Definitions

canasta

canasta

[kuh-nas-tuh]
canasta: see rummy.

Form of rummy, using two full decks, in which players or partnerships try to meld groups of three or more cards of the same rank and score bonuses for seven-card melds. Eleven cards are dealt to each player, the undealt portion of the pack is placed on the table, and the top card is turned up to start the discard pile. Each player in turn must draw, may meld, and must discard one card. A hand ends when a player melds his last card (goes out). Canasta originated in Uruguay in the late 1940s; its name (meaning “basket”) is probably a reference to the tray for holding discards.

Learn more about canasta with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Canasta is a matching card game in which the object is to create melds of cards of the same rank and then go out by playing or discarding all the cards in your hand.

The distinctive feature of Canasta, as opposed to other Rummy games, is that making a seven-card meld, called a canasta, gives the player a huge bonus, and the number of canastas made usually decides the game. Another distinctive feature is that in Canasta, when a player picks up cards from the discard pile, the player picks up the entire pile, as opposed to only the top card in most other Rummy games (but see also 500 Rum).

These differences in rules produce differences in play. Whereas in ordinary Rummy, the goal is to go out fast, and having cards in your hand is generally bad, the goal in Canasta is to build canastas, which requires many cards, and thus picking up the pile is usually advantageous to the player.

There are variations of the game for two to six players, but the original version is played by four. The games for four and six players are team games, and if some other number of players participates, each player plays individually. The most popular versions are the games for two and four players.

The game is named after the Spanish word for "basket."

Development of the Game

Canasta was invented in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early twentieth century. It then spread to Argentina, and then to the United States and the rest of the world. The game was very popular in the 1950s.

Although in the fifties there was an effort by Manhattan's Regency Club and the Association of the American Card Manufacturers to standardize the rules, there is a wide variety in the rules used.

Many variants of Canasta were created in the latter half of the twentieth century. Typically, these variants increase the number of cards used, make taking the discard pile more difficult, let players draw two cards each turn, add special melds to the game, and/or require more than one canasta to go out.

Currently, there are four major variants:

  • Classic, the traditional game described by the proposed Regency Club standard.
  • Samba, featuring sequences.
  • Hand and Foot, featuring "a foot", a second hand for each player which is picked up when the cards of the first one has been depleted.
  • Modern American, giving huge bonuses for canastas of sevens and aces.

Within each of these four variants there are minor rule variations, typically named after Latin American locations (Bolivia, Cuban Canasta, Mexican Canasta). There is some overlap between the major variants listed above; for example, Pennies from Heaven, which combines features of Modern American and Hand and Foot.

Competition rules for International Canasta

Many rules are optional or have variants, so it is essential to agree on them before playing with people for the first time.

The Cards and Deal

Canasta uses a pack made up of two or three complete decks of 52 cards plus four/six Jokers, depending on how many players are playing. Five or more players should use three complete decks with six Jokers, whereas two player games should use two complete decks with four Jokers.

All the deuces (twos) and jokers are "Wild Cards".

Point values for cards in Canasta
Card Value
3, 3 Special
3♣, 3♠ Special
4, 5, 6, 7 5
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10
A, 2 20
Joker 50

The dealer may be chosen at random, after which the deal then rotates clockwise with every hand.

If there are more than 2 players, the dealer deals out 11 cards to each player and one card is drawn at each turn. In the two player game, two decks are used, but 15 cards are dealt to each player, and two cards are drawn at each turn.

Any cards remaining after the deal is complete are placed on top of a stock in the center of the table. The top card from the stock is turned over to form the start of the discard pile. If this first card is a red three, black three, or a Wild card (joker or deuce), additional cards from the stock are turned over on top of the discard pile until the top card of the discard pile is neither a three nor a wild card. When the initial discard pile contains a red three (not a black three), or any wild card, the pack will remain frozen for each player (explained in Picking up the discard pile, below) until that freezing card has been eliminated by being legally picked up. A black three does not freeze the deck, but at the deal if turned up, it is covered by a playable card out of respect for the first player privilege.

