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Mathematics and Skillful Play

As we’ve stated before, the mathematics of gin are based primarily on the law of probability. Considering that you will play thousands and thousands of hands you are going to notice it more and more. For example, in one particular hand if you are dealt a preponderance of black cards, it is only going to stand to reason that your opponent will be dealt a preponderance of red cards. The same thing can be said if you have a high percentage of even cards, then chances are your opponent has a high percentage of odd cards. You can also assume that when you have a large amount of high cards, your opponent will probably have a large amount of low cards. If you can understand this simple fact then you are already well on your way to grasping the laws of probability in gin rummy.

Most experts that have played this game for a long period of time have a guideline for this called “Rule of Fourteen”. It means that they consider all cards to have a face value. Ace through 10 are represented by their particular number. Jack is valued at an 11, Queen is a 12, and the King is valued at 13. The average in the middle is of course a seven so the law of probabilities states that all things will average to their mean value. For example, if the mean value of all the cards in your hand should be 7, the “Rule of Fourteen” says that if you have 2 kings you will probably pick up 2 aces, and if you have 2 eights, then you will probably wind up with 2 sixes. Both of these cards add up to 14 so you can see how they are figuring it will work. Most experts assume the same about their opponent’s hand. If your opponent throws a nine, then he will eventually throw a 5, or if your opponent discards a queen then he will eventually throw a deuce. If you notice from his play that he is accumulating 10’s then it is safe to assume by the law of probability that he will also be accumulating fours. The “Rule of Fourteen” is used as a guide when you have to make a choice of discarding between two cards that you have in your hand that may benefit the other player.

When the cards are first dealt out, and you have 10 cards that means that there are 42 cards left that are closed to you. These consist of the cards held by your opponent as well as the cards remaining in the deck. Obviously the odds at this point on any one of these cards being the top card and the card that you are looking for are now considered to be 41 to 1. If your hand is the type that requires either of two cards, those odds are cut in half. If your hand is such that any one of four cards could give you what you want, the odds of picking any one of these four cards are only 10 to 1 and so on. The odds that you will pick the card you want will automatically change after each play since there are fewer cards that are still unknown to you.

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Are The Odds In Your Favor?

Since the laws of probability have already been discussed it is only fair to discuss the odds that have so much to do with the probability. Reviewing the basics of the odds, you need to remember that once you have picked up 10 cards you then have 42 cards that are unknown to you. That makes your odds 42 to 1 that you will pick up the card that you want. Each time a card is picked up and discarded, it lowers your odds significantly that you will get the card that you want. Now that you are familiar with the basics, let us move on to more advanced odds and how it works to have the odds in your favor.

Since the odds increase in your favor every time you pick a card from the unused stock, as well as when your opponent discards, it only goes to show that the odds for your opponent also increase. After you pick 5 cards for example, the odds then decrease from 42 to 1 down to 37 to 1. That means that there are 37 cards left unknown to you. AS more and more cards are exposed the odds again change, but they change more than just mathematically.

For example, if you have K ♦, Q ♦ then the only card in the deck that can fill that run is the J ♦. Until such time as you have seen any jacks played or you have seen the 9 ♦ and 10 ♦ played, the chances of your picking the jack are 1 against the balance of those cards remaining in the deck. However, if you have already learned through play that your opponent is saving jacks, could be saving jacks, or could be holding the 9 ♦ or 10 ♦, then obviously the odds are changing very dramatically that you will not be getting a J ♦. That is not exactly because of the mathematical percentages.

While the basic odds of any given play remain constant, the mathematical percentages that work for or against you are based not only on the odds of any given play, but on the advantages or disadvantages that increase to you. For example, if your opponent is on a triple schneid, and you are playing for a card that might let you go gin and will enable you to win a triple schneid, then taking a 10 to 1 shot, or even a 15 to 1 shot might seem worthwhile to you. On the other hand, if the situation were reversed, you would not conceive of taking such a long shot because the advantages of playing the hand in that manner are not worth what you might lose by taking this wild chance.

