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Canasta is a card game where a player forms melds of 7 cards of the same rank and on playing the remaining
cards goes out to win the game. Canasta is said to have originated in Uruguay in late 1930’s and spread
later to Argentina and the USA. Despite being a complex game it was very popular among the American
communities and to some extent it replaced other premier games. Canasta has many versions across the
globe-Samba, Bolivia, Burraco being some of them. It is also spelled as Canaster or Kanasta in European countries.
The standard rules for the game canasta are written here and these are derived from the official game which is
famously known as "Classic canasta".
Canasta can be played by 2 or 3 players, but is best when played as a partnership game with four or six players.
Canasta means a "Basket" in Spanish; it may have come from the tray that was originally used to hold the discards.
It is also quite popularly called "Basket Rummy". The rules of canasta are unique when compared to other rummy
games and just a few rules are in common to them.
The game canasta is played with two decks of 54 cards including two jokers making a total of 108 cards.
The entire cards are shuffled and placed as one deck on the table. In Canasta, both Jokers and Deuces
(twos) are considered as wild cards. The Treys (threes) in the game have a special status which can be
learnt from the later sections.
A random player is made the dealer and he shuffles, cuts and deals the cards face down to each of the players starting
with the player to his left and moving in clockwise direction. The number of cards to be dealt depends on the players
involved in the game; we can see this in the table below. The dealer after dealing the cards places the remaining
cards on the table face down calling it the stock pile and a card from the stock is turned face up and placed beside
the stock as an upcard, thus starts the discard pile.
The players in the subsequent turns place their discards on the discard pile in the form of a stack and always only
the last discard can be seen by the players.
The upcard (first card after the deal) should be a natural card and if a wild card
(a joker or a deuce) or a trey (three) is met with, one or more cards must be turned upon the wild card from the
stock pile until a natural card comes out. Whenever a player is dealt with red trey’s or himself picks a red trey from
the stock, he must immediately place the card face up on the table and draw an equal number of cards from the stock.
Number of players
Number of cards dealt
15 cards each
13 cards each
11 cards each
Objective Of The Game
Canasta - A set of minimum of 7 cards of the same rank is known as a "Canasta".
The main aim of the player in the game is to score points, which can be obtained on forming different melds and hence going out
before your opponent does is not important but to make many melds. A player in the game is required to meld as many
canasta’s as possible. Forming at least a single canasta (sometimes two) is a prerequisite for a player to go out to win the game.
How the game Is Played Turn By Turn
(1) Drawing (Compulsory)
A player on his turn can draw a card from the stock pile and mix it with the hand. Thus he can meld the cards
if he wishes or end his turn on discarding a card. The player can also pick the top card of the discard pile
but mindful of certain conditions and these conditions can be known from the corresponding section of "Drawing
from the Discard Pile".
(2) Melding (Optional) -
The melding is done with forming sets of three or more cards of the same rank (card value). On a turn the player has no limit on the number of melds he can form. In a partnership game the melds of the partners are placed on the same area. The sequences are not valid melds in the game of Canasta.
A valid meld or a set in canasta is as seen in the example of a meld with 3 kings
When a partnership game is played a side can not have more than one meld of the same rank. The jokers and deuces (twos) are wildcards in canasta and a meld with all wild cards is not valid. A meld of three cards should have at least two natural cards and a set forming canasta can have not more than three wild cards. From this we conclude that the wild cards can never exceed the natural cards in a meld, but this doesn’t apply for a completed canasta where it can be added with any number of wild cards. The table below can give an idea of what kind of melds are valid:
Example of a Valid Set
Example of an Invalid Set
A player can add natural and wild cards to an existing meld only if the meld is formed by his side and
can not add the cards to the melds formed by the opponents. As said earlier the wild cards have a limit to be added for a meld. Thus a meld of canasta
with 7 cards can have at most 3 wild cards in it , but once formed the canasta can be added with any number wild cards and obviously the natural cards too can be added.
Important Note About Treys -
A trey is a card of rank three and all threes in canasta have a special status.
Black threes -
The black threes can be melded by a player only when he or his side is ready to go out to win the game. The meld of Black three’s can not have a wild card.
If any of the players discards a black three the next player
can not pick the card from the discard pile and has to go for the stock pile to pick a card. For this reason the black three is called a "stop card" in canasta.
Once a discard covers the Black three, it looses its significance and the player can lift the cards from the discard pile.