Before the dealer turns a card up to begin the discard pile, each player must turn face up on the table any red three that they may have been dealt and then replace it with a card from the top of the Stock pile before the dealer turns up a card to start the discard pile. Any player who receives a red three in their hand during their turn, must play it to the table immediately and then draw a replacement card from the Stock pile.

The Play

The player to the dealer's left has the first turn, and play then proceeds clockwise. A turn begins either by drawing the first card from the stock into the player's hand or by picking up the entire discard pile. However, there are restrictions on when you can pick up the discard pile. (See Picking up the discard pile, below.) If the card drawn from the stock is a red three, the player must play it immediately and draw another card.

The player may then make as many legal melds as they wish from the cards in their hand. A turn ends when the player discards one card from their hand to the top of the discard pile. Cards laid out on the table are counted as pluspoints even if the player doesn't win the round. Cards on the hand are to be counted as minus.

Melds and Canastas

Players may only play to their own melds and never play to an opponent's meld.

Wild cards can be used as any rank except for threes. Red threes may never be melded. Black threes may only be melded as a player's last meld before going out.

A legal meld consists of at least three cards of the same rank. Wild cards (Deuces or Jokers) may be used, but the player must use more cards of the actual face value (called "naturals") than wild cards. Examples: 5-5-2 and 8-8-8-2-2 are legal melds. 4-2-2, 8-8-2-2, or 9-9-2-2-2 are not allowed as there are not more natural cards than wild cards in those melds. Every canasta must contain at least 4 natural cards of the rank.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or wild. A natural canasta (or red canasta) is one which comprises only natural cards. Such a canasta is gathered into a single face-up pile and set aside, with a red card on top, thus the red canasta terminology. A mixed canasta (or black canasta) is one which comprises both natural and wild cards. Again, it is common practice to set such a meld aside in a single face-up pile, with a natural black card on top. Natural canastas score more points than mixed canastas.

Initial melds

When a player's team has not yet made any melds in a hand, that player must meet an additional point score requirement to make their first meld(s). The sum of the values of the cards played in the player's turn must exceed the minimum initial meld requirement according to the team's total score:
! Team score
! align="right" | Minimum initial meld
Less than 0 15
0 – 1495 50
1500 – 2995 90
3000 and above 120


Example: If a player's team has a score of 1600 and has not yet made any melds in a hand, an initial meld of 5-5-5, Q-Q-Q-2 cannot be made as it scores only 65 points and the requirement is 90. A meld of 5-5-5, A-A-A-2 would score 95 points and can be played. Note that both initial melds can be played if the team's total score is below 1500, and that neither can be played if the team's total score is 3000 or higher.

Picking up the discard pile

At the beginning of their turn, a player may pick up the entire discard pile instead of drawing a card from the stock. They may only pick up the discard pile if they can use the top card either by adding it to an existing meld or by making a new meld using two of the same rank cards, or one same rank card and a wild card, from their hand.

If a wild card has previously been discarded to the pile, the discard pile is frozen. When the discard pile is frozen, it may only be picked up if the player can meld the top card with two natural cards of the same rank from the player's hand.

If the player's team has not yet made any melds, the discard pile is considered frozen for that team (but not for the other team if the other team has already made their minimum opening meld.) In addition, the player must meet the initial meld requirement using the top card of the discard pile in order to pick up the pile. Only the top card is relevant for the player to pick up the rest of the discard pile.

If a wild card or a black three is on top of the discard pile, it may not be picked up.

Going out

A player may go out by using all the cards in their hand only if that player's team has made one or more canastas. The player may go out either by melding all cards in their hand or by melding all cards but one and discarding the final card. If the player's team has not yet made any canastas, the player may not make a play which would leave them with no cards in their hand at the end of their turn.

Black threes may be melded only as the last play before a player goes out, and wild cards may not be used in a meld of black threes. The hand ends immediately when a player goes out.

When considering going out, a player may ask their partner for permission to go out; however, the player must abide by the partner's answer. If the partner refuses permission, the player may not go out this turn. If the partner responds "yes", the player must go out this turn. Note that it is not necessary to ask permission before going out.

