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Canasta, a game of the Rummy family, was the most popular card game in America in the 1950s. It originated in Uraguay 10 years earlier, spread rapidly through Argentina and the rest of Latin America, and reached the United States in 1948. The word, “canasta”, means “basket” in Spanish. The game has given rise to a number of variations including Bolivia, Samba, and Chile.

Number of Players

Four players in two fixed-partnerships. Canasta can also be adapted to 2, 3, 5 and 6 players. Partners sit opposite each other.

The Cards

Two standard decks of 52 cards, plus 4 Jokers, giving a total of 108 cards.

Wild Cards

Jokers and 2’s are wild and may be used to assume the identity of a particular card in order to complete a meld.

The Deal

Deal and play are clockwise. The deal proceeds to the left at the end of each hand. Each player is dealt 11 cards.

The undealt portion of the deck remain face down in the middle of the table and forms the stock.

The top card is turned face up, and placed beside the stock. If it is a Joker or a Two, one or more additional cards must be turned until a ‘natural’ card appears.

The Play

Starting left of the dealer, each player in turn normally first

  1. Draws a card from the stock, then
  2. Melds and/or lays off cards, as many as they so choose
  3. Discards a card face up to the discard pile to complete the turn.

Red Threes

A player finding a red 3 in his/her hand must, on their first turn, put it face up on the table and draw a replacement from the stock.

A player who draws a red 3 from the stock must also lay it face up on the table and draw a replacement from the stock. Finally, a player who takes the discard pile and finds a red 3 in it must place the red 3 face up on the table but does not draw a replacement.

Each red 3 has a bonus value of 100 points, but if one side has all four red 3s, they count as 200 each i.e. 800 in all. The value of the red 3s is credited to a side that has made a meld or debited against a side that has made no meld, when the hand ends.


The principal objective of play is to make melds combining three or more cards of the same rank. Sequences don’t count in Canasta and for this reason Samba is probably a more enjoyable game.

A meld is valid if it contains at least two natural cards and not more than three wild cards. Jokers and Deuces may not be melded apart from natural cards.

A set of Black 3s may only be melded (without wild cards) only when a player goes out.

At the end of the hand, all the cards and melds a partnership has are counted to their score, while all the cards left in hand count against their score. All the cards left in a player’s hand when play ends, even if they may form melds, count their value as minus.

A player may meld as many cards as they please, of one rank or different ranks, forming new melds or adding cards to existing melds.

A player may add additional cards to a meld made by his own side, but may not add any cards to their opponent’s melds.


A meld comprising seven or more cards, including at least four natural cards, is a canasta. In addition to the point value of the cards, a canasta earns a bonus of 500 for a ‘natural’ or ‘pure’ canasta, and 300 for a ‘mixed’ canasta (one containing wild cards).

A complete canasta is squared up with a red card on top to indicate a ‘natural’ or a black card on top to indicate a ‘mixed’ canasta.

Minimum Count

Every card has a fixed point value

Each Joker = 50
Each Deuce = 20
Each Ace = 20
Each K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 = 10
Each 7, 6, 5 4
Each Black 3 = 5

A partnership’s first meld must meet minimum count requirement that depends on the accumulated score of that side at the time.


Minimum Initial Meld


15 points

0 - 1495

50 points

1500 - 2995

90 points

3000 +

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. Bonuses of red threes and canastas do not count toward the minimum.

After a side has made its initial meld, either partner my make any valid meld without reference to any minimum count.

Taking the Discard Pile

When the discard pile is not frozen against his/her side a player may take it

  1. with a natural pair matching the top card
  2. by melding the top card
  3. by adding the top card to a meld he/she already has on the table.

Having melded the top discard, the player takes the rest of the pile into his hand and may then meld some or all of the additional cards as he/she pleases.

The discard pile may never be taken when its top card is a wild card, a black 3 or a red 3.

Freezing the Discard Pile

The discard pile is frozen when

  1. To either side that has not made a meld
  2. To both sides if it contains a wild card. That would mean that either one was turned up at the deal, or someone discarded a Deuce or a Joker to the pile.
  3. When the upcard is a black 3. Well, technically, that means the pack is ‘stopped’ because you can’t meld a black 3 with anything, so you can’t pick up the pack. However, once that player discards, the pack is effectively ‘unstopped’, and the next player in turn could take up the discard pile, providing they had matching cards in hand.

When the discard pile is frozen the player in turn may only take the discard pile if they can make a new meld by taking the upcard and melding it with at least two natural cards from their hand.

Such a meld, however, must meet the minimum requirements if the side has not made an initial meld.

The discard pile is frozen when a red 3 is turned as an upcard or if a wild card or a black 3 is turned as an upcard or discarded.

Unfreezing the Discard Pile

A frozen discard pile is unfrozen only by being taken. When the discard pile is topped by a wild card or black 3, at least one natural card must be discarded on top before the pile can be taken. Then a player make take that card and the pile only when a natural pair of the same rank from his hand. Before touching the discard pile, the player should show the pair, together with any additional cards needed to meet the minimum count needed for the initial meld.

Going Out

A player goes out when he gets rid of the last card in his hand by discarding or melding it, provided that their side has melded at least one canasta or he completes a canasta while going out. Failing this requirement, he must keep at least one card in his hand. When a player goes out, the hand ends and the results on both sides are scored.

A player need not make a discard in going out; he/she may meld all of his remaining cards.

A player with only one card left in his hand may not take the discard pile if there is only one card in it.

Permission to Go Out

If a player sees that he/she is able to go out, before or after drawing, the player may ask their partner who must answer “yes” or “no”, and the answer is binding. However, the player may go out without asking permission.

Concealed Hand

A player goes out ‘concealed’ when he/she melds his entire hand in one turn, including at least one canasta, without having made a meld or having added any cards to his/her partner’s melds. If his/her partner has not made an initial meld, the player must meet the minimum count (without the canasta bonus) if he/she has taken from the discard pile, but need not do so if he/she has drawn from the stock.

Exhausting the Stock

If a player draws the last card of the stock, and it is a red 3, he reveals it. The player may then not meld or discard, and play ends.

If the last card of the stock is not a red 3, play continues as long as each player in turn takes the discard, and he must do so if it matches a meld on his side and the pack is not frozen. A player does not have to take the discard to form a new meld. The play ends when a player cannot take the discard or legally refused to do so.

Scoring a Deal

A partnership’s base score is determined by totalling all applicable items in the following schedule:

Each Natural Canasta

500 points

Each Mixed Canasta

300 points

For Each Red

100 points

For Going Out

100 points

For Going Out

100 points extra

Scoring a Game

The first side to reach 5000 over several deals wins the game.

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