Thursday, August 2, 2012

How to Play Canasta

Suits of a Deck of Cards

Did you know that Canasta means "Basket" in Spanish?  The game must get its name from the importance of the draw and discard piles.

True Canasta or Hand and Foot players might disagree with me when I say that the games are very similar and interchangeable.  In fact, some games I've played, were called Canasta and the rules were more like Hand and Foot and vice versa.

I guess in a round about way, what I'm trying to say is that if you know how to play one game you can easily play the other.  In fact, I like to tell people that the rules to playing cards vary as vastly as line dances depending on location. Hey! Even within the same city, a line dance can vary.

If you haven't had the opportunity to play this fun and challenging game, please take an evening or more to enjoy.  Staying in and enjoying the company of family, friends, neighbors, and even your co-workers is a great way to spend an evening.

Have some dinner or appetizers, socialize, and enjoy the company of those you are around so often and yet so little.

Any whoo!  On with the Game!

I've taken this first set of rules (literally copied and pasted, minus some explanation and the pretty pictures and I've added a few clarifications) from and I hope you visit their website to see what else they have to offer.

Canasta Rules

These are the Canasta rules as defined by "Hoyle's Rules of Games".


  • Your goal is to beat your opponent by scoring more points. You score points by melding cards, and making as many canastas as possible. A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards of the same rank.
  • Each player starts with 15 cards in hand.
  • Both players take turns in drawing one card from the stock, and discarding one card on the discard pile (in that order). Both players take turns in drawing the first card.
  • After drawing a card, a player may meld cards if (s)he wants to. Cards are melded in columns of at least three cards; e.g. you can meld three Kings, or four Fives. You cannot meld sequences like Four-Five-Six. Once a card has been melded, it cannot be taken back into the hand (except with the Undo meld option).
  • When a player has melded his cards, he ends his turn by discarding a card. At that point, his melded cards are checked to see if they conform to the canasta rules. Discarding a card is not necessary if the player can go out by melding all of his cards.
  • Instead of drawing a card from the stock, a player may take the entire discard pile. However, this is only allowed if he can directly meld the top card.
  • A hand is over when one of the players has no cards left in his hand, or when there are no cards left on the stock. The scores of both players are then computed, and a new hand is dealt. A player can only finish a hand when he has at least one or two canastas, depending on the setting of the corresponding option.
  • A canasta match is over when one of the players reaches 5,000 points.


  • If a rank is melded, it must contain at least three cards on the table.
  • It is possible to add a wildcard to a column of cards of any rank on the table. The wildcard is then seen as a card of that rank (but the value remains unchanged). However, there may never be [equal or] more wildcards than natural cards within one meld.
  • At the beginning of a hand [beginning of the game], the top card of the stock is automatically turned around and placed on the discard pile. If this card is a Red Three or a wildcard, the procedure is repeated until the top card of the discard pile is neither a Red Three nor a wildcard.
  • When a new hand is dealt, the hands of both players are checked to see if they contain a Red Three. If there is one, that Three is then automatically melded, and an extra card is dealt to the hand out of which it came. This procedure is repeated until neither player has any Red Threes left in his hand.  [You will automatically meld and pick up a new card anytime you draw a Red Three throughout the game.]
  • Black Threes may not be melded, except when the player can go out by melding a column of three or four Black Threes. These Black Threes must then be the last cards to be melded.
  • The discard pile can be frozen by discarding a wildcard or a Red Three. A freeze is indicated by brackets [..] and means that both players are only allowed to take the discard pile if they can meld the top card using only the cards in their hand, as if they had no cards on the table. For example, if the discard pile is frozen and the top card is a Seven, the pile may only be taken if the player has two Sevens in his hand, even though he has a column of three Sevens on the table. Also, no wildcards may be used in melding: if he has one Seven and a wildcard in hand - instead of two Sevens- he may not take the discard pile.
  • If you have taken the discard pile but discover that you cannot use the top card, you can restore the pile. This carries a penalty of 50 points.
  • It is never allowed to take the discard pile when the top card is a Black Three, a Red Three or a wildcard. Thus, Black Threes can be used to freeze the pile for a single turn.
  • The first time a player melds cards in a hand, their value must be at least a certain minimum. When a player goes out in one turn ('goes out concealed'), this requirement does not apply.
  • A player can only go out when he has at least one or two canastas, depending on the 'Canastas needed to go out' setting. If a player has less than this number of canastas, and only has one card left that he should discard, he has to 'pass the discard', i.e., he does not discard that last card.
  • Taking a discard pile that only contains one card is never allowed if you only have one card in your hand.
  • When there are no more cards on the stock a special situation occurs:
    • If the discard pile is not frozen and you can add the top discard to one of your melds, you must take that top discard. Only that card is removed from the pile; you do not receive the rest. You must discard normally.
    • If you can take the discard pile in the normal way, you may. You must discard normally.

Scoring: Card Values and Bonuses

The cards have the following point values:



Four, Five, Six, Seven, Black Three


Eight, Nine, Ten, Jack, Queen, King


Deuce, Ace




Red Three

The following bonuses are awarded:

  • A mixed canasta is worth 300 points, a natural canasta 500 points, and a wildcard canasta 1,000 points.
  • The player that goes out gets a bonus of 100 points. If this player had no cards (except Red Threes) on the table directly before going out ('goes out concealed'), this bonus is doubled to 200 points.
  • If a player has all four Red Threes on the table, their score of 400 points is doubled to 800 points.
  • If a player goes out and his opponent has melded nothing but Red Threes, the value of those Red Threes is deducted from his opponent's score.