If the stock is completely depleted when a player is required to draw a card, the hand ends immediately with no player having gone out. This includes the case where a player is required to draw an additional card as a result of drawing a red three. The player may not meld any cards before the hand ends. If the player can legally pick up the discard pile when there are no cards remaining in the stock, they must do so.

The Scoring

At the end of each hand, the score for each team is calculated as follows:

The total value of all cards melded by that team, including cards in canastas minus the total value of all cards remaining in the team's hands plus any bonuses:

Bonus scores
Going out 100
Going out concealed additional 100
Concealed canasta (see Miscellaneous Variants) additional 100
Each mixed canasta 300
Each natural canasta 500
Each red three, up to three 100
The fourth red three 500 (total of 800 for all four red threes)

A player goes out concealed when the player makes their team's initial meld and goes out legally in the same turn.

The bonuses for red threes are subtracted from a team's score rather than added if the hand ends without that team having made any melds. That is, if a team has three red threes but has not made any melds at the end of a hand, the team will suffer a penalty of 300 points rather than gaining a 300 point bonus.

Scoring Example: At the end of a hand in which the North player has gone out (not concealed), the cards in each team's melds and in each player's hand are:

Melds
N-S E-W
3 3 3
3♣ 3♠ 3♠ 4 4 2
6 6 6 6 6 6 2 7 7 7 7 7 2 Joker
9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 10 10 Joker
10 10 10 A A A A A
J J J J 2 2 Joker  

Hands
North None
South 4 5 5 Q K A A
East 2 5 6 10 J J
West 4 4 10 Q Q K K

 
Hand scores
Description N-S E-W
Melds 305 295
Hands -75 -120
Mixed Canastas 600 300
Natural Canastas 500 0
Red Threes 200 100
Going out 100 0
Total 1630 575

The game ends when a team's total score reaches 5000 or above. The team with the highest total score at this point wins.

Variations in Play

Scoring Variations

  • Games can be extended beyond 5,000 points, with higher initial meld requirements after reaching certain point totals (e.g. 150 points or even an initial canasta).
  • The third red three can be made worth 200 points and the fourth worth 400 to create cumulative totals of 100, 200, 400, and 800.
  • A meld of all four black threes can be made worth 100 points, but the cards are not counted for 5 points each in the total count. Black threes can also be treated like red threes (but red and black threes are normally scored separately in this case). Black threes may or may not retain their ability to block the discard pile if this variant is used.
  • A black three left in a player's hand when another player goes out may incur a -100 point penalty (rather than -5).

Miscellaneous Variations

  • It is fairly common for a different number of cards other than 11 to be dealt out at the beginning of the game, 13 and 15 also being common choices. Some groups vary the number of cards drawn inversely with the number of players.
  • To make picking up the discard pile more challenging, always require that a natural pair matching the top card be played on the same turn that the pile is picked up (i.e., the pile is always frozen).
  • A concealed canasta occurs when a canasta is revealed out of a players hand
  • Some players use a slight variant on the rule for melding wild cards; any given meld must always have more natural than wild cards. The two natural card minimum and the three wild card maximum follow from this, but this creates slightly more restrictions on the intermediate melds that can legally be made; for example, the 9-9-9-2-2-Joker meld discussed above would not be legal under this rule.
  • Require that two canastas be played in order to go out.
    • Variation on the above: Require one or both to be natural canastas.
    • Note on the above: In most cases this prevents a 'concealed hand' from being played, but it is still possible if a player picks up the discard pile and is able to use all or all but one of the cards and meld two canastas. Consider increasing the concealed canasta bonus to 250 or 500 points to reflect the increased difficulty of such a play.
  • When the stock is depleted, consider flipping over the discard pile and turning it into a new stock to extend play. If the stock and discard pile are both depleted, continue as if the stock were depleted under normal rules.
  • Play with a modified deck, such as six, two, or zero jokers, or only 7 of each meldable card.
  • For a faster-paced game that de-emphasizes the importance of picking up the discard pile, draw two cards rather than one each turn. This is especially common in two-player games.
  • When dealing, if the dealer takes the correct amount of cards off the stock to complete the deal, and he has no cards in his hand after dealing the first card to start the discard pile, he scores a bonus of 100 points.
  • Require that all players with less than 1500 points meld 50, even with a negative score.
  • Require the player behind (to the right of) the dealer cut the deck leaving the bottom separate from the top. The dealer then uses the bottom pile to deal from. If the cutter left the exact number of cards needed to deal to all players plus the one initial card for the draw pile, that team gets 100 points.

