, Jeffrey Jacobs, Terry Jantz, Beverley Jenkins, Denise Kelly, Patricia King, Jodi Love, Randall Maden, Lisa Miller, Theodore L Mullett, Glenda Ritter, D'Andrea Spann, Bryan Stout, Debby Warren and Tim Vannote.