Lessons of Eversol Rummy
by Ari Armstrong, June 7, 2007
My family's card game is known as "Michigan Rummy" within the family, but it doesn't have much in common with other games that go by that name. It's closer to Contract Rummy or Progressive Rummy, with a set number of hands, though the family game is somewhat different. If there's an established, "official" game that's like what my family plays, I haven't heard about it.
I'll continue to call it "Michigan Rummy" with the family, but for outsiders it might more aptly be called "Eversol Rummy," after the last name of my maternal grandparents. My grandmother, Ila, says the game goes "way, way back... I remember playing with my mother and my dad."
Ila talked to her brother, Burl Garver, at my request. She reported: "This is what Burl said. When he was in junior high, he was about 15, why, he had a friend named Edgar Adamson, at Clifton [Colorado]. Burl would go over there, and his [Edgar's] family played the game, and that's where Burl learned it. And he taught his family. But I would have been married by then, because I was 21, and I don't remember playing it before I was married. They just told him how to play, and he never saw any rules. He said it could be called 'Progressive Rummy,' too, but he didn't know. He said you might look in the Hoyle book of card games... We all started playing it then, our whole family." That group included the name Mansur, which was Ila's mother's maiden name. Nevertheless, while I have played the game with Mansurs and Garvers, I have played it most often with Eversols and their offspring (Ila and her husband Theo had three daughters who adopted different names, but their extended family remains tight-knit). And so I'll call it "Eversol Rummy" here, even though the Eversols picked it up elsewhere.
I have two main purposes here. First is to describe the game in case others want to play it. (Some newer family members have also complained that the rules can seem capricious. Even though that's not the case -- the rules are generally well defined -- setting the rules in writing should alleviate such concerns.) Second is to discuss the significance of the game to me personally. While I don't want to claim that "everything I needed to know I learned" playing Eversol Rummy, I did learn a few important things.
So what is a rummy card game? David Parlett explains:
Rummy itself not so much a specific game as a large family of games based on a particular way of playing with cards. It's a method generally known as 'draw and discard', because at each turn you draw one or more cards from a stockpile and throw out an unwanted card in exchange. Your aim in doing this is to form your hand into sets of matching cards, or melds. A meld is either:
Rules of Eversol Rummy
These are the rules of the game, as taught to me by my grandma. While it might seem at first glance that the rules are complicated, I'm spelling them out in some detail. My experience is that it usually takes a hand or two to catch on to the game. Those who wish to see an example of a hand first should refer to the appendix.
Any number of people can play, though the upper practical limit is around a dozen. I've played with a group of around 20, though the game slows down considerably with that many people. A group with four to eight people is ideal. While two people can play, the dynamics are somewhat different, because one of the important aspects of the game, "buying" cards, rarely comes into play.
The game uses one or more standard decks of cards, including two jokers per deck. A single deck is adequate for two and perhaps three people. With a fourth person, a second deck is needed. With six or more people, add a third deck.
Eversol Rummy is a progressive game with six hands. In the first hand, six cards are dealt to each player. In the second hand, seven cards are dealt, and so on, to the final hand of eleven cards.
The goal is to "meld" or play your cards in "books" and "runs" and get rid of all of your cards. The person to get rid of all of his or her cards in a hand wins that hand and earns a score of zero for the hand. All other players must add the points of the remaining cards in their hand and take the score. The winner is the player with the lowest score at the end of the six hands.
Books and Runs
A "book" is a group of three or more cards of the same number or face. For example, a Three of Hearts, Three of Spades, and Three of Diamonds constitute a "book." When more than one deck is used, a book may contain two of the same card; e.g., two (or more) of the Three of Hearts. If you have six or more cards of the same number or face, you may play them as one large book or as two smaller books (if the hand allows it).
A "run" is a group of four or more cards in a sequence and in the same suit. For example, a Seven of Diamonds, Eight of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds, and Ten of Diamonds constitute a run. Unlike some other rummy games, Eversol Rummy does NOT allow a run of only three cards. Aces may be high or low, but not both at the same time. For example, you may NOT play the following cards as a run: King of Diamonds, Ace of Diamonds, Two of Diamonds, and Three of Diamonds. If you have a sequence of eight or more cards (in the same suit), you can play them as one large run or as two smaller runs (if the hand allows it).