Canasta Caliente
This variation was created by Winning Moves in 2003. This version contains one caliente ("hot" in Spanish) card in each deck. Since in this version of the game, Winning moves provided a special deck of cards with Little Wilds (2's), Big Wilds (Jokers), Stops (Black 3's), Bonuses (Red 3's), and Calientes, this has no counterpart in a deck of cards, but a joker different from the others may be added to represent it. The caliente card, when played, allows the player to take cards from the draw pile until he has the amount he started with. However, it may only be played when the player playing it has not melded more melds then the opponents, and it carries a -100 point penalty when played. If it is discarded, it acts as a black 3. If a player has it in his hand at the end of the round, he loses double the amount of points in his hand (however, this amount is tripled, not quadrupled, if he holds two caliente cards).
Hand & Foot Canasta
This variation was created by Rix Products and Marina Games in 2007. This version is a quad deck game that is played with a hand and a foot, unlike traditional canasta that just has a hand. Marina Games created a deck with cards tailored for this game with mini wilds (2's), Mammoth Wilds (Jokers), wee forfeit (black 3's) and Mammoth forfeits (red 3's). Each card in the deck contains the point value for melding which makes it very easy to learn and play.

Rules for Original Canasta (as played in Uruguay)

The Cards and Deal

The game is for two to six players, either each player for themselves or in teams of two (only for four or six player games). If partners are chosen, they must sit opposite each other. Canasta uses two complete decks of 52 playing cards (French Deck) plus the four Jokers. All the Jokers and deuces (twos) are wild cards.

Point values for cards in Canasta
Card Value
3, 3 100 (200 if all four held)
3♣, 3♠, 4, 5, 6, 7 5
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10
A, 2 20
Joker 50

The initial dealer is chosen by drawing cards from the deck, highest draw dealing first (Joker beats all, Deuce beats Ace, Threes lose to all). the deal then rotates clockwise after every hand. The dealer shuffles the pack, the player to the dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals out 11 cards to each player.

The remaining cards are left in a stock in the center of the table. The top card from the stock is turned over to form the discard pile. If this first card is a red three or a wild card, the discard pile is frozen (explained in Picking up the discard pile, below). Additional cards from the stock are turned over to the top of the discard pile until the top card of the discard pile is neither a three nor a wild card.

Any player who receives a red three in their initial hand must immediately play it to the table team and draw a new card to their hand.

If a player holds in their initial hand the same card as the initial discard card, it is the "mirror card" and they are scored 100 points after showing it.[local rules and in dispute]

The Play

The player to the dealer's left has the first turn, and play then proceeds clockwise. A turn begins either by drawing the first card from the stock into the player's hand or by picking up the entire discard pile. However, there are restrictions on when you can pick up the discard pile. (See Picking up the discard pile, below.) If the card drawn from the stock is a red three, the player must play it immediately and draw another card.

The player may then make as many legal melds as they wish from the cards in their hand. A turn ends when the player discards one card from their hand to the top of the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas

Each player/team keeps separate melds of the various ranks of cards. A player may never play to an opponent's meld. A legal meld consists of at least three cards of the same rank. Suits are irrelevant except that black threes are treated differently from red threes. Wild cards can be used as any rank except for threes. Red or Black threes may never be melded.

A meld must consist of at least two natural cards, and can never have more than three wild cards. Examples: 5-5-2 and 9-9-9-2-2-Joker are legal melds. 5-2-2 is not a legal meld as it contains only one natural card. 9-9-2-2-2-Joker is not legal as it contains more than three wild cards.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or wild. A natural canasta is one which comprises only natural cards. A mixed canasta (or dirty canasta) is one which comprises both natural and wild cards. A wild canasta is one which comprises only wild cards. Wild canastas score more points than Natural canastas, which in turn score more points than mixed canastas.

