How-To Win At Gin
Gin rummy comes with a pretty straightforward set of rules: A 52-card deck; aces played low; and the objective of improving your hand by forming spreads and runs (melds), discarding uncooperative cards (deadwood) and, ultimately, outscoring your opponent.
But for one of Decatur’s longest-running cadre of card sharks, the heart of the game is more about friendship than final scores.
“I’ve played for about 45 years, and I learned the game from watching some old timers at the Decatur Club,” says Denny Mahorney, dedicated gin rummy enthusiast and retired accountant. “Some were good — and some weren’t very good at all.”
Joking that “all the best players have died,” Mahorney gives the current gin rummy crown to his pal, Rick Hazelrigg. The two are part of a group that has played together for decades and includes such characters as Doug “Tooth Fairy” Nichols, a retired dentist, and podiatrist Mike “Toes” Clark.
“Rick gets calls to play in a lot of tournaments,” admits Mahorney. “His skill level is known throughout Macon County.”
“It’s primarily common sense,” confesses Hazelrigg, who’s played gin rummy since the ‘50s. “You need a bit of card sense and, mostly, the luck of the draw. It helps to remember which cards have been turned up, too.”
Tweaking rules and adjusting the game to any number of players — one-on-one, two-on-three, etc., — keeps the challenge and interest levels up. For instance, Hazelrigg and company have stipulated that a player can’t “knock” (end the round) until his “deadwood” count totals five points or less, versus the standard rule of 10. After a player knocks, his opponent can lay off cards on his runs and spreads and, if he ends up with fewer points as a result, the “knocking” player gets “burned” — which awards the defending player 25 bonus points.
“The game’s a lot of fun, and no two hands are ever alike,” says Hazelrigg. “Some of the best gin rummy players just know how to draw well!”
“If I do have a secret, I sure don’t know what it is,” Mahorney seconds. “One of the first things I heard from a very good gin rummy player is that you can’t beat the deck.”
These guys are always ready to give it a shot, though. Although the gin rummy-playing season is somewhat dictated by responsibilities to their respective golf games, they get together several times a week through the winter to play and taper only slightly when the golf courses are open.
“Years ago, there were four of us that would play every Tuesday night from about 7 p.m. to midnight,” Mahorney says. “But we got away from that, and now we just play whenever we can.
“I carry a few new decks of cards in my trunk,” he adds. “I’m always ready.”
Although Contributing Editor Jan Mathew has years of euchre to her credit, she can offer absolutely no secrets for success.
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2009 issue of Decatur Magazine. It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
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