Jokers are wild; they may substitute for any other card in a book or a run.
Progression of Hands
Only a certain combination of books and/or runs may be played in each hand, according to the following schedule:
First Hand: six cards, two books (two books of three cards equal six cards, though it's possible to obtain and play more than six cards during the hand, as will be explained below)
You may not play more books or runs than the hand allows. You must lay down your entire hand at once, during a single turn. For example, during the second hand, you cannot lay down a book alone during one turn and then a run during a later turn.
Order of Play
The first dealer is assigned randomly. The dealer deals to the left, dealing one card at a time to each player in a circle, until each player has the correct number of cards. Then the dealer places the rest of the deck in the middle of the table and turns over the top card.
The player to the dealer's left makes the first play. The player may select either the card that has been turned over or the face-down card now on top of the deck. The point is to collect cards to fill books and/or runs, depending on the hand.
"Buying" cards is an important feature of Eversol Rummy. Here's how it works. Let's say our game involves three players. Abe is the dealer, Ben is to Abe's left, and Carl is between Ben and Abe. Thus, the sequence of play is Ben-Carl-Abe and then back to Ben. Let's say that, after Abe deals the cards, he turns over an Ace of Hearts. Ben can choose to take this Ace of Hearts or pick up the face-down card on top of the deck. Ben has the first option on the Ace of Hearts. However, if Ben doesn't want the Ace of Hearts, Carl has the second option on it, and Abe has the final option. If Carl wishes to "buy" the Ace of Hearts, he may do so by taking the Ace of Hearts along with an extra face-down card from the top of the deck. The extra card is a penalty. If Carl does not wish to buy the Ace of Hearts, Abe may do so.
To generalize, the just-discarded, face-up card on top of the discard pile may be picked up by the player whose turn it is, but, if that player doesn't want the card, it may be purchased by any other player, with preference given in order of play. If it's your turn, you may take the previous discard without penalty. If it's not your turn, you may "buy" that card, provided that no one else ahead of you wants it, by taking the penalty of an extra card.
The way my family plays, a player may buy a card even after somebody has taken the face-down card from the top of the deck, so long as the buy comes before the discard. To return to our previous example, let's say that Ben doesn't want the Ace of Hearts, so he draws the face-down card from the top of the deck. But then Carl wakes up and realizes he wants the Ace of Hearts; he can still buy it, so long as Ben has not yet discarded. However, the same player may NOT draw the face-down card from the top of the deck and then also buy the face-up card.
There are two additional important details about buying cards. First, you can only buy the top card of the discard pile. Once that card is covered by another discard, it is "dead," meaning that it is out of play for the rest of the game. (There is only one exception that can put a dead card back into play. If the pile of face-down cards runs out during a hand, the discard pile may be turned over and put back into play.)
Second, you may buy your own discard, but of course only if no other player wishes to take it ahead of you. You may wish to buy your own discard if you want extra cards, don't want to get rid of anything in your hand, or otherwise have only rummy cards to discard. (A "rummy card" will be explained below.)
Play proceeds with players picking up one card and discarding one card during their turn, and, if they wish, buying cards out of turn.
Once you fill your hand, you may "go down" on your turn. You must draw a card to begin your turn. Then, provided you have the right set of cards, you may put them face-up in front of you. Once you go down, the cards you have laid down no longer count against you. After you go down, you may play extra cards on other people's played cards (as explained below) and discard, if you have any cards left (except that you may not discard when you go down during the final hand, as will be explained below). If you have not bought any cards, you will be out of cards once you go down and discard (if allowed). However, you do not need to discard once you go down if you have played all of your cards in your books and/or runs. Once any player gets rid of all of his or her cards, the hand is over.
Playing Extra Cards
If you have bought any cards, you may not be able to get rid of all your cards when you go down. In this case, the hand continues. It's possible for every player to go down before somebody runs out of cards.
How do you get rid of extra cards after you go down? Remember, you may NOT lay down any additional (self-standing) books or runs. Instead, you must play cards on books and runs already on the table.