Initial melds

When a player/team has not yet made any melds in a hand, that player must meet an additional point score requirement to make their first meld(s). The sum of the values of the cards played in the player's turn must equal or exceed the minimum initial meld requirement according to the player/team's total score:

Team score Minimum initial meld
Less than 0 - 1495 50
1500 - 2995 90
3000 and above 120

Example: If a player/team has a score of 1600 and has not yet made any melds in a hand, an initial meld of 6-6-6, K-K-K-2 cannot be made as it scores only 65 points and the requirement is 90. A meld of 6-6-6, A-A-A-2 would score 95 points and can be played. Note that both initial melds can be played if the team's total score is below 1500, and that neither can be played if the team's total score is 3000 or higher.

Picking up the discard pile

At the beginning of their turn, a player may pick up the entire discard pile instead of drawing a card from the stock. They may only pick up the discard pile if they can use the top card either in an existing meld or by making a new meld along with two other cards from their hand.

If a wild card has previously been discarded to the pile, the discard pile is frozen. When the discard pile is frozen, it may only be picked up if the player can meld the top card with two natural cards of the same rank in the player's hand.

If the player/team has not yet made any melds, the discard pile is considered frozen for that player/team. In addition, the player/team must meet the initial meld requirement using the top card of the discard pile in order to pick up the pile. Only the top card is relevant for the player/team to pick up the rest of the discard pile.

If a wild card or a black three is on top of the discard pile, it may not be picked up.

Going out

A player may go out by using all the cards in their hand only if that player/team has made one or more canastas. The player may go out only by melding all cards but one and discarding the final card. If the player/team has not yet made any canastas, the player may not make a play which would leave them with no cards in their hand at the end of their turn. The hand ends immediately when a player goes out.

When considering going out, a player may ask their partner for permission to go out; however, the player must abide by the partner's answer. If the partner refuses permission, the player may not go out this turn. If the partner responds "yes", the player must go out this turn.

If the stock is completely depleted when a player is required to draw a card, it is reversed and play continues.

The Scoring

At the end of each hand, the score for each team is calculated as follows:

With Canastas

The total value of all cards melded by that player/team, including cards in canastas minus the total value of all cards remaining in the team's hands plus any bonuses:

Bonus scores
Going out 100
Each mixed canasta 300
Each natural canasta 500
Each wild canasta 700
Each red three, up to three 100
Each red three, all four 200

Without Canastas

The total value of all the cards in the player/team's hand(s) plus all the cards on the player/team's table is subtracted from the total.

The bonuses for red threes are subtracted from a team's score rather than added if the hand ends without that team having made any canastas. That is, if a team has three red threes but has not made any canastas at the end of a hand, the team will suffer a penalty of 300 points rather than gaining a 300 point bonus.

The game ends when a player/team's total score reaches 5000 or above. The team with the highest total score at this point wins.

There is a special case where any player/team that manages to meld 7 canastas in one hand (natural, mixed or wild) automatically gain 5000 points and thus win the game.

Canasta for Two or Three Players

Canasta can be played with less than four players with some variations in the rules. The most significant changes are in the number of cards dealt at the beginning of the hand and the fact that each person plays individually. In a game with three players, each player receives 13 cards, and in a two player game each player receives 15 cards and each player draws two cards on each of their turns and discards one. Alternatively each player can draw only one card. If each player draws two cards, it can be required that a player must have two canastas in order to go out.

However, note that in three-player game the pile can be lost if one of your opponents discards a card that lets the other of your opponents pick it up. In two-player and two-team games you lose the pile only if your own team discards a card that lets the opponents pick it up.

