OBJECTIVE: The objective of the game is to form as many melds as possible. A meld consists of three of more cards of the same rank, and jokers can be used as wild cards to help form melds.


NUMBER OF CARDS: Double 52-card decks plus four jokers (108 cards in total) / Specialty Canasta Deck 

RANK OF CARDS: Joker, 2, A,K,Q,J,10,9,8,7,6,5,4 (highest to lowest) 


Point Values:

In Canasta the value of cards is as follows:

Cards values between 4 – 7 = 5 points

Card values between 8 – K = 10 points

Aces & Dueces = 20 points

Jokers = 50pts

Black 3 card = 5pts

Red 3 cards = 100 or 200 points

Picking Partners:

Canasta has an interesting approach to forming partnerships. Partnerships are formed 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 that 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, clubs. If player drawsana equal card or joker, they must draw again. Partners sit across from one another.

How to Deal:

Rotation of the deal follows clockwise and starts with the player to the right of the player that drew the highest card. Anyone can shuffle, but the dealer has the right to shuffle last. The player to dealer 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. The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table to serve as the stock. The top card of the stock deck should be turned over for all players to see. If the turn over card is a joker, deuce or three, another card must be turned on top of it until the upcard is a “natural” card (four or higher).

Red Threes:

If a player is dealt a red three, he must place it face up on the table and replace it with another card. If a player draws a red three from the stock pile they must also place the card face up on the table in front of them and draw another card. Lastly, if a player picks up the red three from the discard pile he must table the card as well but is not required to pick up a replacement for the card.
Red threes are valued at 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. A team can only receive the value of the red threes if they have made a successful meld, if game pay ends and the team has made no meld, then the red threes are debited against their score.

How to play:

A player begins by drawing a card from the stockpile or picking up from the discard pile. The player then has the opportunity to lay down a meld if applicable and then discard one card to the discard pile to end their turn.
If the player chooses to take the the top card of the discard pile to form a meld, then he is required to pick up the entirety of the discard pile.

How to make a meld:

A meld is a combination of three or more cards of the same rank. The rules state that you must have two “natural” cards to every one wildcard and a given meld is to have no more than three wildcards in total. A set of black threes may only be melded when a player is going out.
Any cards left in a players hand at the end of the game, even if it’s a meld, counts against the players score. Only the melds that have been placed on the table count as plus.
Opposing team can create melds of the same rank, and players can add on to existing melds as long as the meld remains valid (no more than three wild cards). Players cannot add to their opponents 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 a player must obtain 7 cards of the same rank with out the use of wildcards. A natural canasta is signified when the player lays the seven cards on the table, in a stack, and showing the value of the top card in red. For example, to display a natural canasta of 5’s a player would stack the cards and place either the heart or diamond of 5’s 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 with the use of wildcards (jokers, deuces). This canasta is displayed by stacking the card and placing the black rank of the card on top of the pile. An “unnatural” canasta earns 300 points in addition to its regular base value points.
After the first round of play, and before the start of each round thereafter, players are to look at their current score and their score at that time will dictate how many points are needed for their first meld of the coming round. The values are as follows:

Accumulated Score (at beginning of the deal) Minimum Count

Minus Score = Meld must equal 15 points

0 to 1,495 score =  Meld must equal 50 points

1,500 to 2,995 score = Meld must equal 90 points

3,000 or more = Meld must equal 120 points

The count of a meld is the total point value of the cards in it. To meet the minimum, a player may make two or more different melds. If he takes the discard pile, the top card but no other may count toward the requirement. 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 are not allowed to pick up from the discard pile until they have created their first meld. Once the initial meld is created, the discard pile is open to both partners.

Freezing the discard pile:

If a red three (only possible if turned up as an upcard), black three,  or wildcard is placed atop the discard pile, the pile is effectively frozen. To indicated the state of the frozen pile, the freezing card is placed at a perpendicular angle on the discard pile.

To unfreeze the pile, a natural card must be discarded atop the frozen pile and the pile must then be taken. Only by taking the pile will the pile unfreeze.

