OBJECTIVE OF CANASTA: Outscore your opponent by forming melds. A meld consists of three of more cards of the same rank. Wild cards (jokers and deuces) can help form melds.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 4 to 6 players
MATERIALS OF CANASTA Two 52-card decks plus the four jokers (108 cards in total)
TYPE OF GAME: Card game
AUDIENCE: All ages
OVERVIEW OF CANASTA
If you’re a card game enthusiast, you have most likely heard of Canasta. An extremely fun rummy-style game that combines strategy and luck, this game will keep you on your toes.
Canasta originated in South America. Two friends and bridge partners wanted a card game not as long as bridge but not based too much on luck, like rummy. From this, Canasta was born!
We’re here to teach you how to play Canasta in a way that is informative and, dare we say, downright fun. So grab your deck of cards, pour yourself a beverage, and read on.
SET UP FOR CANASTA
You play Canasta with two decks of 52 cards, including the jokers from each deck. It is best played with 4 to 6 players as they will be split into teams. If you are playing with three or fewer players, then each player is on their own.
It is important to note that in Canasta, jokers and deuces (2s) are wild.
Canasta has an interesting approach to forming partnerships. At the start of the game, you choose partners by drawing cards from the deck. The player that draws the highest card gets to choose his seat and goes first. The person with the second-highest card becomes the partner of the player who drew the highest card. For the purpose of picking partners, card values are as such: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 / Spades (high), hearts, diamonds, and clubs. If players draw an equal card or joker, they must draw again. Partners sit across from one another.
HOW TO DEAL
The rotation of the deal follows clockwise and starts with the player to the right of the player who drew the highest card (player 1). Anyone can shuffle the deck, but the dealer has the right to shuffle last. The player to the dealer’s left cuts the deck after the last shuffle.
The dealer then passes 11 cards face down to each player, one at a time, dealing clockwise. Place the remaining cards in the center of the table, face-down, to serve as the stock deck. Turn over the top card of the stock deck face up, beside the stock deck, for all player to see. If this card is a joker, two, or three, you must turn another card over until the upcard is a “natural” card (four or higher). This face-up pile is the discard pile.
If you are dealt a red three, then on your first turn, place it face up on the table in front of you and replace it with another card. If you draw a red three from the stock deck, you must also place the card face up on the table and draw another card. Lastly, if you pick up the discard pile (more on this below) and find a red three, you must also table the card but you don’t have to pick up a replacement.
HOW TO PLAY CANASTA
In Canasta, similar to other Rummy-style card games, you must create melds and score points. Melds are three or more cards of the same rank. This can include wild cards. In Canasta, sequences or runs are not valid melds as they are in Gin Rummy, for instance. Similar to to other rummy style games you must draw a card and then discard another from your hand every turn. You will always have the same number of cards in your hand unless you lay down a meld.
Each turn comprises three parts: drawing a card, melding (if possible), and discarding.
You start your turn by drawing a card from the stock deck or picking it up from the discard pile (following the rules below).
You then have the opportunity to lay down a meld if the initial meld is met (refer to “initial meld” section). To do this, lay down the meld face up on the table, either in front of your partner or in front of yourself.
After this, discard one card to the discard pile to end your turn. When discarding, you must always take a card from your hand. If you choose to take the top card of the discard pile to form a meld, you must pick up the entire discard pile.
CARD VALUES IN CANASTA
The value of the cards is important when tallying your score at the end of the round and for the initial meld (more on this below). In Canasta, the value of cards is as follows:
Cards values between 4 – 7 = 5 points
Card values between 8 – K = 10 points
Aces & Deuces = 20 points
Jokers = 50pts
Black 3 cards = 5pts
Red 3 cards = 100 or 200 points
Red threes are worth 100 points a piece, but if one team collects all four red threes, then the value of the card raises to 200 points a piece, or 800 in total. Remember you must table the red threes immediately when drawn.
Something to note, a team can only receive the value of the red threes if they have made a successful meld during the round. If the round ends and the team has made no melds, the red threes are debited against their score.
HOW TO MAKE A MELD
A meld is a combination of three or more cards of the same rank. According to the rules of Canasta, you must have two “natural” cards for every wildcard. A canasta, which is 7 cards of the same rank, is to have no more than three wildcards in total.
Remember, when you have a meld in your hand, you have 2 options: You can lay the cards down on the table or keep them in your hand to try to exchange them for higher-value cards.
