Shanghai is a card game generally played with two decks of cards - jokers left out - and four players. You can play the game with five players and add another deck, and add two decks with six players (and so on), but this is not recommended.
The game consists of ten hands; eleven cards are dealt to each player each hand. As in Uno, the player with the least amount of points at the end wins. Deuces are always wild. After the cards are dealt, the rest are put face down in the middle of the table. Then the dealer turns up one card to begin the discard pile (more on the discard pile later).
As in Rummy, cards are put down on the table in sets (for example: three Kings) and straights - or "runs" (for example: 4,5,6 and 7 of Clubs). However, the cards are not put down to acquire points. Rather, they are set down to get out of your hand and avoid acquiring the points for the cards. The following is a breakdown of which cards are worth what points:
- Aces - Fifteen points
- Face cards - Ten points
- 10 - Ten points
- 9-3 - Five points
- Dueces - Twenty points
The order in which players take their turns is clockwise. The first person to play in each hand is the player to the left of the dealer. Players take turns being dealer, usually who deals is to the left of whomever had dealt the previous hand. A basic turn is this: a player may choose one card from the face-down pile, or pick up one card in the discard pile that the previous player put down. The turn ends when the player discards one card. This can be more complicated when we get into Buys, but I'll get to this later.
Each hand has a specific requirement for the player to meet before he or she is allowed to put any cards out of their hand onto the table. For instance, in the first hand, you may not lay down any cards unless, by virtue of drawing cards from the face down pile or picking up cards the previous player has discarded, you acquire two sets of three. This can be three matching cards of any suit, i.e. three Kings, three fours, etc. If you do not acquire the requisite sets of cards needed for that hand before one of the other players go out (play or discard their last card), you are stuck counting all of the points in your hand and you are considered "Shanghaied."
The following is a rundown of the requisite cards needed in each hand to be able to lay down any cards. Sets are always three of a kind of any suit. "Runs" have to be sequential cards of the same suit. You will notice a pattern in that the number of cards needed to be acquired goes up by one each hand. Knowing this can also help you remember what is required each hand lest you forget.
- Two sets of 3 (6 cards)
- Run of four, a set of 3 (7 cards)
- Two runs of four (8 cards)
- Three sets of three (9 cards)
- Run of seven, set of three (10 cards)
- Two runs of four, a set of three (11 cards)
- Three runs of four (12 cards)
- Run of ten, set of three (13 cards)
- Three sets of three, run of five (14 cards)
- Three runs of five (15 cards)
Once you acquire the necessary cards, you may lay down those cards as long as it is during your turn (once you discard, the turn is over). You may play additional cards if:
- You have plays on your own cards (if you garner a necessary run of four, for instance, but you have ended up with more cards in that run, by all means play those cards, get them out of your hand as quickly as possible. Like, if you have a 4,5,6 and 7 of hearts, but you have an 8 and 9, play those, too!).
- You have plays on cards other players have set down. For instance, after you have played the requisite cards, and you have a ten of hearts, and another player has a run of 6, 7, 8 and 9 of hearts, play the ten on their run. Or if you have a five and another player has put down a set of fives, put your five on their set.
It is of the utmost importance if you have cards that play anywhere play them as soon as possible. Once you play all the cards in your hand, or play all but one and can discard, you are out, you count up no points for the hand, and everybody else counts up what unplayed cards/points they have left.
You may have noticed that after the sixth hand, the number of cards needed exceeds the eleven that you are dealt. This is where the rules of Buys come in. If any player, with the exception of the player to your immediate right, discards a card that you need, you may "buy" that card. This requires that you take that card, and one card from the face-down pile. As you can see, beyond the sixth hand buys are necessary and sometimes you may need to buy a card even if you don't need it. But there's a catch. You cannot buy the card if somebody ahead of you in the turn rotation would like to have the card, or if the player whose turn it is after the card is discarded would like it (or, not willing to "sell" it). Concurrently, if the player before you discards a card you and you would like the card, you pick it up and say "I'm not willing to sell it" or "tough shit," --whatever floats your boat. There are a limited number of Buys you have for each hand, depending on the hand. You may only buy three times the first seven hands, and four times for the rest of them. (Four buys start with the run of ten, set of three hand). Once you're out, you're out. Another way to look at this is that the first seven hands, the maximum number of cards you may have in your hand is 17. The max for the last three hands is 19. One more minor thing on Buys: when the dealer turns up one card to start the discard pile, he or she may buy that card if nobody else wants it.
A few rules on the deuces: They are wild, as previously mentioned. Standard wild card rules apply, like they cannot account for fifty percent or more of the run or set you are trying to accomplish. IMPORTANT: You can acquire deuces from the table. For example, if another player has set down a run of four with deuces, like a 9, 10, deuce, Queen of spades, and you have the Jack of spades, you may insert your Jack into the run, take that deuce, and do anything you want with it. Like if you had a Queen of hearts, and there's a run on the table that goes up to a Ten, use the deuce as a Jack and play that Queen! Remember that keeping the deuce is risky, as it is twenty points if you are caught with it. And, as always, you may not do this unless you have already put down cards, i.e. met the requisite set of cards for that hand. This (switching out to grab a deuce from the table) will work in any run, but will not work in sets.
Important Notes and Strategies
Remember to play all the cards you can play before your turn is over. If you discard, and see something you should have played, sorry, you're screwed. And if somebody goes out and catches you with that card or cards, you're doubly screwed.
On rare occasions, the face-down pile will be depleted without anybody going out. In this instance, the hand is over, everybody count up your points.
Use those deuces and use them wisely! Get them however you can. Sometimes if you are desperate for a deuce, you may want to try buying a card in the hopes that the card you draw from the face-down pile will be a deuce.
Buy, buy, buy! Especially in later hands, sometimes you may want to buy just to be buying if you just aren't seeing the cards you need. I have played with people that will, in certain hands, have a "standing buy," i.e. the first time somebody gives them permission and nobody ahead of them wants the card, they snatch it up. It is imperative to buy beyond the sixth hand, as previously stated.
Aces can be played as Aces or Ones! It is rare to want to use it as a One, but you may if like. This also requires actually using a deuce as a 2, which is a bit of a waste, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Deuces cannot be discarded. Not that you'd want to anyway.
This game can get downright mean as some of you might have already guessed. Fits of rage can and will result from somebody in front of you snatching up that one, beautiful card you need to buy that will complete your set and allow you to go down. Just try to remain calm.
Remember: it's just a game.:)