A player may take the discard pile only when: 

1) The pile as been topped with a natural card

2) The player has a NATURAL pair already in hand that matches the top card of the discard pile.

3) The player shows the board that pair of natural cards in his hand before picking up the pile.

If the discard pile is not frozen a player may take from the discard pile as long as:

1) He has a pair of natural cards in his hand that match the top card


2) He has one natural card and one wild card in his hand to accompany the top card


3) He can add the top card to a meld he already has on the table

A player can then take the remaining cards from the pile into his hand to form other melds and discards one card to end his turn. Remember that picking up the discard pile is not an option until a team has met their initial meld requirement.

How to go out:

A player cannot go out until the team has made at least one canasta. Once a canasta is a made a player may go out by either discarding their final card or adding it to an existing meld. A player is not required to discard when going out, and a player is not allowed to pick up the discard pile when they have only one card in hand and the discard pile has only one card in it.

A player can go out in a “concealed” hand, which means they meld the entirety of their hand in one turn. If a player goes out in this way and their partner has yet to meet the initial meld requirement, they are required to meet that initial requirement themselves.

How to keep score:

For each natural canasta 500

For each mixed canasta 300

For each red three 100 (All four red threes count 800)

For going out 100

For going out concealed (extra) 100

Players must add up their score and minus the value of any cards left in their hand at the time of going out. Score is traditionally kept on a sheet of paper with two columns titled “we” and “they”.

It is important to keep proper score as it determines the amount needed for the initial meld each round.

The team that is the first to reach 5,000 points is the winner!

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71 thoughts on “Canasta”

    • Thanks, Donna,

      We are currently working on adding photos to all of our game rules by the end of the year. Slowly but surely.

  1. Note: Under the discard pile section…the word “Not” is left out of the second scenario.
    “If the discard pile is NOT frozen a player may take the pile as long as:
    Thanks, one too many a’s but otherwise a good description of the game.
    Many thanks, Dottie

  2. The section on the discard pile is confusing.

    You say, “To unfreeze the pile, a natural card must be discarded atop the frozen pile and the pile must then be taken. Only by taking the pile will the pile unfreeze.” So even if natural cards are discarded, the pile remains frozen until it is taken? That’s odd.

    And what difference does it make that it is frozen. The rules you describe for taking a frozen discard pile are looser than the rules for taking a discard pile that isn’t frozen. If the discard pile isn’t frozen, you say that the player can only take it if they have a natural pair that matches the top card. But then you say that if it IS frozen, you can also take it if you have one natural card that matches the top card plus one wild card, or if you want to just add the top card to an existing meld. So it’s easier to pick up a frozen discard pile than one that isn’t frozen?

    Also, how can you pick up the discard pile if you only have one card in your hand? You have to have two natural cards that match the top card, but you can’t have that if you only have one card in your hand.

    • Hi Andrew, the rules have been updated for clarity. To answer your questions, a frozen pile cannot be drawn from, to unfreeze a pile a player must discard a natural card to is and take the pile. to take the pile the player must follow all of the needed restrictions which are: to have a pair of natural cards that match the top discarded natural card, and reveal this natural pair to the table.
      To draw from an unfrozen discard pile a player may have a pair of natural cards that match the top card, a single card that matches the top of the discard pile, and a wild card, or they can play the top of the discard pile to an existing meld. I hope this helps!

    • Hi Sally, the game is meant for 4 players. I suppose it could be modified to play 2, but it may change the gaming experience.

    • Hi Chris, it depends on which version of Canasta you are playing. In the classic version you may not play more than 3 wild cards to any meld, but Canastas may be longer than 7 cards. this means you could add a wild card to a Canasta as long as it does not exceed the three wild card rules. In Modern American Canasta, however, Canastas cannot be longer than 7 cards but may contain any number of wild cards. So, in this instance, you may add it to a Canasta as long as it does not exceed the 7 card rule. I hope this helps!

  3. When the discard pile is not frozen and a card matching the next players existing meld is discarded, may that next player pick up just the top card or must he take the entire discard pile?