The expert play differs greatly from the average player because the expert is much more advanced in going beyond the ordinary percentages involved in any given play. That is, the expert measures these percentages or odds against the advantages and disadvantages to him on every play.

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Card Memory

Having what is known as “card memory” is extremely important in the game of gin rummy because as the play progresses you are going to be in dire straights if you don’t remember a certain card has already been played if you are waiting on that card. A few fortunate card players are lucky enough to have a photographic mind as well as a retentive memory, but most players have to really work at developing card memory. There is not exactly a system for remembering the cards, but it is simply a matter of training by constant practice.

At the start of a hand, you should try to visualize the 52 cards in the deck, and then deduct the 10 cards that you are holding. As you or your opponent discard cards in turn, you should eliminate these cards from the pictured deck in your mind. After the initial deal, and by the time 1/3 of the stock has been used in play, you should have a fairly accurate picture of the type of cards remaining in the deck. You should also know the type of cards which your opponent can and cannot use.

It is important to remember specifically the cards that you discarded. He will normally pick 1 to 3 of these cards, and they should not be difficult to remember as you had them first. You should keep reviewing the cards he picked up while noting at the same time which cards he is discarding. This will allow you to calculate correctly which cards your opponent is holding. In time this will come easier to you, but for now you need to practice at not only remembering this, but you need to develop a system for general recollection of early discards even if they hold no meaning to you at the time. Near the end of the game, you may need to reorganize your hand based on the earlier discards and if you don’t remember them then you won’t be in a good position to win the game.

Many players have a habit of helping their memory during the play of a hand by repeating the cards to themselves that their opponent is holding. This doesn’t necessarily always work though, because if a player is tired or has seen many hands up to this point, it may confuse them on the next hand. For example if you are repeating a certain run that you are sure your opponent is holding, the following game your mind may keep repeating the certain run, giving you a disadvantage because you think he has different cards then he really does. Then when you pick up the cards or if you see the cards, it may confuse you even more. In other words, one of the most important parts of a card memory is the ability to forget a hand once it is completed.

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Playing Partnership Gin

Gin Rummy may be played by two or more people, but never more than eight. If you have more than 8 people it is suggested that you open up another table for playing, as it may get too confusing to have so many people in one game.

When two people play the game of Gin it is referred to as single or head-to-head play. When three people play it is referred to as captain’s play. When four or more people play it is called a partnership game.

In partnership games, the playing of the individual hands is the same as in head-to-head. The only difference is in the play itself. When singles play, the hand ends when one of the players knocks, goes gin, or when the play goes to the wall. If you are playing partners you play your individual hand against the opponent and your partner plays a hand against his opponent. If you finish first then you wait for your partner, and the same if he finishes first, he waits for you. If you both win your hand, then the sum total of both your hands are added to your points. If one of you wins and the other one loses, the winning difference is credited to you or your opponents depending on whoever has more points.

For example – If you win your hand and are due to be credited 30 points from your win, but your partner losses with 29 points then you have still won the hand with 1 point. The same can be said if you lose 30 points and your partner wins with 31 or more points, then you have also won your hand. If at any time you lose more than your partner has won or your partner loses more than you have won, then you lose the hand. Whereas in singles you are solely responsible for your hand, in a partnership game your team can win the hand even if you individually lose yours.

If by chance one of your hands goes to the wall, only the other hand is counted. If you call Gin and are due to get a bonus, and your partner wins without a bonus then you are the only one to get credit for it.

