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The Pick in the Opening Plays

The pick is the next phase of the opening play. This confronts the dealer who now has the opportunity to pick either his opponents discard or a card from the deck. There are two questions the dealer must ask upon seeing his opponent’s discard:

• Do you need the card or should it be left alone?
• Why did the opponent make this particular discard?

The discard from your opponent tells you something about the hand. Depending on the type of player you are up against, it tells you what he considers to be a safe card, or what he is not accumulating. If your opponent is primarily in an aggressive player, you need to consider that he is throwing a card that is not only completely useless to him, but he could be throwing a salesman card. You must be on guard for both of these discards.

The dealer, who has 10 cards to his opponent’s 11 cards, has certain advantages and disadvantages on his first turn of play. If the discard is picked, the dealer has the disadvantage of having his opponent know one specific card in his hand. The player dealt to however retains all needed cards without having his opponent aware of any individual card that he is holding. The advantage to the dealer is the fact that he knows of one specific card that is not needed by his opponent. The dealer can certainly use this particular piece of knowledge in the upcoming play of the hand.

If you need your opponent’s discard to create or extend a meld then you should take the card. For example, if you have two Jacks, and your opponent throws one Jack then take it and make a meld. The same with if you have three Jacks, then take the fourth one. There are only a few exceptions to this in advanced play but for the most part, this should be the rule of thumb.

If you do not need the card for a meld, but it improves the opportunity to win your hand, then you should take it on speculation. For example, If you are holding the J♥, and the 10♠, which are not matched to any other cards, and your opponent throws the J♠, you should consider taking the card because you will then have the opportunity for a four-way spread from the two cards that up until this point have been completely useless. It is not wise to pick up cards on speculation too often though because you could be losing a pick from a draw that can give you a definite meld. You are also giving your opponent valuable information about the cards in your hand and this will help his defensive play.

If you decide against picking up your opponent’s discard, then you must pick from the unused portion of the stock, and your problem then becomes what to discard and why. The basic reasoning behind the first discard of the dealer is identical in every way to the reasoning behind the play of the non-dealer, with one major exception. The dealer has the advantage of seeing the first discard. From this he obtains valuable information on how to play his hand and what discard he should make.

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Opening Hand Example – Hand #5

Dealt: K♠, Q♣, 10♦, 9♣, 8♠, 7♥, 6♣, 5♦, 4♠, 3♦, A♥
Knock: 8♦

This hand is shown to better explain the opening hand discards and to see how a beginner, good, and expert player would make their discard selection. It is the opening hand of the set and therefore it should be played to be won.

This is the kind of hand that at first glance appears to be a losing hand. If it is to be won though, this hand is going to take an inordinate amount of time to develop the melds. You need to give a thought to all the possibilities, and there are many to consider.

Beginner Player – As usual, the beginner will throw the highest, most useless card in their hand. In this case, it is the K♠.

Good Player – This type of player will note that the only combination in his hand that offers any offensive possibility is the 3♦, and 5♦. While it is a one-way combination, the good player does have the option of throwing the 4♠, which may in turn bring back the 4♦. He will at the very least have developed one meld, but then is faced with the problem of what to throw next. In a hand with as many points as he is holding, and all the rest of the cards are unmatched, the early development of one single run consisting of 3♦, 4♦, and 5♦ will not be of much value. Remember that in this type of hand you should be playing for time.

Expert Player – Since the expert already knows that time is essential, he must play this hand to allow himself to develop it into a winning hand. At the same time, he must not allow his opponent to develop his hand through picking up his discards. The only cards in the hand that offer any defensive value are the K♠, and the A♥. Since both cards are similarly protected on one end from a sequence run, the major determining factor between them at this point must be that the King could reduce his opponent’s count by 30 points while the Ace can reduce his opponent’s count by only 3 points. This possibility of count reduction to his opponent would therefore be the major factor in determining that the discard should indeed be the A♥.

From that point on, the ensuring discards would be based primarily on the safest cards until such time as the general pattern of the hand has changed enough so that the winning possibilities now outweigh the losing possibilities. If this does not occur during the course of the hand, the hand should be played on a strictly defensive basis, and hopefully played to the wall.

In the case of an unmatched hand such as this, the beginning and good player are most likely to lose the hand. The expert is the only one who stands to win anything, even if it is played to the wall.