Samba and Bolivia

Samba is one of the oldest Canasta variants, described in the literature in the early 50's. It has been attributed to John Crawford. It involves three decks rather than two. In Samba, sequences (such as 4-5-6 or 10-J-Q) of matching suit may be melded as well as matching sets. A sequence of seven cards, known as a samba or escalera, is worth 1500 points and counts as a canasta for purposes of going out. Other important rule changes for this version include:

  • A canasta may only contain two wild cards at most rather than three (and a samba is generally not allowed to contain wild cards at all). One slight variant on this is to require that there always be at least twice as many natural cards as wild cards in a meld.
  • The two-canasta and draw-two-cards rules mentioned above are always used; moreover, one of the two canastas must be either a samba or a natural canasta. Some variants allow going out also with two mixed canastas.
  • The pile is always frozen. One common variant does not allow picking up the pile to add the top card to a sequence, only a group of matching rank; in this version, it is legal to take the top card to add to an already-melded sequence, but you do not take the rest of the discard pile if you do this. In some variants, the concepts of frozen and unfrozen pile exist, but one can pick up an unfrozen pile only with a natural pair from the hand, or into an already existing meld.
  • Play is to 10000 rather than 5000. After 7000 points, the opening meld is 150.
  • Scoring for red 3s varies considerably. In one version, the fourth red three remains worth 500; fifth and sixth ones are worth 200 each. In another, red threes are worth 100 each unless all six are collected, in which case they are collectively worth 1000.
  • There also exists a rather complicated variant Sitoumussamba (Finnish for Contract Samba), which combines bridge-style bidding with Samba-style play. The declarer side has a contract of the minimum score they will achieve in the hand, and their opening requirements are somewhat relaxed. (Rules : (Finnish))

Bolivia is similar to Samba, with the most important difference being that canastas formed entirely of wild cards are also legal; this combination, called a wild canasta or a Bolivia, is worth 2500. Sequence canastas (always called escaleras, never sambas) are sometimes valued at 1000 rather than 1500. Play is usually to 15000.

  • Common variants of Bolivia, sometimes named after other South American locations, involve varying the scoring for wild canastas according to their composition; one consisting entirely of 2s might be worth more than one with jokers in the mix, or a bonus might be given for having all six jokers in the same Bolivia.

Hand & Foot

Hand & Foot is a Canasta variant involving four to six decks rather than two and is played by teams of two players (usually two teams, but it also works with three or four teams). The number of decks used is typically one more than the number of players, though this can vary. Due to the larger pool of available cards, it is much easier to form canastas in Hand & Foot than in standard Canasta, which changes the strategy considerably. Some players feel this version is more enjoyable for beginners. The variant was probably born in the 80's; commercial decks to play Hand & Foot have been available since 1987 Important rule changes for this variant include:

  • Each player is dealt a hand of 11 and a second hand of 13, usually referred to as the "hand" and the "foot", respectively. The hand with the lowest bottom card is played first.
  • Once a player plays all cards from their first hand, they pick up the second and continue their turn. A player discarding the last card from their first hand picks up the second and can begin playing from it on their next turn.
  • On each turn, players draw two cards from the stock. Each player discards one card on each turn.
  • A team may not go out until each member has played one card from the second hand and all threes have been discarded. The number of canastas required to go out varies. It can be at least two red and at least three black, or at least two black and at least three red canastas. Some variants allow a wildcard canasta, and then the requirement can be at least one black canasta, at least one red canasta, and a wild card canasta. When playing a singles game (that is, without partners), the requirement is one red canasta and one black canasta.
  • No discards may be picked up. Some variants allow picking up discards with a natural pair, but a player may take at most seven cards from the discard pile.
  • Black threes do not count any points and are thus useful only as discards; however, you may not go out with one in your hand. The same is true of red threes; in fact these are even worse. Red threes count 500 points each against you if you hold any in your hand (or foot) when a team goes out.