After you go down, you may play cards only during your own turn on any book or run on the table, whether yours or somebody else's. You may only play cards that expand existing books and runs. You may not break up existing books or runs, but only add to them. For example, you may play a Six on a book of Sixes. If there is a run down of the Seven of Diamonds, Eight of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds, and Ten of Diamonds, you may play a Six of Diamonds or a Jack of Diamonds. Place the card with the appropriate book or run, even if it was played by another player. (Remember that played cards don't contribute to your score; they only remove points from cards you're holding.)
Buying a Played Joker
Another important feature of Eversol Rummy is the buying of a Joker from a played book or run. Here's how it works. Returning to our game of three players, let's say that Abe has gone down on the first hand with a book of Sixes and a book of Eights. To fill his book of Sixes, Abe has used a Joker in place of a Six. Now let's say that Ben holds in his hand a book of Threes, two Queens, and a Six. When it's Ben's turn, Ben can draw a card, swap his Six for the Joker in Abe's book, and use this Joker to fill his book of Queens to lay down. You can buy a Joker from a played book or run only when it's your turn and only when you can go down during that turn.
While buying a Joker that has been played can help a player go down, a player can buy a Joker and go down on the same turn even when the Joker isn't needed to go down. However, you may buy a played Joker only during the turn in which you go down; you can't buy it later just to get rid of an extra card.
(Of course, if somebody discards a Joker, it may be picked up by the next player or bought by another player. Buying a Joker from the discard pile is different from buying a Joker that has been played as part of a book or run. Of course, you usually won't be able to buy a Joker from the discard pile; I think it's happened only once or twice in all the games I've ever played.)
A point of etiquette (that you may treat as a rule if you wish): players who have gone down should not discard a "Joker buyer" when more than one player has not yet gone down.
Once one or more players have gone down, any card that is discarded that would have played on somebody's book or run is a "rummy card." Once a rummy card is discarded, the first player to cry "rummy" must discard a card from his or her hand. Both the rummy card and the discard from the player who called "rummy" are dead cards, so they may not be picked up by any other player. You may not call "rummy" on your own discard. Discarded Jokers are automatically rummy cards if anyone has gone down. (Those interested in more esoteric elements of the game may read the optional rules for rummy cards below.)
Play continues in any given hand until one player gets rid of all of his or her cards during a turn. Then the rest of the players add up the value of the cards they continue to hold. Twos through Nines count as five points each. Tens through Kings count as ten points each. Aces count as fifteen points each. Jokers count as fifty points each. The scorekeeper records the point totals for each player and adds the points from hand to hand. Following the last hand, the player with the lowest point total wins.
The Final Hand's "No Discard" Rule
The final hand offers one additional wrinkle. During the first five hands, once players go down they may discard to end their turn. The final hand is "no discard," meaning that, when a player goes down, he or she must play every card as part of two runs and a book. (Drawing and discarding continues as usual until a player is ready to go down.) This means that, in order to go down, a player must draw the last card to "fit in" to a book or run in his or her hand. As a point of strategy, buying extra cards often prevents a player from incorporating every card into the required hand.
While the rules may seem a bit complicated at first, there are really only a handful of rules that are played out in minor variations across the progressive hands.
Rummy Card Variations
Rummy cards aren't thrown very often, and when they are, how they're handled usually doesn't impact the game. However, those who take the game more seriously will want to consider the various possibilities. There are three possible rule variations with respect to rummy cards.
First, while I think the rummy card should be left in the discard pile as a dead card, I've played with others who have placed the rummy card with the matching book or run. What happens to the rummy card can matter, because it might impact the ability of other players to get rid of certain cards in their hands. One reason that I don't think the rummy card should be removed from the discard pile and played is that, in some cases, a rummy card might play in two or more positions. In my view, the superior rule is to leave the rummy card in the discard pile and declare it dead.
The second rule variation with respect to rummy cards has to do with whether a call of "rummy" supersedes a request to buy the card. I think a call of "rummy" should count even after another player has asked to buy the card. (This is how our family has generally played.) Of course, if nobody notices that the discard is a rummy card, or nobody chooses to call "rummy," a player may buy the rummy card. But if somebody calls "rummy" before the card has been taken off of the table for a buy, I think the call of "rummy" should render the rummy card dead. I offer two main reasons for this. First, going down later than others should carry a penalty, and putting rummy cards out of reach provides such a penalty. Second, there's no penalty for asking to buy a card and then changing one's mind, so a player could simply call "buy" with each discard in order to control possible rummy cards.
