Rules of the Tile Rummy Game

By WendyM

Israeli games inventor Ephraim Hertzano created tile rummy, also known as Rummikub, in the 1940s, according to Rummy Royal. The game quickly gained popularity among American and European players. Hertzano published a book of official rules in 1978, which included rules for three variations: Sabra, American, and International. John McLeod asserts that today’s commercial Rummikub sets follow Sabra rules.

Game Pieces

Tile rummy uses 106 tiles, including two jokers, which are tiles bearing smiley faces. The remaining tiles are numbered (1-13) and divided evenly into four colors red, yellow, black, and blue. Each tile matches exactly one other in color and number. The number on the tile denotes its point value. Players keep their tiles on racks until they can be put down.

Beginning Play

Tile rummy requires at least two players, no more than four. Place tiles face down in the center of the table and shuffle them. Each player draws 14 tiles and places them on a rack. Players then each draw one more tile from the pool; the player with the highest numbered tile on this draw plays first. The tiles then return to the pool, which is shuffled again. Play begins and proceeds clockwise.


Players take turns creating and rearranging “melds,” which are sets (three or four tiles with the same number) and runs (up to 13 tiles of the same color in consecutive order). Before a player can rearrange any existing melds, he must create and play his own meld. Rummy Royal says that this first meld must be worth a total of 30 points. In this case, the joker carries the value of the tile it replaces.

There is no limit to the number of melds a player may create or rearrange during a turn, but John McLeod suggests a time limit of two minutes, with a three-tile penalty and the return of all tiles to their previous positions if a player violates the limit. If the player cannot create a meld or add to the melds already in play, she must draw a tile from the pool.

End Game

A hand ends when a player has successfully played all the tiles in his rack. This player earns a score equal to the points still held in the hands of his opponents. Opposing players lose points according to the tiles remaining in their hands. For example, Player 1 wins the hand, Player 2 has 15 points, and Player 3 has 22 points. Player 1 earns 37 (15 + 22) points; Player 2 and Player 3 score –15 and –22 points, respectively. At the end of the hand, any jokers held have a value of 30 points. The game ends when a player earns a total of 200 points.