Variations

Hand & Foot itself has several variations. The following is a list of other rules that might be in place:

  • Both the hand and foot are dealt as 11 cards each, or sometimes as 13 cards each.
  • Instead of dealing the cards, the "dealer" simply shuffles the decks and places the stock in a pile. Each player in turn, starting with the one to the dealer's left, takes a stack of cards from the top of the pile. The player then separates this stack into their hand and foot, each of which will contain 11 cards. If the player drew exactly 22 cards, their team scores 100 bonus points. Otherwise, additional cards are returned to the stock or drawn as necessary to reach the two 11-card hands. Once all players have formed their hands and feet, play begins normally with the player to the dealer's left.
  • After the deal (but before looking at the cards), each player turns up the top card of each hand. He then selects one hand to keep as his "foot", and passes the other to the player on his left. Each player then picks up the hand passed to him and plays it as the "hand".
  • If a player is currently in their foot, and is able to play the top discard, then they may pick up the entire discard pile instead of drawing two cards from the stock. This is the only method by which discards can be picked up. Note that a player picking up the pile will almost certainly collect several red threes, which makes it a risky maneuver if the opponents are able to go out soon.
  • A player currently in their foot may choose to pass, or "float", rather than discard at the end of their turn (the rest of the turn plays as normal). This allows the player to play all but one card but still avoid going out. A player might also wish to float to avoid breaking a pair, or to avoid discarding a card that might be favorable to the opponents, or some other strategic reason.
  • Rules for going out vary considerably. In all cases, some number of canastas, possibly of specific types (red, black, or wild) are required. Beyond that, some versions require both teammates to be in their foot, while others allow you to go out even if your partner is still in their hand (though points in their foot still count against you, possibly with an additional 100 point penalty). Some versions relax the "no threes" rule and/or the "must play at least one card from foot" rule stated above. In addition, some versions require asking for and receiving your partner's permission before going out, while other versions specifically disallow asking, and still others give you the option to ask or not (as in standard Canasta).
  • A red canasta can contain no more than 7 cards, while a black canasta can grow to unlimited size as long as the number of natural cards exceeds the number of wild cards.
  • In some versions, eights are worth only 5 points (instead of 10 as is standard for Canasta). Black threes are often valued as 5 points rather than nil, though they can only be negative since threes cannot be played. Red threes may also vary in point value, although 500 or 100 are most common.

American Canasta

This version of Canasta is widespread, especially in the United States, and it was the official tournament version used by the (possibly defunct) American Canasta Association. American Canasta can be found in few books. One notable exception is Scarne's Encyclopedia of Card Games, where the author claims to have invented a game which he calls International Canasta. Most of the elements of Modern American Canasta can be found in Scarne's International Canasta, although there are some differences.

Due to its relative complexity and unforgiving scoring rules, which give large penalties for many melds that would be acceptable and even good in other versions, this may not be the best version for beginning players; "classic" canasta or Hand & Foot may better serve this purpose. (On the other hand, these versions can teach habits that become major liabilities in American canasta.) This version is only meant to be played by exactly four players, in two two-person partnerships. Important differences between this version and the "classic" version include:

Setup and play

  • 13 cards are dealt to each player, then two face down groups of cards are dealt on either side of the draw pile and discard pile, one with four cards and one with three. The latter are referred to as the talons or wings. The discard pile itself starts out empty. The wings are never revealed, scored or otherwise permitted to affect the game in any way; their purpose seems to be to make the game less predictable by creating some uncertainty about the composition of the deck.
  • The draw-two-cards rule is not used. Two canastas are required to go out. Play is to 8500.
  • Initial meld requirements are higher - 125 for teams with less than 3000 points, 155 for teams with 3000 or more but less than 5000, 180 thereafter. Moreover, somewhere in your initial meld must be a matching set of three natural cards, though you are allowed to have wild cards in this meld in addition to the natural cards.
    • Melding a complete canasta, however, is always considered to meet the initial meld requirement, regardless of the point values of the cards involved. (There is no other bonus for such a play.)
  • The discard pile is always frozen. Many groups do not allow taking the pile and making your team's initial meld on the same turn; those that do allow this, require you to make the initial meld first, then take the pile. (The latter was the "official" tournament rule). This can be done on the strength of a pair of natural cards that were already melded that turn, or by producing such a pair from your hand after having met the initial meld requirement without it.
  • There are some limitations on legal discards. Threes can't be discarded, except as your final discard when going out; the same is true of wild cards. If the discard pile is empty, aces and sevens can't be discarded. It is possible (though very unlikely), however, to be in a situation where you have only wild cards, or only aces, sevens and wild cards with an empty discard pile. In this case you may make such a discard (aces or sevens if possible, wild cards only if there is no other choice - never a three under any circumstances). However, an opponent may challenge the legality of such a play, in which case you must show the opponent your hand to verify that the play was in fact legal.
  • Both red and black threes may be played to the table as red threes can in "classic" canasta. Unlike in other versions of canasta, this is optional. As in other versions, a player who plays a three draws a replacement card.

