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Comparing a Beginner Player, a Good Player, and an Expert Player

When you are playing the game of gin rummy, it is relatively easy to recognize who is a beginner player, a good player, and an expert player. Can you recognize which one you are however? Let’s take a look at a specific hand in which you can see the differences between the beginner, the good player, and the expert player.

For this example we will be holding the cards of:
8 ♣, 7 ♣, 6 ♣, 3 ♦, 2 ♦, A ♦, K ♠, K ♥, J ♥, 10 ♥

There is only eight cards remaining in the unused portion of the stock, and it is our pick. No one is on a schneid, either side can go out in the game by ginning their hand, and there is no safe count on either side. In addition we also know that our opponent is holding either six or seven melded cards. We also know the following:

• He does not have queens since 2 queens were earlier discarded
• He does not have 9’s since 2 black 9’s were earlier discarded
• He does not have 7 ♥, 8 ♥, 9 ♥ because one of these cards were earlier discarded

It is fairly obvious with the way the play has gone that the opponent is holding a pair of Kings, which is the same thing we have. If we throw out one of our kings then it is most likely that the opponent will go gin. Obviously we don’t want to take that chance. Say that the 9 ♥ is picked off the top of the deck which then gives us a third run leaving us with only the two kings. One card needs to be discarded and here is where the differences in players can really be seen.

The beginner – For a player without much experience they will probably assume that they need to discard the king because they feel that there is no chance of his knocking with nine melded cards unless they get one of the kings, and then be fortunate enough to pick up an ace or a deuce. The beginner would discard the king in which in all probability would give his opponent gin and he would lose the game.

The good player – He would consider more of the hand then the beginner, and would realize that he has nine melded cards but he still can’t bring his hand to some sort of resolution. He would look at his choices of throwing the king and hoping that his opponent couldn’t knock, or he would consider going to the wall with the hand. He would figure that since there were only 7 cards left that chances are the game would end in a tie and would have to be replayed. So, a good player would most likely discard from the A ♦, 2 ♦, 3 ♦ run because there seems to be a natural tendency when breaking melds to break the smallest runs in your hand.

The expert player – The expert would analyze it much more completely. He would know that the opponent was holding on to the Q ♥ to protect himself against the expert going gin. He knows the opponent is playing it save by holding seven melded cards, plus the two missing Kings and the Q ♥, so he automatically reasons that he can’t discard the King but he wants to throw a card that would make the opponent think it was safe to discard the Q ♥. So, the expert would discard the 9 ♥ because it would stand to reason to the good player that the Q ♥ wouldn’t be a factor then because they would assume we would never break up a meld of 9 ♥, 10 ♥, J ♥. This then makes the opponent think he can discard the Q ♥ assuming the 9 and 10 are still in the deck. Then the expert could watch his surprise when he goes gin.

As you can see, the differences in play mean the difference in losing the game, tying the game, and winning the game.

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Becoming an Expert Player

Every player over a certain period of time develops his or her own style of play when playing Gin Rummy. The question then becomes is if that style of play is considered to be average or expert play. To be a skillful player you must be able to read your opponent’s style, and you must be able to change up your style of play so that it is never read. That is what will make you an expert player. There are three major elements of Gin Rummy that you need to master to be known as a skillful or expert player. They include:

• Mathematics – Gin doesn’t require you to be an expert in math, just in the understanding of the odds, whether in your favor or against you. You must understand the law of probabilities as well as the value of scoring, and a thorough understanding of scoring and counts.
• Memory – It is extremely important in this game that you realize the importance of a well-trained memory. If you simply don’t have the memory, or the skill to be able to learn how to memorize the cards that have already been played, then you should never consider playing for money, since it is one of the most valuable assets of this game.
• Strategy – Just like in chess, a skillful gin rummy play includes a great deal of strategy. It is necessary to be able to make the utmost of the cards that are dealt to you in developing your hand, as well as making your opponent help you to develop your hand. At the same time you should be causing him to disrupt the development of his hand. If you don’t have a strategy you will most certainly continue to lose games.

