Game invented by John Scarne ©

Written by Howard Fosdick ©

Overview: Skarney is a rummy game that rewards both playing melds to the table and going out first (rummying). It is one of the relatively few rummies that makes a fine partnership game for four players.

Skarney is a rather complicated "high end" rummy. It takes some effort to learn, but I felt it well worth my time. The game's sophistication means you can play it frequently yet always find it engaging.

Skarney was invented by John Scarne, a magician who befriended Houdini, mobsters, and Presidents. His life was full -- and so interesting he wrote not one but two autobiographies.

Objective: To win a Hand by scoring the most points by melds to the table. To win a Game by winning the most total points across 7 hands.

Players: This game can be played by 2, 3, or 4 players individually, or by 4 players in 2 partnerships of 2 players each. We describe the partnership game below first, then the individual-play version.

Deck and Deal: Use two 52-card decks and add in 4 Jokers, for a total of 108 cards. All 2's and Jokers are wild cards; they can represent any other card in the deck.

The rank of the cards is:   A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A.

Aces can be played either high or low (example: A-2-3 or Q-K-A). Aces can not be played "around the corner" (example: K-A-2).

Deal 11 cards to each player. All remaining cards become the draw pile. Do not turn up any card to start the “discard pile” -- unlike most rummy games, there is no discard pile in this game.

Melds: Matched combinations of cards or melds are played to the table in this game. Cards in melds are scored at the end of the hand, and they determine (in large part) your score for the hand.

There are two kinds of melds in Skarney:

  1. Sets of 3 or 4 cards of the same rank (eg, 4-4-4 or 4-4-4-4)
  2. Sequences of 3 or more cards in the same suit (eg, 4-5-6 in Hearts or J-Q-K-A in Spades)

Recall that 2’s and Jokers are wild. A meld can have 0 or 1 wild cards in it but never more than 1. Here are examples:

3-Joker-2-3-3INVALID -- contains more than 1 wild card
3-2-5-6-2 in SpadesINVALID -- contains more than 1 wild card

You can extend your and your partner's melds (but not your opponents' melds) by adding either 1 or 2 cards to any or all of your melds in your turn. Remember that you may never play cards on your opponents melds.

Wildcard Melds:

You can also make special melds consisting solely of matching wild cards. These consist of three or more 2's or Jokers. Examples are: 2-2-2 and Joker-Joker-Joker-Joker.

2's and Jokers played in these special melds score more points than they do when played as wild cards mixed into other melds.

Your Contract Meld: At the start of a hand, your immediate goal is to make your team's contract meld and put it down on the table. Until you and your partner make your team's contract meld, you are not allowed to make any other melds.

For the first 3 hands you play, the contract meld consists of either:

1. Three Sets of 3 cards each
2. Three same-suit Sequences of 3 cards each

For hands 4 through 7, the contract meld consists of:

1. Four Sets of 3 cards each
2. Four same-suit Sequences of 3 cards each

So in hands 1 through 3, your contract meld consists of exactly 9 cards. In hands 4 through 7, your contract meld consists of exactly 12 cards.

You can not put down more or less cards for your contract meld. As always, each Set or Sequence in the contract meld may include up to one wild card (2 or Joker).

Once either player on a side plays the contract meld, the contract meld requirement is considered fulfilled for both players on that team.

Once your partnership has made your contract meld, you may:

  1. Add either 1 or 2 cards to any or all of your team's meld on your turn
  2. Place any number of additional new melds you want down on the table

Play: In his turn, a player does the following:

(1) Draws 1 card from the top of the draw pile.

(2) He may exchange a natural card for any 2 or Joker his opponents have played as a wild card in their melds.

For example, one of your opponents has the set 4-4-Joker before him. You make take his Joker up into your hand by laying a 4 in his meld to replace it.

You may not take up 2's or Jokers that are not used as Wild cards. For example, if an opponent has a set of 2's or Jokers (eg: 2-2-2 or Joker-Joker-Joker), you can not replace and take up the wild card into your hand. You can only "exchange" for 2's or Jokers used as wild cards to represent some other card in the deck.

Once you have exchanged for a 2 or Joker and taken it into your hand, you may use it whenever you like. (You are under no obligation to immediately use it).

You may not exchange for a wild card in your own or your partner's melds, you may only exchange for wild cards used in your opponents' melds.

(3) If you have not yet played your contract meld to the table and are able to do so, you play it now.

