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Believed to have existed since colonial times we look at the game Umtali and how it is dealt, played and scored.


Umtali is a pretty unheard of card game except for a small handful of elderly players. The game is believed to have been popular during colonial times in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe. The characteristics of Umtali identify it as an offshoot of the Rummy family. The game employs both known Rummy practices of melding cards and going out.

Game Play

This game is played by two persons, and is played with a regular deck of fifty two cards, where Aces rank low.

The dealer is agreed upon before start of play, thereafter, the deal passes to the winner of each hand. In the event of the hand being a draw, the same player then deals again.

Umtali Deal

Cards are dealt alternately. Initially, one player receives Ten cards and the other player receives Eleven cards. The player receiving the extra card is at the discretion of the dealer. The remainder of the deck is placed face down in the center of the playing surface to form the stock.

The player receiving the extra card starts the game. After playing his/her playable cards he/she will then begin the discard pile by placing one of his/her remaining cards face up next to the stock. This is the only time a player is not required to draw a card.


The object of play is to dispose of all the cards in your hand by transferring them onto the playing surface in front of you. The playing surface is divided horizontally between the two players, with the stock and discard pile serving as the center marker, and each player shall play his cards on his respective portion.

In turn, each player must adhere to the following order:

A player must begin by drawing one card from either the top of the stock pile or from the top of the discard pile. When drawing from the discard pile the player may take the top two cards if both of them can be played immediately. (Note: If two cards are drawn in this manner, neither card may be used as a discard for that turn.)

A player must then begin transferring any playable cards from his hand, face up, onto the playing surface in front of him. This process shall continue until the player has no cards remaining in his hand which can be legitimately played.

Accepted play:

  • Sequences: Three or more cards of the same suit, in consecutive order, as in 3-2-A of Clubs.
  • Groups: Three or four cards of the same rank, as in 9-9-9.
  • Marriages: King and Queen of the same suit.

Should you have cards which can be played in more than one of the above combinations you are free to choose the method of play.

Each sequence, group, and marriage is overlapped in separate vertical columns on the playing surface. When cards of different ranks are involved, as in 10-9-8 of Diamonds or K-Q of Hearts, the highest card is at the top of the column with the others descending in rank to the lowest.

Jacks in Umatali

Jacks are always playable, regardless of quantity or circumstances, and must be played as solo cards. As such, Jacks can never be part of an overlapped group or sequence. For example, if you had a group or sequence involving Jacks (i.e. J-J-J or J-10-9 of Spades) then all of the cards involved would be played individually.

Solo Cards must be played individually and not overlapped. Solo cards, also known as Proper Additions, are any cards from your hand which form a continuation or extension to a sequence, group, or solo card already on the playing surface

To an overlapped group of three, or a pair, you can add solo cards of the same rank. In other words another 9 would be a proper addition to a pair of 9’s or the 9-9-9 group.

You can add solo cards that are consecutive in the same suit to either end of an overlapped sequence. Both the 6-Clubs and the 2-Clubs would be considered proper additions to the 5-4-3 of Clubs sequence.

To a solo card you can add (as a solo card) any card of the same rank, or the next higher or lower card in the same suit. Solo cards may be played off the opponents cards as well as your own. When playing off your opponents cards merely inform your opponent as to the nature of the play. For example, point out that you are playing the 3-Diamonds off his 6-5-4 of Diamonds sequence. You would still play the 3-Diamonds on your side of the table for scoring purposes.

If a player is able to play on one turn a set of cards forming a valid sequence, group or marriage, they must be played as overlapped cards. These cannot be played as solo cards even if, individually, they would be valid proper additions.

Playing Pairs

Pairs, two cards of the same rank, may only be played when going out.

A player must end his/her turn by placing one card from his/her hand, face up, on the discard pile.

After the first player has gone out, the second player receives one additional turn in which to go out. If he is successful then both players calculate their scores. However, if he is unsuccessful, then any cards which remain un-played from his hand are forfeited to the winner for inclusion in his score.

Both players shall receive points for all cards which they played during the course of the hand. Card values are as follows:

  • Kings, Queens Jacks and Tens score at 5 Points Each.
  • Numbered cards 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 score at 1 Point Each.
  • Additionally the Ace scores at 1 Point Each.

Four hands comprise a game. The player with the highest cumulative score at the end of the fourth hand is the winner of the game.

Three games comprise a Session. A player winning two of the three games is the winner of the Session.