Red threes -
Red threes are bonus cards in canasta. Whenever a red three is dealt to a hand the player needs to place the card face up on the table
immediately and has to pick a replacement card from the stock pile. Even if the player picks the red trey from the stock pile he has to place it on the
table and draw a replacement card. In a situation where a player picks the discard pile and finds a red three in it, he shall have to place the red three
on the table and need not draw a replacement card. As said earlier the red threes are bonus cards and they can count for or against a side. If a player
goes out with a red three on his side the bonus gets added and if the player has red three and his opponent goes out the bonus gets subtracted.
Initial meld requirement for the game Canasta
- In the game of canasta when a player wants to meld
the cards for the first time there is a minimum
count requirement to be reached. This count is
nothing but the total value of the cards which are
to be laid down on the table. The count requirement
can be reached on forming different melds and the
melds need not be of the same rank. The initial meld
is always made from the cards in the hand or using the cards
drawn from the stock since the discard pile is frozen against the player till he forms the initial meld. The different card values can be seen in a later section.
This count requirement changes after each deal and it is determined using the collective score of the partners in the previous hand.In a deal the initial meld requirement can be different for different players as it always depends on their scores in the preceding deal.
The initial meld counts for corresponding scores are shown in the table following:
Minimum initial meld
3000 and above
An example as how an initial meld can be formed is shown:
Consider a K
on top of the discard pile and a
and a J
hidden in the pile. And also consider the player with the cards
and 2 in his hand. If his initial meld requirement is 50 points, then he can meld
using the K and
JJJ2 with the cards from the discard pile and the ones in his hand and thus the total becomes 100 points far exceeding the required 50 points.
(3) Discarding (Compulsory) -
A player ends his turn on discarding a card on to the discard pile face up.
The discard should be made from the hand and never from the meld. Once the player discards, the turn ends and he
can not play till his next turn. The player can not meld to the last card and has
to discard the last card to go out to win.
How the discard pile works in canasta
Drawing From Discard Pile - A player on his turn can only draw a card from the discard pile if he can use
the card to form a meld and for doing this he shall have to:
Place the cards from the hand which he wants to meld, face up on the table.
Add the top card of the discard pile to these to form a valid meld or melds.
Lift all the cards of the discard pile and add them to the hand.
He can make further melds from the cards he lifted from the discard pile and his hand.
Discard a card face up on the discard pile to end the turn.
As with the point (2), the player needs to show the cards in his hands to clarify
that he can build valid meld with the discard on the discard pile.
This process can be explained with an example:
Suppose a player has two cards like
in his hand and a discard of 5
is made. In such a case the player has to place both the fives on the table face up and pick the discard to form
555. Now the player is obliged to accept the entire
discard pile into his hand and he may form melds using these cards. The player finally ends his turn on discarding a card. The discard
can not be picked if it is a wild card or a black three.
Frozen Discard Pile - The discard pile
is frozen against the players in certain cases and these cases are shown below:
The discard pile is frozen against all the players when it contains a wild card (joker or a deuce).
If a side has not even formed a single meld, the discard pile is frozen against the side.
If a red three is the upcard after a deal, the discard pile is frozen against all players. This
is represented on placing a red three at right angles
to the frozen pile.
When the discard pile is frozen against a player, he may only pick the discard if he holds two natural cards of the same rank similar to the
one on the discard pile to form a meld.
If the discard pile is not frozen against a player he can very well pick the discard if he has just a single natural card of the same rank as of the discard and a wild card in his hand, hence to forming a valid
meld with two natural cards and a wild card.
The discards the player wishes to pick can be used to form a new meld or can be
used for adding to the existing melds. For example if the discard pile is frozen against a side and if they have a meld of
already on the table and a player discards a 6, then the player of the frozen side can pick the six only if he has another two sixes like
66 in his hand thus to form a canasta of sixes.
How to Go Out In Canasta
The play ends once a player goes out. A player can go out only on forming, at least one Canasta and melding the remaining cards in the hand and discarding his last. The player
can not discard his last card until he makes a canasta. A player on his turn can complete a canasta and also go out on the same turn if he is done with cards in his hand.
If the player without making a canasta melds all his cards and is left with a single card, he should not discard this last card and has to continue till he makes at least a
single canasta. If he breaks this rule and goes out, it is an illegal move.