(4) If you have more than 1 card in your hand, you now display 1 card to your opponent to your left and ask if he wants it. If yes, he takes it into his hand. If no, you offer the card to the remaining 2 players around the table in clockwise order until someone accepts it into their hand.

If no one accepts the potential discard, you keep it in your hand.

If you only have 1 card left in your hand at the end of your turn, you say "1 card" and do not offer a potential discard to the next player.

Aces and wild cards (2's and Jokers) are only offered to the next player to your left. If he does not accept it into his hand, you do not offer it to the other players. Instead you merely keep it in your hand.

Whenever a player accepts and takes an Ace, 2, or Joker into his hand as an opponent's discard, that player skips step (1) and does not draw a card from the draw pile at his next turn. Aces, 2's, and Jokers are thus stop cards -- they stop an opponent from drawing a card at the start of his turn. For all other potential discards, whether a player accepts them into his hand or not, he always draws one card from the draw pile to start his turn.

End of a Hand: A hand ends in either of two ways:

1. Any player goes out ("rummies") by melding his last card to the table.
2. A player draws the last card from the draw pile and does not go out. He melds any last cards, then does not offer a potential discard and play stops.

Scoring: The partnership that rummies gets a hand bonus of 100 points for hands 1 through 3. This hand bonus increases to:

200 points for hand 4
300 points for hand 5
400 points for hand 6
500 points for hand 7

If a partnership rummies before their opponents play their contract meld, they get an additional 200 point shutout bonus in addition to the hand bonus.

If no partnership rummies (the game ends with the last card from the draw pile), the team with the higher number of points wins the hand and scores the hand bonus.

If no partnership rummies and the two teams have the exact same number of points, the hand does not count and no team wins it. (This case is extremely rare).

In addition to one team scoring for going out or rummying, both teams score points for all cards they have in their melds on the table. Here are the points scored for each melded card --

Joker (in a special Joker-only meld100
Joker (used as a wild card)50
2 (in a special 2’s-only meld)50
2 (used as a wild card)25
K, Q, J, 1010

For the side that did not rummy (if any), subtract these points for each card still in their hands:

2 -50
Ace -15
K, Q, J, 10 -10
9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3   -5

Rules for Individual Play: Skarney can be played by 2, 3, or 4 persons as individuals. This game is called Skarney Singles. All rules are the same:

  • Players may swap for the 2's and Jokers of any of their opponents in a turn.
  • Players may only lay off (add cards to) their own melds.
  • A player who goes out only receives the shutout bonus of 200 points if none of his opponents has yet played their contract meld.

Strategy: We won't spoil the fun by spilling too much about winning strategies. Explore the game for yourself -- half the fun is figuring out its principles.

Here are a few tips-- by playing 2's and Jokers to the table in mixed melds, you expose them to "theft" by your opponents. When they take a 2 from you, you not only lose 25 points but they (usually) also gain 25 points.

Pure 2's or Jokers melds can not be robbed. But if you try for one and fail, penalties are very high for having wild cards in hand when your opponents rummy.

Sets are generally easier to get for contract melds than sequences.

Players tend to accept discards early in the game and when building up weak hands. They tend to reject them later when trying to rummy. Potential discards are direct player-to-opponent card transfers; consider them carefully. This is one of Scarne's unique innovations for play and it leads to interesting dynamics lacking from other rummies.

2's and Jokers score the exact same value regardless of the card they take the place of in a mixed meld. For example, the 2 has the same value in either of these melds: 3-3-2 or A-A-2.

The 2 in either of these two melds scores 25 points. But playing a 2 with the Aces leads to scoring 30 points for the two Aces (15 + 15) versus only 10 points (5 + 5) for the two 3's.

You score points by the kind of card played to the table in this game. You do not score different numbers of points according to how the card has been played (unlike other rummies like Canasta).

Alternate Rules: Scarne mentions two fun variations you should try:

  1. Omit the four Jokers (play with two regular decks totaling 104 cards). This reduces the “luck element” in the game as there are four fewer wild cards.
  2. Remove all restrictions on first melds. Meld anything you want, whenever you want. This leads to a very “gutsy” game as you can surprise someone holding a lot of cards by rummying without having melded -- but of course you could be the player who is surprised!

Sources: Scarne’s Encyclopedia of Card Games has a chapter on Skarney and Skarney Gin. The ultimate authority is his rare book Skarney. There are some very slight differences in the rules between these two sources. We have followed the more accessible Encyclopedia of Card Games where differences occur.

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License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License BY-ND.      HOME