Saturday, April 22, 2006

Weekend Gaming

Gin Rummy

Tal wanted to play something while we were waiting for our guests. I had already played a lot of Oh Hell, so we played some hands of Gin Rummy.

Surely Gin Rummy is one of those rite-of-passage games, where you learn the basics and then there is nothing else left to discover.

A quick review of the rules as I play it:

Each player is dealt ten cards, and one is flipped up. Each player on his turn takes either the face up card in the discard pile or from the top of the deck. On the very first play, the first player may take the face up card, or if the first player does not want the face up card, the dealer may opt to take it and begin play. Otherwise, the first player picks from the deck. A player must always discard. After discarding, the player may call Gin, knock, or pass.

Players are trying to form melds of length 3, 3, and 4. Each meld can be a three-of-a-kind or a straight in one suit. Cards go from Ace up to King, Ace is like 1.

If you call Gin, you have all required melds (ten cards). The opponent discards his completed melds and counts up the remaining points (pictures are 10 points each). Add 10 and then add to your score. For the purposes of completed melds, the opponent may discard any melds of three or four cards, including three 3-card melds or two 4-card melds, even though they would not be useful for calling Gin, which requires exactly two 3-card melds and one 4-card meld.

If you knock, you discard completed melds and count your remaining points which must be 10 points or under. Your opponent does the same. If his points are greater than yours, you add the difference to your score. Otherwise, your opponent adds the difference plus 10 to his score.

If you pass, it is your opponent's turn to play.

I am aware of a number of variations. Some play that the first player is dealt 11 cards, instead of the elaborate offering of the face up card to the dealer. Some play that Gin is worth 20 points. And so on.

Rummy strategy appears to be pretty straightforward:
  • Keep track of discards, as well as cards taken by your opponent, and don't play matching cards if possible.
  • Pulling outside straights (to a 7-8) is twice as likely than inside straights (to a 6-8) or a straight on the border (A-2 or Q-K).
  • A standard set of cards is a trio such as (7-7-8) where any of four cards can complete the set, after which the odd card is discarded.
  • It is never worth picking up a card from the discard unless it actually forms a set, since the odds of picking an equivalent or better card are high and you don't want to give out information to your opponent.
  • If you are going to knock, knock early, before round four or so, or don't bother, unless you have only one or two points.
This is easy enough that I pretty much play on automatic, although Tal is still learning.

In one hand, I had 8c-7c-6c-7d-6d-6h. This can form either a straight and a trio, or a three-of-a-kind and a trio. The trio is limited; if I use the straight, the trio only has three possible completions instead of the usual four, since the other 6 is already in the straight. If I use the three-of-a-kind, again the trio only has three possible completions.

However, as a whole, the entirety has six completions, which is decidedly better than any run of the mill meld and an unassociated trio. I suppose that I've always noticed this instinctively, but never explicitly. Moral: always lump your trios and melds near each other numerically, if possible.

Michigan Rummy

Looking for something else easy to play the next day, I remembered another game that I enjoyed as a kid, Michigan Rummy. This game became the published game Tripoley. While I enjoyed this as a kid, playing it as an adult is just a little silly. It is still kind of enjoyable, although probably the closest you can get to the border between some skill and no skill, just on this side.

Basically (these rules look almost nothing like the rules at the above link, by the way):

A chip is anted onto each of eight piles: 10h, Jh, Qh, Kh, Ah, KQh, 8-9-10, and last-card. One hand more than the number of players is dealt. The dealer looks at his hand and can decide to keep it or swap for the extra hand (no going back is swapped).

Left picks any suit and leads the lowest card that suit. Any player with the next highest card in that suit has to play it. E.g. if a 4s is led, whoever has the 5s must play it. Continue until the next highest card isn't in play, because it is in the discarded hand. The player to play the last card then starts with the lowest card of either of the opposite color suits. E.g. if hearts or clubs was the last suit led, he must start with either his lowest heart or lowest diamond; it doesn't have to be the lowest card from both, only from either. Ace is high.

Anyone playing 10h, Jh, Qh, Kh, or Ah takes the pile on that card. Playing both Qh and Kh takes both piles as well as the QKh pile. Playing any 8-9-10 in sequence takes that pile. The first player to empty his hand takes the last-card pile and no further cards are played that round. Re-ante onto all piles, and dealer rotates.

There are only two real decisions to be made in the game. As dealer, you can decide whether to keep your hand or swap. The other is when, or if, you actually have to lead, which suit among two to lead. In 75% of the hands you get, it will make no difference. But once in a while, the correct lead ensures that you get the 8-9-10 before someone else can, or ensures that the round ends before other players can play their cash cards. It is for those precious few times that the game is slightly interesting, other than the general gambling excitement to be gained from watching someone finally produce an 8-9-10 after several rounds without one thereby gaining a windfall.

I doubt that I will suggest the game again, but it is ok for a non-confrontational gambling game.

Puerto Rico

The family visiting Nadine was still around, so we made another trip over in the afternoon. They were playing bridge, and requested my assistance for one hand, before we moved to Puerto Rico. Players were Rachel, Ginat (Nadine's daughter), Nadine, myself, and Beth together with her daughter, in that order.

Ginat and Beth don't play that often. Ginat was independent and stubborn, happily doing what she wanted to do, and often doing pretty well. Beth was more open to persuasion, and thus subject to an endless barrage of advice from Nadine and Rachel, and occasionally myself.

Rachel and I played by the book, mostly. Rachel started a little unusually with Builder/Small Market, but other than that, all went normally. There were three opening corns in the lot, so I guess she counted on getting one of them, and she did. I started with sugar by turn two, and coffee by turn four. I held a coffee monopoly, pretty much, and then got Factory, Indigo, Small Warehouse, Harbor, and City Hall, plus. Rachel got Indigo, Tobacco, Sugar, Factory, Harbor, Guild Hall, and so on, basically shadowing my steps.

Rachel won owing to having the additional extra corn, which gave her a slight vp boost, as well as enough colonists to run her Factory at a higher level for a few more turns than me. I also muffed one turn by taking some extra cash when I should have shipped, but Rachel also missed something similar later on, so it evened out. She ended up with one more shipping point and two more building points, winning 60 to 57, while the others had 51, and 40s.


Tom Vasel has a new link with advice for game designers from many of the best, collected from his numerous interviews.

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Simon J said...

You missed a few rules:
a) You can lay off on an opponents melds when the knock.
b) If you tie or undercut the count of an opponents who knocked you get the undercut bonus, typically equal to the Gin bonus.

Personally I play the Gin bonus at 20, but I've seen both 25 & 10.

You forgot the strategy point "play to lower your point count", ie don't keep combinations like Qc,Qd,Kd late in the game.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

Actually, I wrote:

If you knock, you discard completed melds and count your remaining points which must be 10 points or under. Your opponent does the same. If his points are greater than yours, you add the difference to your score. Otherwise, your opponent adds the difference plus 10 to his score.

Which covers the rules you thought I missed.

Yes, I suppose playing to lower your point count is good, especially later in the hand. However, if your opponent always knows that you do that, especially early in the hand, it gives him a slight advantage as to what to discard/not to discard.