Total Score

At the end of a hand, the total score is calculated as follows:

  1. The sum of the values of the cards on the table forms the initial score value.
  2. Bonuses for canastas, going out and Red Threes are added to the score.
  3. The values of the cards in hand are deducted from the score.

It is always wise to get a canasta quickly, so that you don't run the risk of holding a large collection of cards if your opponent goes out.


The first time in a hand that a player melds cards the sum of their values must be at least a certain minimum. This minimum depends on your current score in the following way:



Less than 0


From 0 to 1495


From 1500 to 2995


3000 or more



  • The values of any Red Threes never contribute to the required minimum.
  • If you took the top card of the discard pile but you discover that you cannot use it, you can put it back by clicking on the pile again. This carries a penalty of 50 points.


You might also like to take a look at or include in your game a version that has recently been introduced to me.  Once again, I've literally copied and pasted the rules here as written by Laura Evans at and I hope you enjoy this explanation and check out all the really cool things they have on this site.  It truly is a go-to place to find out information on just about everything pertaining to life.

The Rules for Canasta

When you know the rules for canasta, you will be able to play a challenging card game that is usually played with four players paired into two partnerships. The cards for this game consists of two standard 52 card decks plus four jokers for a total of 108 cards. These are the rules for classic canasta.

The Rules for Canasta: The Basics

Each player is dealt 11 cards. The remainder of the deck is placed face down in the middle of the table. The top card is then turned over face up to start the discard pile before the round starts.

The ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4 are referred to as natural cards. Jokers and 2s are wild cards, although there are some restrictions. If you draw a red 3, you can place the card down face up and draw another card. Discarding a black 3 prevents the next player from picking up the discard pile.

The object of the game is to get points by melding cards between you and your partner. A meld consists of a minimum of three of a kind, such as three 4s. This is called a natural meld. However, you can use one wild card to make up that three of a kind, so a meld could also be 4, 4, 2. A canasta is a meld of seven cards.

Rules for Canasta: Points and Melding

Cards have values assigned to them. These points are:
  • 7, 6, 5, 4: 5 points
  • King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8: 10 points
  • Ace, 2: 20 points
  • Jokers: 50 points
  • Black 3: 5 points
Your partnership can't meld for the first time in a round without having a minimum number of points. This number is dependent on your score prior to the round you are playing. The scores and respective points needed to meld are as follows:
  • Negative Scoring: No minimum
  • 0 to 1495 points: 50 points from the meld
  • 1500 to 2995 points: 90 points from the meld
  • 3000 plus points: 100 points from the meld
You can put down more than one meld at a time or more than three per kind to meet the minimum meld point requirement.

After the first meld, you and your partner can add to any of your partnership's melds.

Rules for Canasta: The Discard Pile

In order for a team to pick up the discard pile, the team must have made the initial meld. However, you can use the top card to make your initial meld if you have two appropriate natural cards in your hand. When you take up the top discard, the rest of the discards go into your hand, too.

The pack is frozen, or can't be used, if a black three or a wild card is discarded.

The only way that you can unfreeze the pile is if you have a natural two of a kind in your hand and the top discard will make a meld.

Rules for Canasta: Winning the Game

The game is over when a player runs out of cards. However, the partnership has to have at least one canasta, or seven cards in a meld, before one of the partners goes out.

Your score is based on the point value of your partnership's melds plus the point value of any bonuses that the partnership might have minus the point value of the cards left in a partner's hand.

Bonus scoring includes:
  • 100 extra points for going out
  • 500 points for a canasta will all natural cards
  • 300 points for a canasta that includes wild cards
  • Add 100 points for each red 3
  • If the team has used all four red 3s, add an additional 400 points
  • If a player lays out all of his or her hand at once, the partnership scores an additional 100 points. The hand, which is called a concealed hand, must include a canasta.
Five thousand points wins the game.

To confuse matters a little or to spice things up a bit, here are some ideas to consider.

I am currently playing Laura Evans version with a few changes:
  •  Pick 2 cards each time
  • 14 playing cards and 11 cards for the foot
  • 4 Decks with 4 or more people
  • The Ace and the 2 is worth 25 points
  • The Black 3 is worth 500 points AGAINST you
  • Negative Scoring:
    • 0 - 5000 points: 50 points from the meld
    • 5000 - 10000 points: 90 points from the meld
    • 10000 - 15000 points: 120 points from the meld
I hope you grab a couple family members, friends, neighbors, or co-workers and enjoy this game that seems to have been around since the 1940s when it was invented somewhere in Uruguay.  By the 1950s it became one of the most popular card games in the United States.  In fact, I'm surprised Canasta hasn't been played on "Mad Men".  That is, at least I don't think it has.

Canasta can be played with two, three, or five people.  The most popular version is to play the game with a partner.  You and your partner will sit across the table from each other.  In this case you play your own hand and foot but the melding piles and points will be combined.

Oh yeah, if you play a partnership game, be sure to ask your partner if you can go out because you don't want them stuck with a lot of points.  Also be sure your partner is playing with their foot.

P.S.,  What did you think?  Have you played this game before?  What variation(s) do you play?

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