A good gin player is a player that has mastered all the abilities required to properly play out each and every hand. Essentially they will play the game like a computer, taking advantages of all the mathematical odds and probabilities in his favor. An expert player will do the same, but will add the element of strategy, which calls for the occasional variation in play in order to confuse the opponent and take advantage of the resulting confusion.

It is most important that you are able to change your style and methods from hand to hand so that you can interfere with your opponent’s ability to properly anticipate your next play. At the same time, it is important to properly read and determine your opponent’s style so that you can anticipate and prepare your play accordingly.

Moving up to expert play takes time and practice but it also takes knowledge of the game. You just can’t be prepared to play competitively if you do not know the intricate nature of the game. That means knowing when you are not yet experienced enough to play for money. This is the most common mistake as people jump into the game too quickly and eventually will continue to lose until they take the time to get to know the actual game of gin rummy.

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Knowing Your Opponent

Every gin rummy player, including yourself, has a certain type of pattern, and a favorite type of play that he generally follows. For the person who is trying to move from being a beginner player to being a good player they must first quickly determine what type and style of player you are up against. This alone will give you a distinct advantage in playing that game. The questions you want to ask are:

• Is your opponent primarily an aggressive or defensive player?
• What is their general play pattern?
• Do they knock or play to gin more often?

Over the years, the average gin player will become predominantly either an aggressive or defensive player. This may be out of habit, or by desire, but most people take on a certain role. Over any given session, they will invariably follow one of these two playing patterns with occasional exceptions based on individual hands, but for the most part a player’s pattern of play is mostly fixed and very readable. That leaves it up to you to read them, and if you can then you already know pretty much what they will do and you can brace yourself against it, and use it to your advantage so you can win the game. Here are you most extreme definitions of both the aggressive player and the defensive player, so you have an idea of who you can be up against:

Defensive Player – This is the person who is giving the least amount of consideration to the development of their hand and throwing only the cards that they feel the opponent is less likely to use. They will leave the development to their own hand completely to chance, while playing mostly to make sure your hand can not be made.

Offensive Player – This player is completely opposite of the defensive player in the way that they give every consideration to improving their own hand by forming melds as quickly as possible with no thought whatsoever to what they are discarding. In other words, they have no regard to how or whether they may be benefiting their opponent with the cards they discard.

These are of course the extreme definitions but there are certainly people out there that play similar to this. The important part of this game is that you are neither the extremely aggressive player, nor the extremely defensive player. You should be a variation of both, but more importantly than that, is that by the end of the first game you should have a definite idea of which type of person your opponent is. Again, they could be variations of both, but in the end, you should know what their style or type of play is in order to be able to play the most effectively against them.

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The Aggressive Player

In the previous article we discussed the extreme aggressive player, but rather than just learn the basic extreme definition it is important to learn how an aggressive player might generally play. Generally means that although they may mix up their game a bit, chances are they will play aggressively most of the time.

The aggressive player is a person who most often goes for gin. They are not people who tend to knock; rather they would rather have gin or the possibility of underknocking you. If a person is 100% aggressive, they tend to suffer tremendously in situations when the score is against them. He will also suffer in the game in which the cards are running against him.

There is a time though when aggressive play is needed however. This is based primarily on the condition of the score and on the way the cards are running. If the points to be won on a given hand would mean more for you than for your opponent then the odds say to play this hand more aggressively. If however, the score is such that you stand to lose far more than you gain, such as when you are on a schneid, then it is not to your advantage to play more aggressively. You need to prevent your opponent from winning the hand, and you won’t do that by being an aggressive player. However, you cannot win consistently by being totally a defensive player, so there are times that you need to be aggressive, but you need to recognize those times before you go all out.

An aggressive player will often try to figure out what his opponent will do and then use a reverse pattern of play. For example, if they feel that their opponent is more likely to throw out a higher card due to their defensive nature of play, then the aggressive player will keep any high combinations that they have in hopes that the defensive player will throw out a high card early in the game. The aggressive player is more apt to recognize what another aggressive player early in a game because they are playing very similar in any given hand.

