How to play Shanghai

This is the card game we play in Michigan.  We used to play it with my grandmother and her German friend G back in the mists of time.  I have never met anybody outside my family who had ever even heard of this game, and I have mentioned it a couple of times lately so I thought I would explain how to play.

You need at least three people to play it.  I am not sure about a maximum number.  We tried to play with nine people at the lake last week, and even though we added a fourth deck of cards, it still took forever.  I suspect nine players are too many.

First, you will need three decks of cards, with the jokers.  Shuffle them together and deal 11 cards to each player.  Put the remaining cards in the middle and turn the top card face up as the discard pile.

The player to dealer’s left takes the first turn.

Each player in turn can either pick up the top card of the draw pile or the discard pile like any rummy game.  You play seven hands.  They are:

  • Two sets
  • One set, one run
  • Two runs
  • Three sets
  • Two sets and a run
  • Two runs and a set
  • Three runs

A set is three of a kind

A run is a run of four cards, all the same suit.  Aces are low.

Jokers are wild, you can use them to replace any other card in a set or run.  However, you cannot have two jokers next to each other in a run and you cannot have a set of jokers.

Here are the basic directions for play lifted almost verbatim from this site:

The Draw

The player must either draw the top card of the draw pile or take the top card of the discard pile. A player who chooses to draw a card from the draw pile must first give any other player who wishes the opportunity to “May I” the discard (more about that later).

Melding (we call this going down)

The player may place groups or sequences from hand face up on the table. When melding, you must lay down exactly the combination of sets or runs required for the round you are in. For example, you cannot lay down one set if you need two, or if you need a run also. This is optional – you are not required to go down as soon as you are able to.

Laying off.

Laying off is adding cards to sets or runs which have already been melded – both your own and those melded by your opponents. You may lay off only if you have already if you are already down.  There is no limit as to how many cards you may lay off in one turn. Laying off is optional – you are never obliged to lay off cards if you do not wish to.

The Discard.

At the end of your turn, you must discard one card from your hand and placed it face up on top of the discard pile.  You cannot discard out.  If you discard a “play card” (a card that can be played on another player’s meld) the next person can pick up that card and play it if he/she is already down, so be careful.

Play continues with players taking turns clockwise around the table until one person has got rid of all the cards from their hand.

The “May I”

If a card you want is discarded and it is not your turn you can “may I” for it.  Each player can do this twice in each hand.   The player who wants the discard must also take the top two cards from the face down stock, and does not meld or discard. Play then reverts to the person whose turn was interrupted.

You can only take the discard by a “May I?” if the player whose turn it is does not want it. If more than one player wants to “May I?” the same card, the one whose turn to play would be sooner has priority.

You cannot “may I” after you go down.


Once somebody gets rid of all their cards the other players tally their points.  The cards are worth the following

  • 2-9 = 5 points each
  • 10-J-Q-K = 10 points each
  • Aces = 15 points
  • Jokers = 50 points

The player with the lowest score after you play all seven hands wins.

Sometimes we play a variation on the last hand.  In that version you can “may I” as many times as you want, and you only pick up one card.  But, you have to go down and out.

We tend to eat a lot of candy while we play.  That, of course, is optional.


One thought on “How to play Shanghai

  1. Pingback: The initiation continues « My Little Bit of Everything Blog

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