The third rule variation is my own invention. It's not required, then, but it does solve certain problems. In some cases, a player can benefit from intentionally throwing a rummy card. Perhaps the player wants to get rid of a high-counting card, or perhaps the player wants to give another player a chance to go out and catch other players with points. But throwing an intentional rummy card seems contrary to the purpose of the rummy. So my rule suggestion is to add the value of the rummy card, plus the value of the discard from the player who calls "rummy," to the score of the player who discards the rummy card. Both dead cards may be placed near the player who throws the rummy card. This accomplishes several things. It penalizes the person who throws the rummy card. Without the point penalty, throwing a rummy card can hurt other players far more and even help the person throwing the rummy card. This can create messy, unsatisfying play. The whole point of the rummy card is to benefit players who go down early and create difficulty for players who go down late. My rule is truer to this aspect of the game, even as it provides a greater incentive to avoid discarding rummy cards. My rule also mitigates any possible advantage of an intentional rummy. When faced with the possibility of picking up an Ace or even a Joker against one's score, an intentional rummy would be risky at best. Finally, my rule is superior to the alternative of declaring intentional rummies out-of-bounds, because whether one throws a rummy card by accident or by intent is a matter of motive and thus difficult to determine. (As a point of etiquette, I'm generally lenient with new players who throw rummy cards by allowing them to pick up the rummy card and discard something else. But this only works for a time or two.)
So, while players in a game can decide their own rules, going by "Ari's rules" means that the rummy card is dead, it may be declared dead by a call of "rummy" even after another player has requested to buy it, and both the rummy card and the discard of the player calling "rummy" count against the person who discards the rummy card.
Lessons of the Game
1. While showing me how to play the game, my grandma taught me the importance of fair play. People don't want to play with cheaters, she told me. This is an important element of honesty. The deeper point is that one must first be honest with one's self. While I subsequently made various mistakes with respect to honesty in other contexts, and while it took me a while to develop a fully integrated, grounded view of honesty, my grandma's early lessons were helpful. (Note: I've found Tara Smith's discussion of honesty in Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics to be most helpful in developing a comprehensive view and application of honesty.)
2. The progressive nature of the game encourages long-range planning. A player must proceed through the hands with a view toward the final score. Sometimes, I've found, it's better to "sacrifice" a hand in order to maintain a lower score count than to acquire a bunch of additional and/or high-count cards. Giving up something in order to get something better isn't a sacrifice at all -- it's just good planning.
3. As my brother-in-law recently reminded me, "It's not about winning; it's about being with family." The family lore on this point is telling. One player got so mad one time that the person left in a huff and never played the game again. Another player practically crawled up on the table to get a buy card, even though the order of buying is well-established. The broader point here is to maintain a sense of context. The point of playing cards is to enjoy a friendly, competitive game. If you become so obsessed with "winning" that you become irritable, then the game is no longer a fun, social experience. (I have generally, but not always, remembered this point.)
4. Patience, patience, patience... Especially with more players, the game can move a little slowly sometimes. Some players may be inexperienced; others, tired or distracted. Go with the flow, take a deep breath, and take delays in stride. After all, in real life, you'll regularly be faced with problems and delays. Things break. Unexpected problems arise. In order to play a fun, social game, you may have to live with a few minor problems. In this sense, the game is not so different from marriage.
5. On the other hand, the point is to win. That is, the game is fun only if you're trying to meet the objective of the game. Otherwise, you might as well just sit around and talk. How fun would the Olympics be if athletes didn't try their best? Games are fun because you have to think strategically, take calculated risks, and try to predict the behavior of other players. In this sense, games are practice for everyday life. Even kittens wrestle and chase strings to practice hunting and defense. As I've written with respect to hockey, a game "encapsulates what it means to have a goal and to strive for it... Hopefully... [even though some lose] all the players still enjoyed the game... and respected the talent of the winner... Sports [and all games], like art, can serve to inspire us and connect us to what's best in our lives." Sometimes players in my family (including my grandma) hassle me for collecting low-count cards in the final round when I'm more than 55 points ahead in the game. (If you collect only low-count cards in the last hand and don't buy anything, you'll have a score of 55, or five points times eleven cards.) But, to me, the point is to win the game. If I can best do that by collecting low-count cards and not laying down in select hands, so be it.