Melding rules

  • Melds that do not include sevens or aces work as in "classic" canasta, except that such melds can include at most two wild cards rather than three.
  • Melds of more than seven cards are strictly forbidden, as are duplicate melds of the same rank by the same team. This has a few strategic implications; for example, it is impossible to pick up the pile on the strength of a pair of (say) jacks in your hand if your team already has a meld of five jacks, natural or otherwise.
  • One common exception, is to allow melds of 8 or more cards when going out. Skilled players will play a wild card on an existing canasta for the win.



  • Sequences (such as those that define Samba, described above) are not legal melds and play no role in the normal play of American Canasta. The closest thing to a sequence that is normally allowed is one of the Special Hands, described below.
  • Melds of sevens cannot include wild cards. A canasta of sevens is worth 2500 points rather than the usual 500. However, if the hand ends without your team completing this canasta, your team loses 2500 points. Retaining three or more sevens in your hand is nearly as bad, carrying a penalty of 1500.
  • Aces are treated the same way as sevens, with one exception. If your team's initial meld includes aces, wild cards may be added at that time; if this is done, the aces are treated like any other meld rather than being treated in the special way sevens are. Otherwise, all the same rules, including the potential penalties, apply to aces as to sevens.
  • Melds consisting entirely of wild cards are legal, much like in the aforementioned Bolivia variant. A canasta consisting of wild cards is worth 3000 points if it consists entirely of twos, 2500 points if it contains all four jokers, or 2000 points for any other combination. However, failing to complete a canasta once such a meld is made carries a 2000 point penalty.
  • It is legal to meld certain special hands as your team's first and only meld. These are hands of exactly 14 cards which you can conceivably have after drawing your card for the turn. If a team plays a special hand, the play ends immediately; the team scores only the points for the special hand (there are no penalties for the cards in the other partner's hand). This is also the only time a player is allowed to not discard a card; even when going out, a player must otherwise have something to discard. There is considerable variation in what special hands are allowed and how they are scored. Among the most commonly accepted special hands are the following (these are the ones that were legal in the tournament version):
    • Straight - one card of every rank, including a three (the reason you are allowed to retain threes in your hand), plus a joker. This is worth 3000.
    • Pairs - seven pairs, which either do not include wild cards (worth 2500), or include twos, sevens and aces (all three must be present - this combination is worth 2000).
    • Garbage - Two sets of four of a kind and two sets of three of a kind, which do not include any wild cards or threes. For example, 4-4-4-4-7-7-7-9-9-9-9-J-J-J would be considered a Garbage hand. This is worth 2000.

Other scoring rules

  • Yet another variation on scoring threes is used. Scoring is 100 for one three of a particular colour, 300 for two, 500 for three or 1000 for four; red threes and black threes are counted separately. This is a penalty if your team has no canastas at the end of the hand (and for this purpose threes in your hand count as though they were on the table), ignored entirely if your team has exactly one canasta, and a bonus if your team has two or more canastas.
  • If your team has no complete canastas when the play ends, any cards that have been melded count against that team, in addition to any of the above penalties that may apply. A team with at least one canasta gets positive points for these cards as usual.

Bibliography

  • Culbertson, Ely, Culbertson on Canasta: a Complete Guide for Beginners and Advanced Players With the Official Laws of Canasta, Faber 1949
  • Holmberg, H.H. and Öhrling, Erkki, Canasta, Samba ja Sitoumussamba, 1962
  • Scarne, John, Scarne's Encyclopedia of Card Games, 2001
  • Wastrack, Harry, The Essential Hand & Foot, Xlibris Corporation, 2005
  • Morehead, Albert, Hoyle's Rules of Games (Third edition), Signet, 2001

See also

External links

Search another word or see canastaon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;