My grandmother Ginny learned POSSO, a hypercharged rummy, from Alfred, who learnt it from a group of Franciscan nuns in California (in particular one Sister Ruth, who apparently always wore a gun to the table). Ginny played POSSO right up until her last day, on her 102nd birthday – it is without doubt the key to a very long and very happy life, along with wine and chocolate.
It is played in ten hands. In each hand one more card is dealt than the previous. By hand six or seven you may find yourself holding more than half a deck in an ill-formed fan. The game requires a lot of cards, a lot of time (about an hour), and a lot of rules. Friendships are suspended during play, and strengthened after.
YOU WILL NEED
- Up to 10 players (3-5 are best)
- 1 deck of cards less than you have players (i.e. 2 decks for 3 people, etc.), including their jokers (2 decks for 2 people though – see section )
- 1 piece of paper and pen
- Someone you trust to keep score
- Many drinks
SUMMARY OF PLAY
- THE GOAL – to have the lowest cumulative score
- DEAL – each round 1 more card dealt than the last
- PLAY – take and discard a card
- POSSO – if not your turn, beg a card (a POSSO’ed card comes with a penalty card, and no discard)
- GO DOWN – when you have the hand’s precise requirement, have picked a card and begun your turn
- PLAY ON – continue playing, picking cards, adding to cards already down, and discarding
- GO OUT – win the hand, by putting down or discarding your last card (no discard in last hand)
- OR ADD UP YOUR SCORE – when someone else goes out. Only cards in your hand (ones not put down) count against you
1: THE GOAL
The overall goal is to have the lowest score, cumulative over ten hands. In each turn, you pick up a card, then discard one face-up on the pile. In each hand the goal is to get rid of your cards (by making the requirement and going down, then playing on and going out) – any left over count against you. Twos and jokers are wild cards – they can represent any card of any suit. You may have a lot of cards to get rid of if you POSSO-ed (‘bought’ extra cards) too often.
Here are the requirements:
NB a run is consecutive cards in the same suit – 3 is the lowest card & ace high – 2’s don’t exist, as they are wild
2: THE DEAL
Cut the deck – player with the highest card is first to deal. The dealer shuffles the deck, the player to their right cuts, and the dealer deals clockwise. In the first hand, 7 cards are dealt to each player. The turn to deal passes clockwise, the hand is 8 cards and so on. Undealt cards are placed face-down in a stack in the middle of the table. The top one turned face-up, to start the separate pile.
3: TO PLAY
Play passes clockwise, starting to the left of the dealer. You start every turn by choosing to pick up either the top card in the face-up pile or the face-down stack. You end your turn by discarding a card on the face-up pile. During your turn, with luck, you may be able to go down (5) or out (7):
This happens between turns – before the next player has picked up (and immediately after the deal, before the first player has started their turn by picking a card). If not your turn, you may stake a claim to the top card in the face-up pile by shouting ‘POSSO?’ (‘May I?’). The person whose turn is next may either say ‘no’, in which case they must take the top pile card to start their turn, or ‘yes’, in which case you must take both the top pile card and the top stack card.
If you have ‘POSSO’ed it does not become your turn: you don’t get to discard. Play continues with the player whose turn it was about to be before you called ‘POSSO’. If more than one player calls ‘POSSO’, priority is given to the one closest to the player whose turn it is, moving clockwise. After someone has POSSO’ed, ‘POSSO’ may not be called again until the next turn is played. If it is your turn to play, you neither want to, nor are you permitted to call ‘POSSO’.
5: GOING DOWN
When you have made the full requirement for the hand you are ready to go down by putting the requirement face-up on the table. No part of the requirement may be more than half wild cards when you go down, although any number of wild cards may be put down on it subsequently (even in the same turn).
If you are ready to go down, you may do so if you have the requirement in your hand, and if it is your turn (only after you have started your turn by picking up a card). You haven’t won the hand though, until you have gone out (7) In the very last hand, you go down & out in one – a little different, and much harder (7B).
You can (and should try to) play on (6) in the same turn you go down.
6 PLAYING ON
If you have already gone down, in this turn or a previous one, you can play on and put down, as long as it is your turn (i.e. you’ve picked up a card and not yet discarded). Playing on is adding cards to runs and of-a-kinds already down on the table (yours or anyone’s). You can’t start a new run or of- a-kind, split them, or move cards between them, You may replace a wild card in a run, but the wild card must stay within the run – it can be moved up or down, but not into another run or your hand. (When a run is ‘full’, from three to Ace, no more cards can be added to it at all.) When you have no more cards you can play on with, discard a card so the next turn can begin.
7 GOING OUT
You win the hand by going out – getting rid of your last card – either by discarding it, or adding it to a run or of-a-kind. Of course, this can only be done after your turn started by picking up a card.
7B Hand ten, the last hand, is different. The requirement is not just that you make 3 runs, but that you are able to put them down with nothing left in your hand, and no discard. You must therefore, with 3 perfect runs in your hand, wait until you pick up the perfect card, when you can put down the lot. Having gone down and out in one fell swoop, everyone else loses the hand & must add up their scores, which will be high.
Only cards held in the hand (not ‘down’ on the table) count against you, and the score is cumulative from round to round. The lowest score after ten hands wins.
Cards count thus:
Three to seven all score 5 points
Eight to King all score 10 points
Aces score 15 points
Twos score 20 points
Jokers are free (0 points)
If you end up with a score of over 500 you are deemed to be ‘in the toilet’, which someone normally is.
9: A 2-PLAYER GAME
Ginny and Lenny used to play a game of POSSO for 2, every time they went anywhere by rail or plane. It was a very boring game, as with 2 people and the rules above, you can’t ever POSSO (the card discarded, when it’s not your turn, is the card you discarded). In 2020 I finally figured out how to play for two – with POSSO-s aplenty – and the only difference that you have more fun and end up with more wild cards. It might be my greatest regret, that I didn’t figure this out in time to show Ginny.
- Use 2 decks of cards
- Sit opposite each other, dealer deals one card face down to phantom player A to his left (just a marker to remind us he’s there), deals a full hand to his opponent, and one card to phantom player B to his right.
- Phantom player A ‘starts’ by taking the top face-down card and discarding it. Opponent can take this card, or dealer can POSSO it
- Opponent plays
- Phantom player B takes the top face-down card and discards it. Dealer can take this card, or opponent can POSSO it
- Dealer plays, and so on…
Ginny seemed to make up the rules as she went along. Here are a handful of extra ones that have stuck: It avoids some of the arguments if you agree before you start play which (if any) of the following rules you are implementing…
‘Dead card’ After the top card in the face-up pile has been ‘Posso-ed’, the next one is dead, and may not be taken by the player whose turn it is next, they can only pick up from the face-down stack. I neverplay this rule, even Ginny didn’t unless it suited her, but it often did.
‘No Posso down’ After you have gone down you may not call ‘Posso’ in the remainder of the hand. I prefer not to play this rule (sorry Ginny).
‘Cutting to lead’ When it is your turn to deal, you try to pick up the right number of cards for the deal, without counting cards or fidgeting with the deck. If you get it right (i.e. for round 2 among 3 people, you pick up 24 or 25 cards – 8 cards each, or 8 cards each plus 1 to turn over for the face-up pile), your entire score up to this point is reduced to match the current winning score (no benefit if you are already the leader). In Ginny’s day if you cut to win your score so far would be zero-ed, but the rules were updated in 2020. We always played this rule, as it offers a chance of reprieve to players who are ‘in the toilet’, and haven’t a hope in hell of winning. Also Ginny was exceedingly good at judging the right number of cards, up til her very last days.
She is probably playing now…