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Opening Hand Example – Hand #4

Dealt: K♥, Q♣, Q♦, 10♥, 7♣, 6♣, 6♥, 5♠, 4♠, 2♣, A♦
Knock: 8♦

This hand is shown to better explain the opening hand discards and to see how a beginner, good, and expert player would make their discard selection. It is the opening hand of the set and therefore it should be played to be won.

Beginner Player – The beginner would most likely throw the K♥ since it appears to him to be the highest and most useless card in the hand.

Good Player – This player will realize that although there are no melds in the hand, there are three good combinations which could result in melds and a possible early win. Thus playing the hand for its offensive possibilities, he would generally decide to discard the K♥.

Expert Player – After analyzing his cards, and bases his decision on the law of possibilities, he will look at this hand offensively rather than defensively. Since he is playing for an 8 point knock, he will first decide whether the hand should be played for three separate melds or for two melds of either 6 or 7 cards with an unmatched selection of small cards. Since the hand already includes an A♦, 2♣, and 4♠ and it is easier to obtain two melds rather than three, he would decide to play for two melds. Which two then is the question he would ask himself.

The best choice in this situation would be to go with the Queens, as well as the 6♥, 6♣, and 7♣ to make the melds. He would not consider the 4♠ and 5♠ because the same 6♠ that would give him a run will also give him a meld with his two sixes. In addition, the 3♠ that would also give him a run is a low card which would be equally as valuable as one of the four low cards he will need in order to knock the hand. Another factor is that the 5♠ represents a fairly safe salesman to throw for the possibility of bringing back the 5♣ that would result in a meld as well. That means he would have narrowed the choice down to the K♥, 10♥, and the 5♠.

The K♥ has no offensive value since he is not asking for a King in return. It also has negative possibilities because if he did throw it, his opponent would not know whether it was representing the Kings or a heart run which means that if the opponent had either the J♥ or Q♥ he would not throw either one. Considering the expert would need a Q♥ it would not be the wisest choice. The 10♥ would bring the same negative consequences.

Therefore the card that would be the best would be the 5♠. It essentially represents nothing but can lead his opponent to throw another 6 which the expert player needs. Again, this shows the well thought out process of the first play. This is what is going to win a game.

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Opening Hand Example – Hand #3

Dealt: J♣, 10♣, 9♣, K♦, Q♠, 8♥, 8♦, 4♠, 2♣, A♥, A♠
Knock: 8♦

This hand is shown to better explain the opening hand discards and to see how a beginner, good, and expert player would make their discard selection. It is the opening hand of the set and therefore it should be played to be won.

This is a very average hand in an opening deal hand. This means, that it happens often, but isn’t necessarily a great hand, nor is it a particularly bad hand.

Beginner Player – This type of player would almost always discard the K♦ because it is both the highest card, as well as the most useless card.

Good Player – This player would usually recognize that this hand could be won very quickly just by picking the black eight. The first discard should be the K♦ in this case as well.

Expert player – The expert would also discard the K♦, but he would have analyzed the hand completely differently. In this hand, when playing as an expert would not only would you analyze this play, but you would plan out the full play. Considering that the A♥, A♠, 2♣, and 4♠ are equal to an 8 point knock, they are as important to the expert as a meld itself. These four cards represent the basic core of the hand because the expert knows that all he has to do is obtain two melds and his hand will be in knocking position.

This hand is one that would be planned as far as the fourth pick, as well as the immediate possibility of picking an eight. The plan would be after discarding the K♦, to pick any heart or diamond between 6 and 10 that would match up with either of his red 8’s. This would give him a great possibility of obtaining his second meld and knocking. If he picks one of these cards, his next discard would be the Q♠ even though it would be a complete wild card. The whole hand would be played for its maximum offensive possibilities.

A few players may consider throwing the Q♠ rather than the K♦ because of its slight offensive value in bringing back the Q♣, but even if the Q♣ were thrown it would not be wise to pick it up because offensively it is not a good choice. Therefore, there would be no reason whatsoever to play the Q♦.

This all goes to show you that even though a lot of thought needs to go into playing the first discard, it is the way that you analyze the rest of your hand that can change the entire hand. That is the difference between the beginner, the good, and the expert player. You can’t just consider one play at a time because it will only lead you to trouble, unless you look at all possibilities.