A game with 4 people playing partners ends at 300 points, but if you have a 6-handed game then it ends at 350 or more points. Partners sit next to one another and keep the same opponents throughout the game, except that the players on the side that loses a hand may change seats if they feel like they want to. A player may advise his partner of his rights during the game, but they may not discuss specific cards or hands. They can only speak of the hand after the opponent has knocked and then it should only be to discuss:

• The wrong count
• An illegal knock
• The best way to match his cards for melding purposes and count reduction
• The best way to lay off the cards

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The Tied Hand

A tied hand is not that common in gin rummy, but when it does happen you need to know how and why you proceed the way you do. On occasion, the play of the hand proceeds to the point where one of the players draws the 50th card of the deck from the stock. If this happens it of course only leaves two unused cards in the deck or stock. The player who draws the 50th card may knock or go gin at that point. If the player does not go gin or knock then the player must discard and his opponent has the right to pick up the discard and use it.

That player may use the card to create a meld, or to add to an existing meld so that he further reduces his hand value. However, he cannot take the card and simultaneously discard it in order to knock the hand the he was previously able to knock. In other words, if he already has a hand he can knock he can’t pick up the discard and place it right back down to knock or go gin. He must discard a different card completely.

If neither player knocks or gins then the deal is over. The hand has been played “to the wall” as it is called in a tied hand. It is essentially considered a draw and neither player is awarded any points. The same dealer that dealt that hand will re-deal and you will start the play over with the same knock card.

If you are wondering why you only draw to 50 cards instead of 52 you are not alone. The reason for this goes way back to almost the conception of the game. Some players when dealing carelessly will allow their opponent a glimpse of the bottom card in the deck. This lets the opponent know what the card is and that it will remain out of play for most, if not all of the game. This gives the opponent a very large advantage, especially if it is a card that he needs to make a meld. It may only be one card, but that card can make a huge difference in how the hand is played by the person who saw the bottom card.

If the play went down to the last card the person who knew the card could essentially control the play of the hand to bring it down to the last card. That means they could control the picks from the deck so that he would be sure to obtain the bottom card. Obviously this is cheating, but many people have done it, and if given the opportunity, many more would. This advantage would be so great that it would more or less overcome any other opportunities that the opponent might have. With the last two cards being completely left out of play then there is no advantage to either player and it just makes the play that much more interesting.

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The Rules of the Knock

When a player knocks in the game of Gin Rummy it means that he has reduced his hand to the maximum points allowed by what the value of the knock card is. This means for example if the knock card was a seven, then the person who is knocking has seven or less points left in their hand. Remember if the knock card is an Ace then it must be played to Gin.

A player can knock in any turn of play, but it must be after drawing and before discarding his final card. If he forgets to knock before he discards then he cannot do so until the next play of his hand which happens after his opponent has his chance to play. When the player knocks, he must clearly state his intention. He can do this in four different ways. They include:

• Saying the word “Knock”
• Announcing the total numerical value of his unmatched hands, also known as the count
• Exposing his entire hand arranged into matched sets and unmatched cards
• Discarding face down next to his hand, never on the discard pile. If the player places the card he is discarding on the discard pile then it is considered to be cheating and the hand will have to be forfeited.

After knocking the count is figured by placing value on the unmatched cards. The melded cards are counted as zero and placed into piles separate from the unmatched cards. The unmatched cards are then given points based on the value of the card. For example, if you have a 2 and a 3 that are unmatched, then your count is 5. If you have a 2, 2, and a 3 then your count is 7, and so on. A ten, jack, queen, or king is valued at 10. An ace is valued at one.

After the player has announced his count, the opponent must then expose their hand to all the players in the game. The opponent is permitted to reduce his hand by placing any melds that he has on the table separate from each other. He can then take any unmatched cards from his hand that meld with the player’s hand that knocked and reduce those to zero, also called laying off his cards. For example if the player that knocked had a meld of ace, two, and three of hearts and the player that did not knock had the four and five of hearts, he is permitted to lay off those two cards to the knockers cards. This will essentially reduce his count, and may possibly reduce it enough to underknock his opponent which will be explained later. The player that knocked is not allowed to lay off any of his unmatched cards to his opponents, and if your opponent called gin you are not allowed to lay off any cards even if you have cards that can be laid off.