  4. Hello, I was playing today and managed to play all of my cards as melds without making a canasta. Is there some kind of rule to prevent a player from being able to get rid of all of their cards just with melds? I know it says “You must make a canasta to go out”, does that mean even if I have a meld to play I should just hold my cards if the play means I run out of cards? Sorry if that’s a silly question. Happy gaming all!

    • Hi Kristy, so yes you can meld out your hand completely but if you do not have a Canasta you cannot win. if you have melded out your hand at one time this is called a concealed hand and it is now up to your partner to completed the needed requirements to Go out. Hope this helps!

  5. Hi, We learned this game from friends and I am trying to write out rules. After reading yours I was wondering if you can add to a canasta after it has been closed. Thanks

    • Hi Teri, so a Canasta can only have 7 cards, so it cannot be added to. Before having 7 cards it’s considered a meld and cannot be closed. Hope this helps.

  6. Hi, am I reading the discard pile instructions right? You can pickup the whole pile if the card discarded is a card you have melded? You don’t need 2 natural, or 1 natural and 1 wild to pick up?

    Thank you,

    • Hi Teri, So to pick up cards from the discard pile all the following must be met: you or your partner must have started at least one meld, the discard pile must not be frozen, and one of the following must be true about your hand. You must either have a natural pair of cards that match the top card of the discard, a natural card that matches the top card of the discard pile along with a wild card, or be able to add the top card of the discard pile to a meld you have established on the table already. Hope this clears things up for you!

  7. If a player picks up the last stock card then discards, ( this player after discard still has a card in their hand after that discard) can the next player pick up the discard and play it? ex. player takes the last stock card then discards. ex. a 6. Can the next player pick up the discarded 6 and play it with his two last cards which are 6’s?

  8. I have a question. Can a player lay down a meld before they draw any cards? I had a friend that did this. Their was a “6” on top of the pile that they wanted (but didn’t have 2 in their hand). They put down their meld to have enough points ( but needed to use the “6” and one from their hand, plus i wild). Is this allowed? I thought they had to draw before they could put down a meld.

      • Do you know where I can find this rule? I also need the rule that says you can pick up the pile to add the top card to a canasta

        • Hi Ronny, I copied the relevant rules and pasted them below.

          “A player begins by drawing a card from the stockpile or picking up from the discard pile. The player then has the opportunity to lay down a meld if applicable and then discard one card to the discard pile to end their turn.”


          “If the discard pile is not frozen a player may take from the discard pile as long as:

          1) He has a pair of natural cards in his hand that match the top card


          2) He has one natural card and one wild card in his hand to accompany the top card


          3) He can add the top card to a meld he already has on the table”

          Both can be found in our Canasta game rules on our site. I hope this helps.

  9. When I was young, I’m 67, our family got together and played games most weekends and one of the ges we played was canasta. We had rules for the molds for each hand in a game. I remember the first round was 2 3 or more of a kind. The second round was 1 3 of a kind and 1 straight. I don’t remember after that and there were quite a few rounds. Do you have rules for playing this way?

    • Hi Betty, unfortunately, I have not heard of this variation, but hopefully, someone in our community might be able to help. Best of luck.

    • Betty — I believe the game you are referencing is called Michigan Rummy. On the first hand, you have 2 3 of a kind. On the second hand, you have a single 3 of a kind and a run of 3 consecutive cards of the same suit (called runs). Third hand is a pair of runs. Fourth hand is 3 3 of a kind. Each successive hand, each person is dealt 11 cards. On the fifth hand, you have to have a pair of 3 of a kind and 1 run. Hand six is one 3 of a kind & 2 runs. The last hand is 3 runs & EVERY card must play. Hope this helps you out. For Hoyle’s rules, try Michigan Rummy.

  10. If the pile is frozen with a wild ,not a black 3 .can you lay another wild on top ? In other words can you lay wilds back to back ?

    • Hi Michelle, I hope I understand your question correctly. You are asking if you may discard a wild if there is already a wild on top of the discard? The answer is yes. You may always discard any card, but the discard pile would remain frozen.