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Opening Hand Example – Hand #2

Dealt: K♦, Q♦, 10♥, 10♦, 9♦, 8♣, 7♦, 6♠, 4♦, 3♦, A♠
Knock: 8♦

This hand is shown to better explain the opening hand discards and to see how a beginner, good, and expert player would make their discard selection. It is the opening hand of the set and therefore it should be played to be won.

This hand represents the most common type of hand that many places face when they are dealt a hand. There is an abnormally high point count in the hand, and it is a hand that you certainly don’t want to lose very early on in the play. There are good opportunities for development of the hand if you are fortunate enough to pick specific cards from the deck before the opponent completes his hand. This is a hand that has to be played on the answers to many questions. Such as, if we should play for the quickest win, if the hand should be played to prevent our opponent from winning before we have a chance to develop our hand, or if we should find a happy medium. Actually you should think about all of these possibilities.

Beginner Player – Generally the beginner will throw out the highest unrelated card in the hand without giving any consideration to other factors. In this case, it would most likely be an 8♣.

Good Player – Generally a good player would throw the K♦ because even though it is matched with the Q♦, he would still need the J♦, and since he has the 10♦ already, a Q♦ would lead to a run anyhow. It is a good defensive play because the player knows the K♦ can only be used for the meld of Kings and not for a run.

Expert Player – After a more careful analysis of the probabilities of winning or losing this hand, the player will come to a conclusion in whether he should play to win, or play to protect his hand against losing too many points. The odds are basically 50/50 so you would play to try to develop your hand while being open to the fact that you need to not leave yourself open to losing too many points. Looking at the odds, you can immediately eliminate the 10♥, 8♣, 6♠ because according to the law of probability your opponent is most likely to have higher cards. The A♠, 3♦, and 4♦ should be kept because they represent the 8 point knock, as well as give a chance to get a meld. That leaves the K♦ because it has no basic offensive value, and would give control defensively at the same time.

Although the beginner player, good player, and expert player are all throwing the same card, it is the continued play that would change drastically. The expert is the only one that would be playing both offensively and defensively, where the beginner player is only playing offensively and the good player is playing defensively.

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Opening Hand Example – Hand #1

Dealt: K♥, J♥, 10♥, 9♥, 6♥, 6♠, 6♦, 7♦, 10♦, 8♣, A♠
Knock: 8♦

This hand is shown to better explain the opening hand discards and to see how a beginner, good, and expert player would make their discard selection. It is the opening hand of the set and therefore it should be played to be won.

The above hand is to most people an obviously winning hand, and it should be played for a quick knock. Although an 8 knock hand is normally won by achieving six or seven melded cards and either three or four small cards that add up to eight or less. In this hand however it is conceivable that it could be knocked with just one pick, by drawing a Q♥. This card would give eight melded cards because of the 5-card sequence. Knowing that, you need to decide what you would discard giving thought to all the possibilities.

Beginner Player – The normal reaction of the beginner would be to throw the highest card in their hand that has no particular value to the formation of the hand. In this case it would be the K♥.

Good Player – This player would realize the value of the opportunity that the K♥ offers with being able to knock the hand with just one pick, and he will most likely keep this card. The card that would appear most useless would be the 10♦ which is safe because of the other 10 in his hand. However, if picked up by an opponent, a player would have no way of knowing whether it is for the three 10 meld or a diamond run.

Expert Player – This player would determine the advantages and disadvantages of discarding each of the 5 cards available to him. He would also realize the rare chance that he would pick the Q♥. That being said, since the expert is playing to win, he will keep the K♥ in the off chance he picks up the Q♥. He would also know to keep two cards that would add up to less than 8 points to win. That would eliminate the 7♦ and A♠. The expert is then left with the 10♦ and 8♣. Throwing the 10♦ would be safer because it is somewhat protected, but the 10 has no offensive value. The 8♣ is a wild card because it is not protected in any way, but it does add offensive value because if it is not picked the opponent may return the 8♥. This card would greatly enhance the opportunity for a quick knock by either an additional add-on or the picking of two small cards. Because the expert wants full offensive value, the expert chooses the 8♣ to discard.

Most beginners do not think about defending a hand, whereas an expert is the best of both offensive and defensive players, and considered to be the happy medium. They know the offensive value of cards and use them to their benefit, while considering the defensive value of the cards at the same time. This skill is what makes you a winner at gin rummy.