If you want to be an expert player, then you should not consider being an aggressive player all the time. There are going to be times where it is deemed necessary, but an aggressive player has a tendency to lose more than they win. This is because they are always more concerned with making their hand rather than winning the game. An aggressive player has a tendency not to be as concerned with the hand of the opponent, and that will inevitably allow the opponent to read him and use it to their advantage, and thus, winning more games then they should be allowed to.

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The Defensive Player

A person who is considered to be a defensive player is often the easiest player to beat. That is because, although the defensive player will always minimize his losses when the cards are running bad for him, he will also minimize his chances of winning under any normal circumstances.

The defensive player is one who has a tendency to knock whenever he has the opportunity. Rarely does it matter to him whether or not he should go for gin, or whether he should try to underknock, it only matters that they end the game with a winning score. Not to say that this doesn’t work all the time, but the count will probably be minimal when they win so it will essentially take them much longer to win a game. This also gives the aggressive player a chance to catch up by getting a high score in any given hand.

A defensive player does have a chance against the aggressive player in the way that if he continues to knock while the opponent is constantly trying for gin, it will inevitably throw off the opponent, making him play worse in most cases. Also, it will force him to alter his style of play to one that he may not be all that familiar with, and in the long run this will prove to be an advantage for you.

Since the defensive player is more of a consistent knocker, he should be played n a somewhat more defensive matter. More consideration should be give to holding cards to lay of on him, forcing an underknock. However to the defensive player, a few underknocks in a row will discourage him from knocking too quickly and will force him into a game that will not be familiar to him.

A defensive player can also be rattled by the fact that you can figure out his game and may choose to pick up a few of his early discards, whether you need them or not. This disrupts his entire method of playing and puts him into a position of trying to defend against those various cards, until he finally loses all hopes of winning.

It is much more often that a defensive player will alert his or her opponent to their style of play early on, making it more difficult to win consistently. Defensive players also tend to discard relatively safe cards much to the chagrin of even an average player, but it can be used against them. If a player follows this defensive pattern, it is quite easy to figure out which safe cards he will eventually throw and the opponent should try to keep unmatched cards in his hand that will be helped out by the safe card that was discarded.

As you can see, there are advantages and disadvantages so the rule of thumb is to be defensive when needed, but not all of the time. When you are a strict defensive player it is much easier for your opponent to catch on and use this against you.

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Other Patterns of Play

In addition to the aggressive player and the defensive player, there are other types of players, more often known as the average players. These are the players that over time are extremely easy to beat because they rarely mix up their game. Again, mixing up your game is one of the most important parts of being an expert player.

An average pattern of play consists of following a definite plan of action when playing gin rummy. They continue to follow that pattern, regardless of how their opponents play. The average player is the one who can be counted on to throw their highest unmatched card early in the game. They invariably try to bring their count down to as low as possible, as quickly as possible, by throwing their highest cards first. They then usually follow that by throwing their next highest card, often in sequence to the first.

For example, the average player might start by throwing his King, and then following it up on the next discard with a Queen. However, if the next card they threw was a nine then it would not be out of line to still consider them the average player. It would mean in most cases that they didn’t have any other face cards, which would immediately give you a clue that they had all low cards, or have already melded the higher cards. If an average player, also known as a high-to-low player followed the king with a 3, the discard was probably made for some exceptional reason, and one that you should be aware of. In the early stage of the game, it has probably been thrown as a “salesman” card, in order for you to throw back to him a card that he needs. As you can see, it is extremely easy to pick out an average player very quickly. They are almost computerized in the way that they play, and are easy to win against.

Another pattern of players is called the “stiff pickers”. These are players who speculate frequently by picking up their opponents’ discards whether or not they improve their hand during the play. For example, a stiff picker is holding a J ♦ and a 10 ♣. You discard either the 10 ♦ or the J ♣. Either card will give the stiff picker a combination where any one of four cards would result in a meld. Against this type of player, you should occasionally discard a card that is completely tied up in your hand with the hope that your opponent will pick it for a combination. Then it immediately becomes locked in a combination that he can never fill, but for the stiff picker he will never know this, and hence you have a very distinct advantage in that hand. Having this happen 2 or 3 times in a game will most likely discourage your opponent from being a stiff picker, but up until then you have probably won enough hands to be an odds on favorite to win the game.