  11. If a player melds all his cards during play except for a single card, but he and his partner have no canastas at that time, is there such a thing as ‘passing’ on the discard?

    • Hi Kevin, a player must always discard a card to end their turn, so you must discard the card in your hand. I hope this helps.

  12. if there is only one card left in the discard pile and a person picks up the one card and goes out, is this still considered a win for the 1000 points?

    • Hi Mr. Handley, you cannot draw from the discard when there si only one card remaining in it. So you could not go out this way to begin with. I hope this helps.

  13. If a canasta is closed, can you pick up the discard pile just to add the top card to the already closed canasta. I understand that if you are playing “only 7 cards allowed in a canasta” you would not be permitted to do that…but otherwise could you?.

    • Hi Sheryl, are you asking if I know of any variations where this is allowed? I don’t know any off the top of my head. In Canasta once a book is closed it is closed for good, and it can only have 7 cards in it. I don’t know any instances outside of these rules where what you are asking would be a legal play. I hope this helps.

  14. Two different questions:
    1. What is the correct way to handle the initial deal if each player is not given the correct number of cards? Do you re deal to everyone?
    2. What is the correct way to handle a player drawing out of turn?

    • Hi Cheryl, For the first question a redeal would probably be your best option. For your second question, there are no official penalties for displaying in Canasta, I would suggest maybe a penalty to their score or making them play with the misdrawn card revealed. I would talk to your play group to decide what best works for you.

    • Hi Virginis, the only time a red 3 would freeze the discard pile is if it was flipped as the upcard. It is turned sideways to indicate that the pile is frozen and a new upcard is flipped ontop of it until a natural card is found. I hope this helps.

  15. On the FIRST meld—–Is it legal to use wild cards in any way including what can be called a “wild card conasta (i.e even wild cards totalling over the minmum required)?

    • Hi Tina, there is no special restriction in using wild cards in the first meld, but remember that when starting a meld of wilds you cannot use wilds in any other melds till it is complete (Modern American Canasta). I hope this helps.

    • Hi Patricia, I am a little confused about your question, are you asking about red 3s or just red cards in general? If you’re talking about red 3s if you draw them from the discard pile you must table them but are not required to draw a replacement.

  16. 1.) Can 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 2, 2, 2 be a valid meld to satisfy a 90 point minimum with the extra 2’s and being a canasta and not necessarily a meld? Can a canasta remain a meld (unstacked) letting a player take discard pile with a matching card but knowing they’re sacrificing canasta points if someone goes out?
    2.) Can 7, 7, Joker, Joker, 2 be a valid meld (only 3 max wild cards but with more than natural cards)?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Tom,
      1.) No this is not a legal meld and there is no way to form it into a legal configuration with only these 9 cards. You could do four 7s and three 2s but this would only be worth 80 points. You can also only have a total of 7 cards in a meld. Once a meld has 7 cards in it it is stacked automatically and becomes a completed canasta. A canasta cannot be added or taken from.
      2.) No for every wild added there must be two natural cards in the meld before it can be added. So to have all three wilds in a meld you must have four natural cards already in the meld, for two wild cards four natural cards must be present, and for one wild card, there must be two natural cards.
      I hope this helps and let me know if I can be of NY further assistance.

    • Hi Miguel, yes a player is not forced to meld all playable cards. A player may choose to make a meld and keep cards of the same rank in their hand for later use.

  17. WE play most weekends and would like to know if 2 teams are close to finishing the whole game we score to 10000 and the first team just needs to get a canasta to finish but the second team gets 2 canastas and is keeping the deck open and picking the deck up and getting lots of points .So who wins the one that gets more points when counting our cards or the first team to 10000 points while still playing

    • Hello Mary, Traditionally Canasta is won by the team to reach 5000 or more points first. It sounds like you are playing a variation that prolongs gameplay. So if 10000 is the score you are playing to the winners would be the team that reached 10000 or more points first. I hope this helps.