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The Underknock

The underknock is the most commonly overlooked part of Gin Rummy, but it is as important as the knock itself. When your opponent knocks, the card value is counted. Once your opponent puts a value on his unmatched cards you can then show your hand to everyone in the game and start assessing value to your unmatched cards. If after you meld your cards and lay off any additional unmatched cards to give you a total that is less than what your opponent knocked at, then you have what is considered to be an underknock. You then win the hand instead of the person who actually knocked.

This can be a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite easy to calculate. Let’s say for example that your opponent knocked with 5 points. That means his unmatched cards add up to 5 points. You then turn over a hand consisting of 2 melds of three cards each and 4 unmatched cards. You look at the knockers melds and notice that 3 of your unmatched cards can be laid off to his melds. That simply means that your cards are either continuing a run of the same suit that your opponent melded, or if they have 3 of the same card and you have the other one you can lay that off as well. After laying off your unmatched cards you may have a card that is worth fewer points than his 5 points. If you only have a 3 left, then you have successfully underknocked your opponent and you win the hand. If you find that you and the person who knocked have tied in unmatched card counts then you still win the hand.

If you are able to lay off all of your unmatched cards on an opponent’s knock hand, it establishes what is called a gin off. Basically you have gin because you were able to reduce your hand to zero. This generally happens when you have 9 cards consisting of 3 melds and 1 unmatched card, but if you are lucky then it can happen with as many unmatched cards as you have. Usually though, you may have a feeling that your opponent needed the one card you had left so you choose not to knock in order to surprise your opponent with the gin off. This unmatched card is then laid off for the equivalent of gin. Both the underknock and the gin off are extremely important when it comes to points, because you get extra points for an underknock.

Underknocking is considered the skill part of the game. Many people when playing Gin Rummy will purposely leave one unmatched card until they can either call gin or underknock their opponents because of the surprise element to the game. This is an especially popular part of the game when the knock card is valued at 7 or above because it gives you more of a chance of underknocking your opponent.

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Playing the Game

The play of Gin Rummy consists of two parts; the draw and the discard. The draw is made by either taking the up card or the top card on the discard pile and placing it among the cards in one’s hand, or by taking the top card of the stock and raising any part of it from the table.

The non-dealer who was dealt 11 cards rather than 10 begins the play of the hand by discarding one card face up. This is then known as the discard or “waste” pile. If he chooses, before making his first discard he can declare Gin or knock if he is in a position to do so. If the player does not knock or declare Gin, the dealer then has the choice of either picking up the card that was discarded or selecting the top card of the stock which are the cards that are face down.

If at any time during the play the player picks up his opponent’s discard, they may not discard that card on the same play. He can discard it on a subsequent hand of play. The player can pick up the opponents discard to make his hand better, either through a meld, or a combination, to knock, or just to reduce his hand. The only card that is available to be picked up is the top card. The other cards in the discard pile are considered to be dead and neither player may look at or pick up any cards other than the top card that is showing.

After the player has picked the top card from the stock or the top card from the discard pile, he then either knocks, declares Gin, or discards himself. The turn of play is now completed. Each person waits for the completion of their opponents play before they can make their next play. It goes back and forth until one person finally knocks or declares Gin. If the person is knocking then he must declare he is knocking and then discard their final card. It automatically ends that particular hand play.

It is good to note that at any point in play, either player can remove the unused stock from the table and spread the stock and count the cards that are left. This can be done as often as the player desires, but it is not usually done until the stock cards are almost depleted. This means that there are usually 12 or less cards. This is when the number of picks becomes an important factor in the actual play of the hand.

If you are not using a knock deck, then the non-dealer has the first option of selecting the turned up card that is also being used as the knock card. He can then discard another in its place, but the knock amount will not change even if the card is not there. It is at this point that you should write down the knock amount to make sure there is no dispute as to what it was, in case it is picked up.

