Origins of Rummy
About Mexican and US Origins
If you refer to the special literature on the game of rummy, you may be led to believe that rummy originated from America and derived its name from nothing but rum, the alcoholic drink! Which may actually be true as well! Conquian or Coon-can seems like the first-ever rummy variant to have ever been played in the southern region of the United States of America (USA), and in parts of northern Mexico. It is common knowledge that rum was the drink of choice in these regions, and as per studies, losing players used to treat the winners in the form of rum! The name rummy definitely has a connection with the rum since in United States of America it’s not uncommon to name certain games after alcoholic drinks. For instance, in the game of poker, rum, gin, whiskey are regularly used as prefixes.
Talking more about its northern Mexico and US connection, a game known as conquian used to be played between two players with a Spanish deck of 40 playing cards. These cards used to have medals, sticks, swords and beakers as common symbols on them, and didn’t normally have cards numbered 10, 9 and 8 in them. Both players would be dealt 10 cards and they were required to collect certain pre-listed card groups for winning the game. The first time that name conquian came into notice with regard to rummy was in the year 1887, and then later on in 1898 when an author named R F Foster referred to it as Rummy, in his book.
The names Gin and Rum got somewhat mixed up with respect to the card games, during the start of the 20th century. The details of gin rummy were later published in a book penned by E T Baker in the year 1909.
About Chinese Origins
Many experts believe Southeast Asia and/or China to be the actual birthplace of rummy. It is the Chinese immigrants who are believed to have brought the game to the US during the second half of the 19th century in the form of a game called Khon Kin, quite similar to the new age rummy. It’s played with 62 playing cards in total. Furthermore, the game mahjong, which is played mostly in far eastern countries, holds many similarities with rummy. The former is played using both cards and stones and is also believed to have been played in Hungary during the 1920s.
European association with rummy
The European association with rummy was first reported during the World War I in Britain. The game is believed to have spread from England to the entire European continent. Many believe that it was later popularised by American soldiers who were posted in Europe. The card game of rummy is referred to as Krambambuli in Germany, Vatican in Czech Republic, Rami in France and Carioca and Loba in Southern and Central American countries respectively.
The first time that a rummy came into notice in Hungary was when it was mentioned in Hungarian newspapers after the World War I. It had presumably made appearance at an earlier time, around 1915 in various coffee shops in the Pest region of Hungary. The game quickly won over a large number of players who were engaged in other popular board games of that time. Furthermore, as it was an extremely easy to learn and simple card game, it became a huge addiction for the ladies of that time too.
The reinvention phase
Rummy was re-invented over and over again during the 1930s. It was around this time that contract rummy rules were created, based on Contract Bridge. Other rummy variants like Shanghai rummy, Carousel, Michigan, progressive rummy and more also appeared around this time.
A small rummy related brochure written by Jorio, a popular writer, can be termed as an interesting account of rummy for not just the game researchers and historians, but for everyone associated with the game. The writer apart from the detailing the elements of rummy, also talks about various tricks and techniques practised in the game in Pest, Hungary.
The rules of rummy continued to evolve and change depending on the place where the game got popularized and adopted. For instance Rummikub is extremely popular in the middle-eastern countries.
If you delve into how the game is played in northern American countries, people can be seen indulging in different rummy variants using even their hand and foot! In such a hand and foot variant of rummy, the game is played using the same number of card decks as the number of players on the table.
In the year 1990, Bela Somogoyi termed rummy as a card game having originated from Vienna, which could also possibly be an intermediate point during the game’s eventual march towards Budapest. However, a large majority of game historians consider North America to be the true homeland of rummy.