On a partnership game when a player of a side is done with melding all his cards and forming a canasta, can ask his partner as "May I go out?" and the player asking this should
obey whatever his partner says, it may be "yes" or "No". There is no obligation as such for the player to ask this question to the partner but asking the partner is often advantageous
as the unmeld cards in the partners hand would count against the side.
Stock Pile Runs Out Of Cards
The play stops when the stock pile runs out of cards. But in certain
cases the play can run if the players’, being bound to rules play on the discard pile
with the previous discards. In such a situation we are compelling the players to choose the card only from the discard pile and
thus calling process as "Forcing". Now if any of the players do not want the discard and wants a card from the stock,
can not do and the play ends.
In a different scenario, if the last card drawn from
the stock is a red three, it needs a replacement
card but as there is no card to replace the game ends.
Scoring: Cards Value in Canasta
Each card in canasta has a different card value and they are shown below in the table.
50 points each
K Q J 10 9 8
7 6 5 4
The Score of the hand (both partner's hand collectively in partner ship game) is computed once the game ends and the
computation is done on considering:
1.The total value of the
2.The total value of the bonus points earned.
3.The value of the cards remaining in hand (unmelded cards).
Both the winning and loosing hands have the scores computed as per the procedure discussed above, where the total
value of the melded cards is added to the bonus points earned and the difference between this sum and the sum of the
value of the cards remained in hand gives the final points earned by the player. One thing to keep in mind here
is the points are computed for the partners as a whole.
The Bonus points ascribed to hands are as in the table
Each Red Trey
100 or 200 points
3 = 100 points
= 800 points
Discarding the last card = 100 points
Discarding the last card = 100 points
Melding entire hand in a single turn
Melding entire hand in a single turn
Concealed Hand-A concealed hand is an event of winning where the player melds his entire hand in
one turn with the hand having made at least one canasta and never having made a meld before and also never having laid off (added) the cards for
the existing melds of his partner. In a case, if the player lifts the card from the discard pile he needs to go by the rules of minimum count requirement,
if his partner too did not make any initial meld. But can directly go out to win the game earning a 100 bonus points if he lifts the card from the stock
pile (These 100 points are a bonus to the points earned for going out).
- As said in an earlier section red trey can count for or against a side. A red trey can earn a side bonus of
100 points and if a side has all the four red treys with them, each red trey would earn 200 points making it a total of 800 points.
The bonus points of red trey is added to the side that has made at least one meld and it is deducted from the side which has not made
one (i.e., at the end of a game if a player has made at least one meld and has a red trey then the bonus points get added to the side and If the player
has a red trey on his side but made no melds then the points get deducted from the side).
- A canasta is a meld of 7 (seven) or more cards with at least four natural cards (called a "base"). A canasta with no wild
cards is a "Natural Canasta" or a "Pure Canasta" and is worth 500 points. If it has any where between 1 to 3 wild cards, it is a
"Mixed Canasta" and is worth 300 points. The cards added to an already made Canasta may fetch the point value of the cards added,
but this does not affect the bonuses being earned. Even an already formed canasta when added with wild cards transforms from a
"Pure canasta" to a "Mixed canasta" there by lowering the bonus earned from 500 to 300 points.
The bonus points earned for canasta are in addition to the card value of the meld. This can be
understood by an example when we consider a canasta made out of the meld of the rank 6, then if this is a Natural canasta the
total points credited by this canasta shall be 542 (500 for canasta+ [6*7] for card value).
Some extra rules
TO keep in mind
(1) Should the stock pile be used before any player has gone out, a player can choose upcards if they
can be melded. The game ends until a player cannot make a play.
(2) If the final card in the stock pile is a red three, game ends without delay.
The person who has drawn red three may not discard.
(3) A player who has unintentionally drawn an additional card must discard it in
a future turn without drawing a new card.
(4) Should anyone fail to remember to draw a card but discards one, he or she
must select from the top stock pile card before the next player’s turn.
(5) A player must show all others a card that may be unintentionally
exposed when drawing from the stock pile, and then replace in the stock pile.
(6) Any cards unintentionally exposed must be left face up on the table until
they can be melded or discarded.
(7) An unintentional 4th wild card to a meld must be removed and added to another
meld or discarded. Should the player choose to return it to his hand, there is a penalty of 100 points.
(8) A player can take a top card from the discard pile except for a black three or wild card.
(9) A single card in the discard pile cannot be chosen if the player is only holding single card.