6. Think for yourself. As noted above, I disagree with my grandma about the proper strategy in the last hand (depending on the score count). But it doesn't bother me that she always tries to win the last hand, even if it costs her the game. I'd rather win the game; she'd rather play a more exciting final hand. I've also made some minor recommendations on the rules. Even on a play-by-play basis, the game teaches a player to gain a first-hand understanding of winning strategies. It's not enough to do what somebody else tells you. It's not enough to rely on tradition. You have to think for yourself, understand the rules and the strategies yourself, and apply them to new situations.
7. Sometimes you need to redefine your goals. Sometimes, due to bad luck or a bad decision, you can get enough points in a hand or two to put you out of the game. But it needn't be dispiriting to be far behind in score. You can focus on enjoying the company, playing your best strategies in the face of bad luck, and attempting to win the remaining hands. Winning the final, challenging hand is fun even if you lose the game. Playing a thoughtful strategy is fun even if you lose the hand.
8. The rules matter. For example, the fact that a Joker counts as 50 points has dramatic impact on proper strategy. Depending on other factors, if you have a Joker the best move might be to buy more cards or to discard the Joker. If you get the rules wrong in a game, the game isn't very fun. If you get the rules wrong in life, people can suffer in misery or die. Of course, while in a game the rules must be internally consistent, in life the rules must be grounded in the basic facts of human life.
9. Etiquette extends beyond the rules. The way our family plays, while it's legal to discard a joker buyer when more than one person has yet to go down, the practice is frowned upon. While it's legal to drag out a turn, other players often encourage a faster pace. As in life, the formal rules are crucially important, but equally important is knowing what not to turn into a formal rule.
10. Etiquette is not the same thing as sacrificial giving. Good strategy might mean holding a certain card in your hand rather than discarding it, in order to prevent the next player from picking up the card and going down with it. (You might know what card another player needs based on that player's previous card selections.) Just because the other player might get irritated by the practice doesn't mean you should change the strategy. At least as important as knowing when to adjust your behavior to accommodate the preferences of others is knowing when to ignore the pleadings of others. This is of crucial importance in other contexts. Many people fall into immoral, self-destructive practices just because they're trying to please others. Especially when it comes to matters of ethics, it's critically important to think for yourself, carefully evaluate your actions, and do what you know is best regardless of the preferences, pleas, and feelings of other people.
I'm sure the lessons of Eversol Rummy -- and games in general -- could be expanded at length. But the above strike me as some of the more important lessons that one can learn from simple games.
Eversol Rummy has been a central feature in the social life of our family. Whether there's a roaring fire to chase away the snowy bluster outside, or a tall glass of lemonade to quell the harvest heat, a game of cards is always a great way to relax, joke around, have fun, and share our memories and stories and troubles and, sometimes, even our wisdom.
Appendix -- Playing a Hand of Eversol Rummy
I'll take you through a hand of Eversol Rummy. We'll play the second hand, which consists of a book and a run. We'll make Abe the dealer, who deals seven cards.
In a real game, players would hold their cards so that no other players could see them. But for this display round, I'll place the cards of each player face up on the table.
The card that Abe turned over after dealing is the Queen of Clubs. It's Ben's turn. Ben doesn't want the Queen of Clubs, and neither Carl nor Abe wish to buy it. Thus, Ben draws the top, face-down card from the deck, which turns out to be the Eight of Clubs.
I have arranged Ben's hand to make the cards easier to play. Ben already has an excellent start of a run, with his Five, Six, and Eight of Hearts. I've placed the unneeded, higher-count cards, the Ten of Diamonds and the King of Clubs, on the right for easy discard. It's usually, but not always, most prudent to discard high-count cards that you don't need.
Ben doesn't yet have a start of a book. The Eight of Clubs probably won't help Ben's hand, unless he also draws a Four of Hearts and a Three and/or Seven of Hearts and thereby frees up the Eight of Hearts for a book. Yet, because the Eight of Clubs might become useful, and the King of Clubs is a higher-count card, Ben discards the King of Clubs.
Nobody wants the King of Clubs. So Carl draws a Ten of Clubs from the top of the deck.
