shanghai card game rules

OBJECTIVE OF SHANGHAI: Play all cards in hand by melding them.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 3-5 players

MATERIALS OF SHANGHAI: Two 52 card decks




Shanghai, which will be discussed in this article, is a variation of manipulation rummy. More commonly, there is a version of Shanghai called Shanghai Rummy which is a contract rummy game. These are not to be confused with and are different games entirely.

Before we confuse you anymore on all the different Shanghai games let’s go over the rules for the Shanghai card game.


In Shanghai, the game not the city, you need two standard decks of 52 cards and some friends to play. You can play with 3 to 5 players, although 4 is optimal. You can add more decks if you wish to play with more than 5 people, however, this tends to make the game less interesting


Choose the first dealer at random by whichever mechanism you prefer. We always recommend drawing cards and the highest card wins, or you can say, “The person with the ashiest elbows is the dealer.” After that, the dealer deals each player a total of 10 cards. Deal the cards in batches of three, three, three, and one. You can look at your cards, but keep them a secret from other players.

Place the remaining cards face-down in the center of the table, these cards will form the stockpile. After each hand, the person to the left becomes the dealer.


Shanghai begins with the player to the left of the dealer and passes clockwise. On each turn, you play cards from your hand to the table. Also you must meld your cards in the following ways:

  • Set Meld. A set of 3 or 4 cards with the same rank but different suits.
  • Run Meld. A set of at least 3 cards of the same suit AND in sequence.

You can use some or all cards in your hand to meld or add cards to pre-existing melds already on the table. This particular feature is what makes Shanghai a manipulation rummy game.

There are a couple of important rules of play to remember.

If you have the ability to meld more than 1 card you are required to. However, this doesn’t mean you must meld EVERY card that can be melded, but at least more than one. After melding, the turn passes to the next player.

If you are unable to meld any cards, you must draw 1 card from the top of the stockpile. If you can play that card, you must, if not, continue drawing until you draw a playable card. Once you meld a card your turn is over.

Once someone melds their last card the round ends. 


The game’s namesake, Shanghai, refers to a particular move in the game.

A Shanghai occurs if a player can rearrange some or all of the melds on the table to allow them to play cards in their hand. This is a valid move, permitting all the melds are legal. This is quite similar to Rummikub.


For example, let’s say there is a set of three sevens on the table. If you have a five and six of the same suit, and a seven of another, you can use a seven from the meld to create a run of five, six, and seven. Then you can add your last seven to the previous set.


The round ends when one player has played all the cards in their hand. That player scores 0 points.

Everyone else in the game scores 1 point per card left in hand.


Officially the game has no end. We suggest you play till one person reaches a certain score, then they are out. The last player left in the game is the winner. 

Alternatively, someone can simply end the game, when they want and the player with the lowest cumulative score is the winner.


There are a few ways you can improve your Shangai game. Let’s go over a few of them.


As we mentioned before, if you can meld more than one card you must, but you don’t have to meld all the cards. You can save some of your melds to play a more aggressive play later in the game. Alternatively, this can be a double edged sword because if you wait too long and another player goes out, then you will be left with quite a few points.


This refers to the melds on the table. Sets of fours on the table are great because you can take the last card from these and still leave a valid set meld on the table. For example if there are melds of four sixes, and four eights, you can easily get rid of a seven. Take the last two cards from each of the melds and make a run of six, seven, eight. This applies to runs of four or more cards as well. 


This is a legal move in Shanghai. On your turn, you can rearrange the cards on the table to test out if your aggressive move will work. Everyone else can help you out to put everything back in the case that your play doesn’t work. If it does, you can get rid of many cards in one play.


Shanghai Rummy is often confused with the Shanghai card game. They are both rummy variations, however they do differ quite a bit. The Shanghai card game, which we discussed in this article, is a manipulation rummy game, whereas Shanghai rummy is a type of contract rummy.

In Shanghai rummy, there are ten rounds of play and in each round players are dealt eleven cards each. Each round there must be specific melds of sets and runs before you can move on to the next round.

There a special rules with Shanghai rummy which include changes to the number of buys allowed per round (buying is when a player takes the upcard out of turn), and the number of jokers in the game. A turn in Shanghai rummy is 3 parts.

First, a player will draw a card(s), either from the stock or discard pile. Then a player will meld cards from their hands to fulfill the rounds contract. Then a player will discard a card if they have any remaining in hand. The biggest difference is that you can not manipulate the melds already on the table as you do in the Shanghai card game.

For more of the Shanghai Rummy rules, head over to our rules on contract rummy for a complete guide”.


What Does a Player Do When They Cannot Play the Cards in Their Hand?

If a player cannot meld any cards on their turn they will draw a card from the stockpile till they can play a card. Then Their turn ends.

When Does the Game Shanghai End?

There is no official end to the game Shanghai. Typically you play till you reach a target score or until players get bored.

How Do You Will at Shanghai?

The player with the lowest score is the winner, or the last player left in the game.

Alan Lemus
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11 thoughts on “SHANGHAI RULES”

  1. The hands we play are:

    1 set 1 run -7 cards
    2 runs -8 cards
    3 sets -9 cards
    2 sets 1 run -10 cards
    1 set 2 runs -11 cards
    3 runs -12 cards

    but we deal 11 cards, not 10. I have seen several combinations that start with as few as 6 cards to as many as 15 cards …which requires 11 cards be dealt and two “out-of-turn purchases;” not discussed here. I digress.

    • Thank you SO much!!!! I grew up playing this game with my grandmother but have forgotten the details. Now that I see your comment…we also dealt 11 (but not in sets of three at a time as the article says). We also did 2 out-of-turn ‘purchases’, We scored by counting aces through 9s at face value/ face cards at 10 each/ jokers at 15 points each. We could play on each others’ cards on the table, but we did not rearrange anything. We played the same hands you listed, except we started with a hand of 2 sets (6 cards). Once done the 7 hands, lowest score wins. My grandmother loved stats (knew all the Red Sox stats, but I digress) and kept a record of all out weekly games for years, all on index cards.

      • Hello Dawn, thank you for sharing! Wow, I love the commitment your grandmother had. Thank you again for allowing us to help reconnect with this game and its meaning to you!

  2. Our family does a version of this game where there are 11 cards given out at the beginning and jokers are included in the deck.
    sets are the same but runs are 4 cards in a straight of the same suit. Players have to discard at least one card per turn and the player to the right
    or clockwise player can pick up that card for free if they want or another player can take that card and a penalty card from the deck if isn’t their turn.
    If this happens the player whose turn it is then picks up a card from the top of the deck. The joker is is a wild card and can be used in sets or runs but if it is used in a set the joker is killed and cannot be picked up by another player. However it is used in a run a player who has the card the joker represents IE (joker is placed in a heart run of 2, 3,joker,5 a) A player who has the 4 of hearts can then pick up that joker and use it in their hand however they have to be able to complete the hand being being played.

    We play with the goal of different hands :
    1st Hand: 2 sets
    2nd Hand: 1 set and 1 run
    3rd Hand: 2 Runs
    4th Hand: 3 sets
    5th Hand: 2 Sets 1 Runs
    6th Hand: 1 Set 2 Runs
    7th Hand: 3 Runs

    For our point system we use
    The person who gets rid of their last card in their hand first wins that hand and has 0 points
    Cards 2 to 10 = 5 points,
    face cards = 10 points
    Aces = 20 points
    Jokers = 50 points

  3. Also for my previous comment a person in our version can only penalize for a card they want if it isn’t their turn 3 times, limiting their cards in a hand without going down to 17

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