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Gin Rummy

If you’re looking for the definitive last word on the origin of the game of Rummy, there is none. Rummy theorists place the birth of this popular “draw/discard” game in places such as Mexico, Asia, Spain, Romania and the American Southwest. The Spanish card game “Conquian” bares a striking resemblance to Gin Rummy and to some is considered an ancestor of all modern Rummy Games.

Conquian was once known as “Coon Can,” “Coon King” or “Conkin” and began in Spain several centuries ago. One theory states that Conquian was brought to Mexico by early settlers before spreading to the American Southwest by the late 19th century. Rummy in the United States.

Rummy in the United States

Panguingue (aka Pan) is a popular Rummy-like game in the Western United States. Its origins are unknown, but it is said to have become a staple of the gambling halls during the California Gold Rush of the mid 19th century. Today, its popularity has waned, but it can still be found in one casino in Las Vegas and in a few places around California.

Gin Rummy (or Gin for short), which evolved from 18th-century Whiskey Poker (according to John Scarne), was created with the intention of being faster than standard rummy, but not as spontaneous as knock rummy. Gin Rummy in its current form was created by Elwood T. Baker and his son C. Graham Baker in 1909.

In the west for some time, Gin Rummy experienced a golden era during which it was played more than any other card game. The most common assumption regarding the origin of the name Gin Rummy is that it is derived from the alcoholic drink of the same name (Gin). The game was adopted by the Hollywood elite and famous movie stars during the 1930s and 1940s. They enjoyed the quick fire, high skill game play on the set between takes.

Gin Rummy also provided entertainment for the masses during the great depression and was passed down through the generations. It remains one of the most popular card games with over 50 million players in the United States alone. More elaborate variations of the game also appeared during this time, such as Contract Rummy which evolved from the popular game of Contract Bridge.

Rummy from the American Southwest

Another theory, espoused by John Scarne in “Scarne on Cards” (1949), explains that the game was started in America and was later exported to Mexico where it was given the name Conquian. Scarne suggests that Rummy was derived from Poker which originated with French Settlers in the American West. The Poker theory seems plausible in light of the fact that in both Rummy and Poker cards are combined to form sequences and groups. According to Scarne, Rummy was developed from a game called “Whiskey Poker,” later known as “Rum Poker,” “Rum,” and then finally “Rummy.”

Japan’s & China’s Contribution to Rummy

Nations of the Far East also boast historical versions of the origin and variations on the game. The Japanese Rummy game of Hanafuda ("flower cards") combined traditional Japanese games with western playing cards and is said to have emerged when the Portuguese sailed to Japan. Years later, it became a popular gambling game with ever evolving card designs, which were a repeated attempt to thwart an ongoing card game ban during mid 17th century when Japan cut off all contact with the western world.

Stories are also told about Rummy’s roots in Chinese history. One popular Chinese card game known to have incorporated the pattern of drawing and discarding (characteristic of Rummy) is Mah Jong, or Mai-Jiang, which is said to have been conceived during the Teiping Dynasty in the mid 19th century. Another much older card game, from where Mah Jong is said to have derived, is Mah Tiao, or Mah Tiae, of the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Others claim that Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher, developed the game much earlier in 500 BC during the time of his travels and teachings around China, but this theory is weak at best with no evidence to support it.

At the end of the day, there are several versions of history that attempt to explain the origin of Rummy, and certainly, if one continues to dig, more might reveal themselves. Suffice it to say, we have been passed down a delightful game of cards with a colorful history and numerous ways to play it. Whatever your favorite version, you will enjoy the challenge and fun of this skill based game most commonly referred to as Rummy.


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