  18. Sometimes the cards are not shuffled well, and several red threes are picked up when a player draws from the stack. Do you replace every red three that you draw, or are you limited to the amount of cards you can draw to replace the red threes? This has happened occasionally in our games, and we have no option to reshuffle the deck at the place we play.
    I know you draw two cards to begin with, but if you draw two red threes and then draw another red three to replace the original red three, do you draw again until all the red threes are replaced?
    Scenario: Say you have two red threes in your hand, you draw one card for each of them. The card you drew is also a red three. Do you draw again to replace the new red three? Or is there a limit to the amount of cards you draw?

  19. Can a canasta player conceal their hand from view by the opposing players, so the opposing players don’t have any idea of the number of cards remaining in the player’s hand?

    • Hi Dwayne, no, you may attempt to hide the number of cards you have but if asked must share the information. The only real way to conceal your hand is to wait to go out all at once.

  20. Can a player pick ahead and not look at the card. They have next turn. If the card that is discarded they need can they return unlooked card and pick the pile?

    • Hi Charlotte, I am a bit confused by your question but I will do my best to answer. If the answer I provided is not applicable or not exactly what you were hoping for, I will be more than happy to clear up any additional confusion. A player must draw a card on their turn and cannot choose to skip. ONce you draw a card you must keep it, and cannot put it back.

  21. When making your first meld, do you have to use what wild cards you have in your hand to make the points, or can you pick up the discard pile to use the top card to make up the points.

    • Hi Ian, PLayers are not allowed to pick up from the discard until after they have made their first meld. Until then you cannot use it to make a meld.

    • When you play with partners in canasta, one partner will hold the melds for the team. The partnership cannot have two melds of the same rank, but both may add to any melds they have despite which partner started them. Let me know if I can provide any additional clarification.

  22. My partner already had a canasta of 6s on the table but had two more 6s in her hand. Could she pick up the discard pile when the top card on the discard pile was a 6? We understand the canasta prevented her collecting the discard pile but she could match the rule of having two cards in her hand that matched the top card of the discard pile and we wanted the other cards in the pile!

    • Hi Santi, if you place a wild, black three, or red three into the discard pile the pile becomes frozen. This means you cannot draw cards from the discard. To unfreeze the discard a player must take the discard by following all these steps. A player may take the discard pile only when: 1) The pile as been topped with a natural card. 2) The player has a NATURAL pair already in hand that matches the top card of the discard pile. 3) The player shows the board that pair of natural cards in his hand before picking up the pile.

    • Hi Wilma, You may not discard two cards in one turn but a second wild card may be discarded to the frozen pile. The player to unfreeze the pile will draw both wild cards. I hope this helps.

  23. 1. We have friends who play that you can keep playing even though you have no cards left in your hand. Is there anything in any canasta rules where this is allowed? My family always played that if you discarded your last card, that was the end of the game, and it meant you had to have your canasta/s to do so…
    2. Do both you and your partner have to meld before picking up the discard pile? My family always played that if you OR your partner had put down meld, either of you could pick up the discard pile (with the necessary 2 natural cards or 1 natural and a wild OR if the same card is on the board in your meld).

    • Hello Sandy, in the standard rules “going out” can only occur when someone has made at least one canasta, and either discards or plays their last card. This ends the game. Yes once your OR your partner has created a meld then either of you may draw from the discard pile. I hope this helps.

    • Hello Joe there is. Though our rules are for a four player game. A 2 player game would have each player dealt 15 cards, and they would draw two cards per turn, still only discarding one card. For 4 players, each player is dealt 11 cards, and get a single draw and discard a turn. For 6 player games 13 cards are dealt and each player is permitted one draw and discard. I hope this helps.

  24. Please can you advise:
    Classic canasta, 4 players, discard pile is frozen. My partner has a few melds on the table including a meld of 4 cards all natural 6’s.
    My opponent discards a 6. I have two 6’s in my hand so I am allowed to pick up the discard pile.
    MUST I use my two 6’s plus the 6 on the top of the discard pile to form a NEW meld, OR can I add them all to my partners meld and make a natural canaster ?

    This situation occurred recently and my opponents insisted that I could NOT add them to an existing meld, be it mine or my partners and that they could only be used to make a new meld.
    Any clarification would be appreciated

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