For example, let’s say you have three fours in your hand. As you know, fours have a value of 5 points, so laying down this meld would earn your team 15 points. Instead, you could keep the cards in your hand and try to collect higher-value cards when drawing from the stock deck. For instance, if you draw an ace, you can begin discarding your fours and begin collecting aces, as they are worth 20 points each.
But be aware that any cards left in a player’s hand at the end of the game, even if it’s a meld, count against that player’s score. The only melds that count as points are those face up on the table.
The opposing team can create a meld of the same rank, and their teammates can add to existing melds as long as it remains valid (no more than three wild cards). Players cannot add to their opponent’s melds.
HOW TO CANASTA
A canasta is a run of 7 cards of the same rank. There are two types of canastas: a “natural” and an “unnatural” canasta.
To make a natural canasta, you must obtain seven cards of the same rank without using wildcards. To signal a natural canasta, lay the seven cards on the table in a stack and show the value of the top card in red. For example, to display a natural canasta of fives, a player would stack the cards and place either the 5 of hearts or diamonds on the top. A natural canasta earns 500 points in addition to the point values of the cards in the canasta
An unnatural canasta is made when a run of 7 cards of the same rank is created using wildcards (jokers, deuces). Stack the cards and place a black card on top of the pile to signal a canasta. An “unnatural” canasta earns 300 points in addition to its regular base value points.
You may add more cards on top of completed canastas to add to the score, but these won’t affect the canasta bonus. Unless you add a wild card to a natural canasta. In this case, that canasta turns into an unnatural canasta, and you must replace the red card on top with a black one.
You must make an initial meld before you can lay down any melds. This will depend on that team’s accumulated score. Accumulated score is the team’s score at the beginning of the deal. This initial meld must not have any wilds(only pure cards). The initial meld values are as follows:
Negative points = Meld must equal 15 points
0 to 1,495 points = Meld minimum 50 points
1,500 to 2,995 points = Meld minimum 90 points
3,000 or more = Meld minimum 120 points
The count of a meld is the total point value of the cards in it. A player may make two or more different melds to meet the minimum. Only the top card counts toward the requirement if he takes the discard pile. Bonuses for red threes and canastas do not count toward the minimum.
The minimum count is only required for the first meld. Every meld thereafter is acceptable regardless of its value.
THE DISCARD PILE
Teams cannot pick up from the discard pile until they have created their first meld. The discard pile is open to both partners once one partner creates their initial meld. Otherwise, you can only draw from the stock deck.
FREEZING THE DISCARD PILE
The discard pile is frozen against a team if they have not made their initial meld. Once one of the partners has laid down the initial meld, it is unfrozen.
If a red three (only possible if turned up as an upcard), black three, or wildcard is placed atop the discard pile. This freezes the pile as well Turn the freezing card sideways on the discard pile to indicate the freeze.
To unfreeze the pile, a player must discard a natural card atop the discard pile, unfreezing it. Once this happens you can take the pile if
- You have a natural pair in your hand that matches the discard pile’s top card.
- You show the board that pair of natural cards in your hand before picking up the pile.
TAKING THE DISCARD PILE
Taking the discard pile is important in Canasta. This gives your team more opportunities to form melds. You can take the discard pile only if:
- You have a pair of natural cards in your hand that match the top card to form a meld.
- OR you have one wild card and one natural card in your hand to go with the top card and form a meld.
- Or you can add the top card to one of your team melds already on the table.
You can then take the remaining cards from the pile into your hand and finally discard one card to end your turn. Remember that picking up the discard pile is not an option until a team has met their initial meld requirement.
Going out in Canasta happens when you get rid of the last card in your hand, either by discarding or melding it. You cannot go out until your team has made at least one canasta. The round ends once you go out, and both sides tally their points for that round
There are some important things to remember. You don’t have to discard when going out; you can meld all your remaining cards. If you have only one card in hand or if the discard pile only contains one card, you cannot pick it up.
A player can go out in a “concealed” hand, which means they meld the entirety of their hand in one turn, including one canasta. You must have not made any previous melds or added cards to your partner’s melds. If you do go out this way and your partner has yet to meet the initial meld requirement, you must meet that requirement yourself.
PERMISSION TO GO OUT
If you have the option of going out before or after drawing, you can ask your partner for permission to go out. They must then answer yes or no, and you have to abide by their response. You do not need to ask permission, but it can be a helpful strategy.
Once you have reached the last card, the game is almost over. Play can continue as long as each player can take the previously discarded card and meld it. In this situation, a player must take the discard pile if they are able to. The round is over once a player can not legally take the card.