Carl doesn't have a great hand so far. He has two possible starts for a run: the Two and Three of Hearts and the Four and Six of Diamonds. I've placed his unneeded high-count cards at the right for discarding. Even though the Ten of Clubs isn't useful, Carl discards the higher-count Ace of Spades.
Nobody wants the Ace of Spaces, so Abe draws a Seven of Diamonds from the top of the deck. Abe discards this card.
Ben draws and discards the King of Spades.
Carl draws a Six of Clubs. This joins the Six of Diamonds as the start of a book. Carl discards the Ten of Clubs.
Abe draws the Ten of Clubs that Carl discarded. This joins the Ten of Spades as the start of a book. (The Ten of Spades might also join the Jack of Spades as part of a run.) Abe discards the Two of Diamonds.
Ben draws an Eight of Spades. This joins the Eight of Clubs and possibly the Eight of Hearts for a book. (So keeping that Eight of Clubs earlier turned out to be useful.) Ben discards the Ten of Diamonds.
Now it is Carl's turn. However, Abe notices that the Ten of Diamonds would complete his book. So Abe asks to buy the card. Carl doesn't want it. Abe takes the Ten of Diamonds and also the top card from the deck, which turns out to be a King of Diamonds.
Carl draws a Nine of Diamonds from the top of the deck. This card isn't very helpful (except it might join with the Six of Diamonds as part of a run), but Carl discards the higher-count Jack of Hearts.
Abe picks up the Jack of Hearts. This either completes a book of Jacks or starts a run with the Nine of Hearts.
Ben draws a Five of Clubs. He decides to keep this to match his Five of Diamonds and discard his Four of Spades.
Carl picks up the Four of Spades to start another book. Carl discards the Seven of Hearts.
Now it is Abe's turn. However, Ben sees that the Seven of Hearts, Carl's discard, would complete a run. Abe doesn't want the card, so Ben buys it. Ben also gets lucky -- his "penalty" card turns out to be a Joker! So Ben has completed both his run and his book. However, it's not Ben's turn, so Ben has to wait to go down.
Abe draws a King of Hearts. At this point, Abe decides to go with the Tens for the book and fill in Hearts to complete the run. So Abe discards the (ten-count) Jack of Clubs.
Even though Ben already has the right cards to go down, he must begin his turn by drawing a card. He draws a Queen of Hearts.
Now Ben goes down. He decides to place the Joker with the Eights to fill the book. He then discards his highest-count card, the Queen of Hearts. Because Ben still has cards left, the hand continues. Ben can get rid of his extra cards by drawing cards that play on books and runs on the table. Only those who have gone down may play cards on books and runs on the table ruing their turns.
Now it is Carl's turn. However, Abe notices that the Queen of Hearts would fit into his run, so he buys it.
Carl draws and discards a Jack of Diamonds. Carl isn't having much luck this hand.
Abe draws a Three of Spades and discards the Jack of Spades.
Ben draws and discards a Nine of Spades.
Carl draws and discards a Ten of Hearts.
This is the jackpot for Abe. Abe draws the Ten of Hearts, which fills his hand. Abe goes down and discards the Nine of Clubs.
Note that, if Abe had drawn an Eight instead, he could have bought Ben's Joker to go down.
At this point, I'm going to skip a few turns. The upshot is that Carl hasn't done much to help his hand, and Ben has been able to draw a card that plays.
So now it is Ben's turn again. At this point, Ben has only one card left. He draws an Eight of Diamonds, which plays on the book of Eights. Then Ben discards his final card and ends the hand.
Now all that remains is to record the scores. Ben went out, so his score is zero. Even though Carl didn't go down, he got caught with only seven low-count cards. Every Two through Nine counts as five points, so Carl ends up with a score for this hand of thirty-five.
Abe has only three low-count cards, for a score of fifteen.
Remember that, for players caught with them, each Ten through King counts as ten points, each Ace counts as fifteen points, and each Joker counts as fifty points.
In this hand, we've seen how dealing, drawing, discarding, buying, going down, playing extra cards, and scoring works. We didn't see an example of buying a played Joker or throwing a rummy card; refer to the rules for a description of those things.
At this point, you should be (more than) ready to play your own epic games of Eversol Rummy. Happy gaming!