OBJECTIVE OF UMTALI:  Be the player with the highest score after four rounds


NUMBER OF CARDS: Standard 52 card deck

RANK OF CARDS: (low) Ace – King (high)


AUDIENCE: Adults, Family


Umtali is a two player Rummy game that became extremely popular in Zimbabwe until the 1970’s.  What makes this game so much fun are all of the opportunities for melding.  Players can meld sets, runs, marriages, and individual jacks. Playing over the course of four rounds keeps the game easy to complete in a short period of time.


Umtali uses a standard 52 card deck.  To decide who must deal first and keep score, each player should take a card from the deck.  The lowest card must deal and keep score. 

The dealer doles out 10 cards to each player one at a time.  The remaining cards are placed in the center of the playing space as the draw pile.  The top card is flipped over to become the discard pile.


There are many different ways to meld cards in this game.  A set is composed of three or four cards of the same rank (but not Jacks).  A run is a sequence of three or more cards of the same suit.  Aces are always low in this game.  A marriage is a meld in which the King and Queen of the same suit are layed down together. 

A player’s final meld can be two cards if it allows them to go out and end the round.


Once a meld has been played, one or more cards may be added to it.  Players will not actually add the cards to the melds.  Instead they will state the lay off they are about to perform and place the cards on the table in front of them.


Jacks are not allowed to to be melded as part of a set or sequence.  They are played as a single card meld.  Once a Jack has been played individually, 10’s or Queens may be played on them.


In Umtali, each player’s turn has three parts: draw, meld, and discard.

A player begins by drawing a card from the top of the draw pile or discard pile.  If the player draws from the discard pile and can play a meld right away, they may also take the next card on the discard pile if they can play it as well.  The two cards do not have to be part of the same meld.

After drawing, the player creates and plays any possible melds to the table.

Finally, their turn ends by discarding a card from their hand. 

Play like this continues until one of the players has emptied their hand.  A player does not have to discard their last card in order to win.  However, if the player going out discards, they place the card facedown on the discard pile. 

Unlike most rummy games, the opponent gets one more turn to try and go out as well.  If the winning player discarded face down, they can only draw a card from the draw pile.  They then try to meld and lay off as many cards as possible from their hand.  The opponent may also create a two card meld if it allows them to go out.  Any cards the opponent could not meld are given to the winner and played as single card melds.  The player who went out first will earn points for those cards.  Now the round is over.


After a round ends, players earn points equal to the total value of the cards they have melded.  The points are as follows:

10’s, Jacks, Queens, Kings = 5 points each

A – 9 = 1 point each

Queens and Kings in a marriage = 10 points each (instead of 5)


The player with the highest score at the end of the fourth round wins the game.  In the event of a tie, continue playing rounds until the tie is broken. 

Mark Ball
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