Your opponent’s discards and the sequence in which these discards are made will be a considerable indication to you the type of pattern they follow. This in itself is just as important as what cards you get.

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Rhythm of Play

The average gin player has a very specific rhythm when playing his hand, although they may not notice that they have one. If it is not obvious to them, then it is best for you to take advantage of it, and quickly. The rhythm consists of two major factors:

1. The time involved in picking his cards from the deck and in making discards – A player will generally allow a certain amount of time to elapse between his first seven or eight picks, as well as the discards. During the next seven or eight plays the time span is a bit longer. This decision time usually becomes longer as a player gets closer to the bottom of the deck or the end of the game. These time changes are a clue to an expert opponent. He can then determine whether or not a certain pick has been extremely beneficial to the player, or whether it has created potential problems for the player. This is the type of information a gin player should avoid giving, but loves to get. The expert player can then deduct by using card memory how it has helped or hindered an opponent, and therefore the opponent can often guess what cards the player has, just from how long he takes to discard.

2. The sequence in which an average player makes a discard – Some players will automatically throw their highest unrelated cards first, then follow with the second highest, and proceed on down the line. Some players will throw their lowest unrelated cards first, and then throw progressively higher cards. Some players will throw only matched cards, such as pairs, etc. Patterns like these give very specific information to the player’s opponent. A player who discards from the top down such as K, Q, and then a 10 shows his opponent that he is either accumulating jacks, or has no jack at all. As the game develops an astute player can easily figure this out by watching what cards they eventually pick up. It is more the point that the player then has very specific information on the player, and will know how to handle the situation.

Any pattern or rhythm that has developed in a game can be recognized by an expert player, and it can become a significant detriment to his play, as it only serves to provide more information. The difference between an expert and an average player is the fact that an expert recognizes that by playing a very particular pattern will eventually cause him to lose consistently. That is why an expert always mixes up his patterns and never plays the same during any given game, or against any particular player. It will only take the first 3 or 4 hands to figure out a pattern which will give the other play a very large advantage.

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The Temperament of Gin Rummy Players

Temperament in gin rummy is a very important aspect of the game. Many players do not have the temperament to handle the competition of a “big” game. They may become nervous and never take full advantage of the possibilities available to them. They may tighten up their play and can’t seem to play to their full capabilities. The expert player is one that is considered to have ice water in his veins, meaning he never gets put off his game by nervousness or fear.

In money games it is very important to not get into a game that you cannot afford. This alone causes you to tighten up and play in fear of losing, rather than playing your game. A social player is one that usually plays for 1 cent a point. These are the people that don’t concentrate too heavily on the score, and plays free and easy, and usually wins. When that same person decides to take on a 20 cent per point game, he may turn into a completely different player. Since they are no longer relaxed because of the cost of the game, they play almost rigidly and simply focusing on the game at hand becomes harder for them because they are too afraid to lose.

As a basic rule, an average player tends to become more defensive in his play when the stakes increase. If they are playing in stakes that are “normal” to them, they may be aggressive and offensive, but when it is considered to be a big money game the style in which they usually play in reverses, and becomes a defensive play that is much easier to read. The average player tends not to think as clearly and therefore ruins his game, almost before it starts.

An expert player is one that has exactly the right kind of temperament. They have both patience and courage. Courage and “guts” are extremely important, especially in a higher stakes game. Whereas they may see someone who is in over their head and therefore becomes more defensive, they can in turn take the opportunity to look at the percentages in winning rather than just getting under count. They may also stay over count purposely in order to take advantage of the odds. They can withhold cards deliberately so it can hurt an opponent just in time for them to pick a card to go gin.

When playing this game in a competitive environment it is most beneficial to have a completely free mind and good physical stamina. You must be able to overlook the money that you are playing for, or even the level in which your competitors are playing. If they are expert players and you are what is considered to be an average player, you can’t let it affect your game. You can’t get tired and therefore unclear about your play, or the play of your opponent. Primary focus on the game is of the utmost importance, and a player with a great temperament for playing gin will understand this and harness it.