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When You Are Dealt Cards That Are Combined

This is something that happens more often then you may think. It is when you are dealt a hand in which every card in the hand is combined in some way with another card. What do you do with this type of hand?

You should start by realizing that this hand cannot be opened up with any defensive pattern, and therefore defense should not even be considered. That means that it should be played only in an offensive manner. You need to take advantage of those combinations which offer the greatest possibilities. At the same time, the discards at the start of play should not consist of breaking combinations that could be used in conjunction with any other combination in the hand. However, if you are looking for a middle card to fill the hand, you should not hold two combinations of the middle card zone. If your opponent is induced to throw into one of them for your pick, he will certainly not throw a second card in the same middle zone. Therefore, your prospective melds should be spread over the entire range of the hand from the highest to lowest cards.

Even though you should be playing offensively, there is one specific area of defensive play that must be considered. Although you should discard the most useless card in your hand, one thing you do not want to do is throw a card that, if your opponent should pick it up, will tie up many of the possible melds in your hand. For example, you hold the following hand:

K♠, Q♠, Q♣, J♣, 10♦, 10♥, 9♠, 8♠, 8♥, 6♦, 5♦

In looking at this hand, from a purely offensive standpoint, the best card to throw from the hand would be the 10♦. Even though it is matched with the 10♥ which could give you a meld if you picked up either of the remaining 10’s, if you do happen to pick up either of the black 10’s, you will have a meld in one of the other sequences. If you did use either of the black 10’s for the three 10’s meld, it would effectively destroy two of the meld possibilities in your hand.

On the other hand, if you throw the 10♦ it could tie up the 8♦ that you may get from your opponent, which would prevent you from matching up the two 8’s that you have in your hand. It may also prevent your opponent from throwing the Q♦ which would prevent you from getting a meld of Queens.

In this particular case, the defensive value of retaining the 10♦ outweighs the offensive gain you may get. Therefore, you should not discard the 10♦. With the cards being on the higher side you can figure that if you throw out a high card your opponent will have a tendency to throw lower, so that also eliminates the 5♦ or 6♦. That leaves the K♠ and Q♠ as your best choice. The King is the best choice because it still leaves you with two Queens to make a meld, and the King itself cannot be used in any sequence since you are holding the matching Queen. As you can see, it isn’t always easy to make choices when dealt this kind of hand, but with a little practice and knowledge you can eliminate cards that will eventually lead you to your obvious discard.

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The Strategy of Early Discarding

The strategy of early discards is very important. It should be based primarily on whether your play is to be offensive or defensive at that particular moment. It also is pure strategy to decide to what extent you should play, either offensively or defensively.

On the few occasions that you are dealt an extremely good hand and you need only one or two favorable picks to enable you to knock, you should play much more aggressively when you are discarding. Caution shouldn’t even be part of your play at that point. You expect to win the hand, and you should discard so you can leave yourself the maximum number of chances to win as quickly as possible. Selection of the safest card should be secondary.

However, if your hand is considered to be poor, or if the conditions call for defensive play, then your discard should be the safest card in your hand. If your hand basically has given you no hope of winning whatsoever, you have to try to play to the wall or lower your hand to the best possible score to minimize your risk of giving your opponent a large amount of points. This is the time to throw only 100% dead cards. A dead card is one in which under no circumstances can your opponent use it for the improvement of his hand. It is relatively easy to figure out these types of cards if you have good card memory.

For instance if you know two 8’s have already been played and you have one in your hand then you should throw that, especially if you have one or more cards that are in sequence to that. For example if you have the 9♠, 8♠, 8♦, and the 7♠ instead of throwing out the 8♦, you would throw the 8♠, even though you have a run. At this point, it just about outlasting your opponent or going to the wall, rather than trying to win the hand. This is only if you have already decided there is no way you can win the hand.

From both the standpoint of offense and defense, it is important to avoid completely wild discards, and at the same time, you need to try to retain as many chances as possible for yourself. You can give up some of your combinations for the sake of greater safety, but by all means, do not give them all up. There are certain mathematics of safe and dead discards that you need to know before making your decision, but for now you must realize which way you should be playing your early discards.

Your first discard especially is difficult and requires a great deal of consideration. You have no idea at that point what your opponent is holding and the primary idea is to discard the card that will be the least likely to form a meld. Easier said than done in most cases, but you are guided by what you hold in your hand, so study it and make the most informed decision you can.

