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The Origin and History of Rummy games
The origin of Rummy games may be hard to trace but the "draw and discard" game structure is distinctive and is a characteristic pattern of play unique to Rummy games. The main goal is to get rid of all of the cards in your hand by forming either sets or runs. All of the Rummy games use this pattern of play and many use some kind of a scoring system making the play for money much more attractive. There are many theories regarding the history and origins of Rummy games, each one attributes the invention of them to different people or nations around the world and this is difficult to verify.
Mexico, Spain and America
No one knows whether Rummy originated in Mexico or Asia where it is still played. Some people believe that Rummy originated in Romania. Others connect the origins of Rummy games to the early Spanish communities who moved over to the west. The Spanish card game of Conquian bares a striking resemblance to Rummy and is sometimes considered to be an ancestor of all modern Rummy games. One theory was that Conquian (then known as "Coon Can", "Coon-can", "Coon-King" or "Conkin") started in Spain hundreds of years ago and was later carried to Mexico before spreading to the American southwest in the late 19th century. Another theory, espoused by John Scarne, suggests almost the opposite ie that it started out in America and was later exported to Mexico where it was named Conquian.
The Poker Origin Theory
Some hold that Rummy derived from Poker which originated with French Settlers in the west. It can be said that there are similarities between the two in the way in which cards are combined and with both sharing the same concepts of sequences and groups. According to John Scarne in "Scarne On Cards" (1949), Rummy was developed from a game called "Whiskey Poker" which later became known as "Rum Poker", and later just "Rum" and then finally "Rummy".
The Japan - China Connection
Other variations on the game later appeared in other countries. The Japanese Rummy game of Hanafuda ("flower cards") combined traditional games with western playing cards and is said to have evolved when the Portuguese travelled to Japan. Years later it was adapted and became a popular gambling game with ever evolving card designs, which were a repeated attempt to thwart an ongoing card game ban when Japan cut off all contact with the western world in the mid 17th century.
Rummy may have origins rooted in Chinese history. One of the first card games to incorporate the Rummy draw and discard pattern of play is the Chinese card game of Mah Jong (aka Mah-Jong, Mah-Jongg, Mai-Jiang) which is said to have been conceived during the Tang Dynasty era in China over 1000 years ago, with recent versions derived from the card game of Mah Tiao (aka Mah Tiae) of the early Ming Dynasty.
The original form was paper cards as in Mah Tiao (see above, left image) and later became tiles. Mah Jong was a leisure time pursuit, at one time reserved only for the aristocracy and the rules were kept secret for some time. It is one of the oldest Rummy games though current Rummy games may not have come directly from it.
AMERICA and the rise of Gin Rummy
Robbers Rummy is a version which follows the same matching card rules but yet abandons the notion of discards and scoring. This variation on the standard Rummy game appeared in Germany in the early 20th century. Panguingue (aka Pan) is one of the first Rummy games to have appeared in America and was a staple of the gambling halls during the Californian Gold Rush in the early 19th century. Gin Rummy, a relative newcomer amongst Rummy games, is today the most popular version of the game played in the United States. It is said to have been invented in New York and most references suggest that the game of Gin Rummy in its current form was derived from "Knock Rummy" and invented by Elwood T. Baker in 1909.

Gin Rummy became mainstream in the west during a golden period in the United States when it was, for some time, played more than any other card game. The most common assumption regarding the origin of the name for Gin Rummy is that it is derived from the alcoholic drink of the same name (ie Gin). The game was adopted by the Hollywood elite and famous movie stars during the 1930s and 1940s for they enjoyed the quick fire, high skill game play on the set between takes. Gin Rummy provided entertainment for the masses during the great depression, was passed down through generations and remains one of the most popular card games with over 50 million players in the United States alone. More elaborate variations of the game also appeared during this time, such as Contract Rummy which was evolved from Contract Bridge.
Canasta and Tile Rummy
Canasta (meaning "basket" in Spanish), one of the most well developed variations on the standard Rummy game, appeared in the 1940's in Uruguay, spreading rapidly to Argentina and the rest of Latin America soon after. It became immensely popular in the rest of America during the early 1950's and is distinguished from some other Rummy games, such as Gin Rummy, by the fact that all melds are laid face up on the table and on your turn to play you can add cards to them and reform them into different melds provided they meet the basic rules of correct formation. Also making a seven card meld (a Canasta) gives the player a huge bonus, and the number made usually decides the game. Another distinctive feature is that when a player picks up cards from the discard pile, the player picks up the entire pile, as opposed to only the top card in most other Rummy games. Canasta later gave rise to the popular Rummy game types of Samba and Bolivia.

Rummy Tile games gained huge popularity in the 1970's such as Rummikub which was developed by Israeli games inventor Ephraim Hertzano as early as 1930. In the last couple of years, Rummy has gone online and is starting to gain a presence, offering players from all over the world the chance to play the ultimate in skill games.
Rummy Origin Conclusion
There is probably an element of truth to all the various theories discussed but there is actually no "definitive" answer to the question of origin. Various older books support the Conquian theory, as did Robert Frederick Foster in his book about Conquian and Irwin Steig in "Play Gin To Win" both of which were published before 1970. Scarne supports the Poker theory and David Parlett in his book, "History of Gin Rummy" (2005) takes the view that a china connection is more feasible. Certainly, it can be said that Rummy games have been propelled by their popularity. They have travelled across geographical borders, carrying the games onward in a relay fashion whilst gathering variations to them along the way.
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