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Establishing What the Knock Amount Is

One of the ways you win at Gin Rummy is to knock before your opponent does. The question then becomes, how do you know the amount of points you have to be reduced to before you knock?

Besides the regular standard 52 card deck, you also use what is known as the knock deck. The knock deck is also another standard 52 set of playing cards that should be a different color or style from the regular deck that you use to actually play the game.

The knock deck is well shuffled before each new game, not each individual hand. It is placed face down into either the middle of the table next to the standard deck that you are using to play the game, or into the card case that you use for both of the decks. The top card of the deck is turned face up and placed against the second card so that it remains exposed for the entire game. This is the knock card for the first hand.

It represents the minimum knock for that particular hand. For example, if you turn over a 6 then the minimum amount of points you can have before you knock is 6. If you turn over a J, Q, or K the knock amount is 10. If you happen to turn up an Ace then you are not allowed to knock at all, the hand must be played completely for Gin. Whether it is a 2, 4, or 6 player game each of these teams are bound by this card and cannot legally knock without having less than that number of points.

At the end of the hand, the present knock card that is facing up is removed and placed at the bottom of the deck face to face with the bottom card. The second card in the deck is now turned face up and placed back to back with the next card. This is the knock card for the second hand. At the conclusion of the next hand, that card is then removed and placed directly behind the previous knock card facing up into the deck. This process continues throughout the whole game, with each hand getting a new knock card and subsequently a new amount of points everyone can knock with.

The positioning of the used knock cards allows any player to verify the last knock card as well as how many knock cards have already been used. This is mostly done in the case of a dispute, but you can check the knock cards that have been used at any point in the game. If by any chance the previous knock card was not changed for a new hand, that card will remain the knock for the new hand if anyone has discarded already without making that discovery. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it is best just to continue on instead of potentially changing the outcome of the hand. At the end of the game, not the individual hand, the knock deck is reshuffled and used for the next game.

If a knock deck is not available the knock is established in a different way. Each player is dealt 10 cards face down as normal, but instead of the dealer giving the 21st card face down to his opponent, he turns the card face up. This open card establishes the knock but its face or pip value.

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The Art of the Deal

The deal is an essential part of the Gin Rummy game. It is something that people commonly do wrong, but yet it is one of the most simple parts of the game.

First you start by shuffling. This should be obvious, but you need to shuffle the cards well. Card shufflers can be found at any game or discount store for a relatively low cost, and they come in handy especially if you are playing a large game with 6 or 8 people. It makes it easy if you have one or two decks shuffling while you are playing the game. It not only makes it quicker but then there are no disputes as to how the cards were shuffled. If you have only two people and you are shuffling by hand then each person must shuffle the deck before dealing. The dealer shuffles first, and then gives the deck to the non-dealer who shuffles last.

Second, after the shuffling is complete, you spread all the cards out face down on the table. Each player draws a card from within the center 40 cards. This means that you should not draw from the 6 cards on the left, or the 6 cards from the right. The person who picks the lowest card automatically deals the first hand. If you have two people that pick the same ranked card and they are the lowest then those two people redraw until someone has a lower cards.

Third, you shuffle again. The non-dealer cuts the deck and returns the pack to the dealer so that he or she can deal the hand. Again, the person with the lowest card deals first, but after the first hand the loser of each individual hand deals the following hand. You do not go “around the table” as in other card games, which is especially important to remember when you are playing a partnership game.

Finally, the dealer then deals the cards. It is done one at a time, putting the cards face down when dealing to his opponent first, and then to himself. He alternates dealing the cards until each player has 10 cards each. The next card, which is the 21st card, is dealt face down to the non –dealer so that non-dealer has 11 cards and the dealer has 10. The remaining cards in the pack are placed face down in either the middle of the table or in one section of a 2-sectional box to form what is called the stock.

Then, you can let the game begin!