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Discarding a Low Card

When discarding, even on the first play, it is so important to not only consider just the discard that you are making now, but the discard you will make for the next two to three plays after that. The card that you discard will either enable you to have at least one or two more discards or it should leave you the opportunity to lay off provided your opponent knocks. It should not be allowed to tie up any other card you may have been holding with it. Essentially, the first discard you make can make or break your game.

Many players have a tendency to consider rank more than anything as we have said before. If you have a lone King with no other King, Queen, or even a Jack to go with it, then that thought process is understandable, but when you stay with discarding only the highest rank of card first, then you are never going to be a winner at the game of gin rummy.

It is important to keep in mind that low card discards also have a major advantage. If that card is picked, it rarely can lower your opponent’s unmatched total enough for them to knock, or go gin. Chances are they will still be above the knock value, enabling you to play another hand. This is extremely beneficial to you. There is a small chance that they are just picking it up in order to reduce the value in their hand, so you should follow certain rules when throwing a low card discard. You should be throwing it for the following reasons:

• All of your higher cards are in matched sets
• All of your unrelated high cards are in strong combinations
• All but one of your higher cards are matched and you need a slightly lower card to knock
• To play defensively, and throw a “safe” card

A low discard can be sometimes used to force an opponent to help reduce your card count for a quick knock. For example, the knock card is an 8♠, and you hold the following hand: J♦, J♣, J♥, 9♠, 8♠, 7♠, K♠, 4♣, 3♥, A♣, A♦

You have been dealt to be what is considered to be a “no brainer” because you know that by discarding the King, you are left with 9 points, and the knock is 8. It is possible to wait through 5 or 6 picks to see if you can get an add on card or a card smaller than a 4 that would enable you to knock. During that point however, your partner is sure to be bettering his hand and he might have knocked during that time. Since you want to knock as soon as possible your plan should be to get a card lower than a 4 from your opponent rather than taking the chances of picking one from the deck.

If you throw your King, then chances are he will throw a King, but if you consider throwing your 4♣ then you may be rewarded with your opponent throwing a 3 or 2 which would give you a low enough score to knock. It will seem to your opponent that you will not have a need for such a low card and therefore you are forcing him to throw it. So, you can obviously see how throwing a low card can work to your advantage.

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First Play of the Hand – Discarding a “Salesman”

Discards are often used as salesmen throughout the game of gin rummy. A salesman is a card that is discarded when you want you opponent to give you another one of the same denomination.

For instance, if you are holding the Q ♦, and the J ♦, the throw of a K ♠ (in this case, the salesman) will tell your opponent that you are not saving kings and it will frequently induce him to throw the K ♦ if he has it. This works because there is a natural tendency for a player to match a previous discard rather than throw a random card.

There are many ramifications to discarding a salesman. If your opponent picks up the salesman, it becomes highly probably that the card you want has become part of a spread, and you will never get it. Let’s look at the above cards. If your opponent took the K ♠, you then wouldn’t know if it was for the kings or a spade sequence. If it is for the kings, then you holding onto the Q ♦ and J ♦ would become worthless. If you know through play though that he has the K ♠, Q ♠, and J ♠ then you know you will probably get the K ♦ when he picks it. You also know that the Q ♦ and J ♦ are safe cards for you to throw if you have to.

If you use a salesman card too frequently or in an obvious way, your opponent will catch on and will be very careful not to give you the card you want the most. Since throwing a salesman goes back to the very start of the hand, most players know how to differentiate between the salesman card and a normal discard. The expert player will then resort to more sophisticated methods during his plays which can only lead to trouble for you.

That being said, the best time to throw a salesman is usually on your first or second discard because your salesman is almost always a wild card which your opponent might use for either a sequence or a group. Early in the game is really the only time that you should figure you can get away with it. Any time after your first couple of plays, the salesman card could be very dangerous to throw because by that time your opponent already has several ways in which he can match up his hand.

If you can do it and get away with it, it means that you will almost certainly win the hand, but if it goes wrong you could be left with more points then you wanted to have. Before using the salesman card you need to size up your opponent. If he is an expert player then using a salesman card once could essentially change the outcome of the entire game, but if you are playing an average player they might not catch on until you already are an odds on favorite to win.