If the final in the stock deck is a red three, it counts toward your score, and the round ends immediately. You can not discard or meld after picking up the last red three.
Scoring in Canasta is calculated by adding the total value of your team’s melded cards, including all bonus points (refer to the “card values” section). Then, subtract the value of any cards remaining in your hand from your meld points.
- For each natural canasta, 500 points
- For each mixed canasta, 300 points
- For each red three, 100 points (All four red threes count 800 points)
- For going out, 100 points
- For going out concealed (extra) 100 points
The score is traditionally kept on a sheet of paper with two columns titled “we” and “they.”
It is crucial to keep a proper score as it determines the amount needed for each round’s initial meld.
END OF GAME
The game ends when one team reaches 5,000 points. Remember that a single game can take an hour or longer.
As we mentioned before, Canasta does require a bit of luck, but there is also quite a bit of strategy involved. Let’s go over some of the best tips to keep you scoring during your next game.
This strategy is used by more experienced players. As a newbie, you may be tempted to lay down all your melds immediately. While this can certainly help you earn points, it is essential to pay attention to the point values.
For example, if you have a meld of aces or jokers, then it is a good idea to lay this meld down. They are worth more points and will help you at the end of the round. However, if you’re holding three fours or sixes, then it might be better to try to hold onto those and see if you can start drawing better cards. If you do, you can start building a meld of higher value and discard the rest of your low cards.
Card management also means that you need to pay attention to how many cards you have in hand. If you lay off your melds too early in the game, then you have fewer cards for the rest of the round. It’s better to have more cards as more cards equal more options. More options equal a better chance at scoring additional points.
TAKING THE DISCARD PILE
Now you may be thinking, it’s fine if I have fewer cards I can always pick up the discard pile. Picking up the discard pile can be a double-edged sword. Let’s look at both sides.
Let’s say your cards are running low, and you want to pick up the discard pile. This is where the luck comes in. Remember that you can only pick up the discard pile if you have two natural cards in your hand that match the top card. This doesn’t happen as often as you might think. This means your hand will get smaller each time you meld, leaving you with fewer cards and fewer options. But let’s say you do get lucky and pick up the discard pile. This could be good but remember that if the other team goes out, all the cards in your hand count against your team.
On the other hand, picking up the discard pile can also be very helpful for the same reason it can hurt you. There are a ton of cards in it that can be played.
The best way to get better at using these strategies is to keep playing. Eventually, you will come up with your own strategies to use.
VARIATIONS OF CANASTA
There are some variations of Canasta that you can use whenever the occasion calls for it. We will list some of the variations below.
- Samba– Samba is a variation of Canasta where you play with three decks of cards. 15 cards are dealt to each player, and you have two discard piles. You also draw two cards each turn, making the game a bit quicker. Samba is played to 10,000 points. In this game, you can also use sequence melds of the same suit, such as four, five, and six of the diamonds. In Samba, if you make a meld of seven cards, for example, five through J of hearts, this “samba” is worth 1500 points. Some other rule changes include, collecting six red threes earns you 1,000 points, and only two wild cards are allowed in a single meld. The minimum initial meld is 150 points if your team has 7,000 points or more.
- Two-player Canasta – You can play Canasta with only two players if you want, with some slight rule changes. Each player gets 15 cards and draws two cards during each turn but still discards only one. In order to go out in this variation, you need two canastas.
- Hand and Foot Canasta – each player is dealt two sets of cards one “hand” and one “foot.” You only play one, once the other is exhausted.
- Pennies From Heaven – This variation is similar to Hand and Foot, but in order to go out, you need a natural canasta, a mixed canasta, a wild card canasta, and a canasta of sevens.
Is Canasta a Difficult Game?
Canasta is a card game that combines elements of Rummy and Bridge. While it has many rules and a different scoring system, it is quite easy to learn for beginners.
Can two people play Canasta?
There is a variation of Canasta where only 2 people can play. Each player would be dealt 15 cards rather than 11. Each player draws two cards during their turn but still discards only one. In order to go out in this variation, you need two canastas.
How Many Cards in a Canasta Deck?
Canasta is played with two decks of 52 cards, including the four jokers. This totals 108 cards in a game.
What Is a Meld in Canasta?
In Canasta, a meld is three or more cards of the same rank, regardless of the suit. For example, four of hearts, four of diamonds, and four of spades create a meld.