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Where Did Rummy Come From?

Rummy, in all its varieties, is one of the most popular card games in the world. From playing professionally for money to playing Rummikub with your kids, rummy is truly a game for everyone. It’s easy enough to learn and has simple, generally fast gameplay. It’s even one of the few card games that are legal to play for money in places where gambling is generally prohibited like India.

Where does the game come from, though?

Despite not being that old (if you don’t consider a century old, at least), there are actually three prevailing theories about where it came from:

 

  • Theory 1: It originated in Asia, probably China, as a variant of Mahjongg called Kun P’ai. It’s not clear when this was (it might be as far back as the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th centuries), but it had reached England by the late 19th century at the latest under the anglicized name Khanhoo.

  • Theory 2:  It originated in Mexico back in the 1890s, but was known as Conquian originally. It also differed from modern rummy as it was played with a 40 card Spanish deck, but the gameplay itself was much the same. It likely spread to the English speaking world, with the familiar 52 card decks, soon after.

  • Theory 3: It originated in both China and Mexico. In short, Conquian was just an adaptation of the earlier Chinese game, Kun P’ai, and that both of these games morphed into rummy as we know it today in the early 20th century. They both still exist, but are nowhere near as popular as the English versions of rummy like gin rummy and 500 rummy or, considering its massive popularity in India, Indian rummy.

 

As for where the name rummy comes from, its origins are similarly oblique. Which is again surprising considering that rummy as we know it only really came about in the 20th century. The two most likely sources are the English slang word, “rum”, meaning strange or odd, or the popular liquor, rum, and its accompanying game, rum poker.

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