Rummy Rummy related games

Canasta

Origin Uruguay
Type Matching
Players 4
Skills required Tactics and strategy
Age range 12 and up
Cards 108 cards
Deck French
Play Clockwise
Card rank (highest to lowest) Red-3 Joker 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 Black-3
Playing time 60 min
Random chance Medium
Related games
Buraco Biriba

Canasta (; Spanish for "basket") is a card game of the rummy family of games believed to be a variant of 500 Rum. Although many variations exist for two, three, five or six players, it is most commonly played by four in two partnerships with two standard decks of cards. Players attempt to make melds of seven cards of the same rank and "go out" by playing all cards in their hand. It is the only partnership member of the family of Rummy games to achieve the status of a classic.

The game of Canasta was devised by Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1939. In the 1940s the game quickly spread in myriad variations to Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina, where its rules were further refined before being introduced to the United States in 1948, where it was then referred to as the Argentine Rummy game by Ottilie H. Reilly in 1949 and Michael Scully of Coronet magazine in 1953. The game quickly became a card-craze boom in the 1950s providing a sales avalanche of card sets, card trays and books about the subject.

Rules for original Canasta

Cards and deal

The classic game is for four players in two partnerships. Variations exist for two and three player games wherein each plays alone, and also for a six player game in two partnerships of three. 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 twos are wild cards.

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

The initial dealer is chosen by any common method, although it should be remembered that in Canasta there is no privilege or advantage to being the dealer. Rather the true privilege is of first play and access by that player to any chance bonus card which might have been turned up, and subsequently covered, at the conclusion of the deal (e.g., if a red three or wild card had been turned up at the end of the deal, it must and would have been covered by a legitimate play card which itself could then be used by that first player in making the initial meld and taking the discard pile and thus giving that first player those bonus cards). 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 turned card is a red or black three, or a wild card, 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. If one of these bonus cards was a wild card, it freezes the discard pile until that discard pile containing the wild card has been legitimately taken into a player's hand. A bonus red three taken in this manner is not replaced by another card from the stock, as it would if it had been drawn from the stock during a player's regular turn.

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

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 one 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. No player may "undo" a meld or laid card, or change their mind after drawing a card from the deck if they decide that they could have taken 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. Threes may never be melded in ordinary play, although 3 or 4 black threes may be melded last in the process of a player going out.

A meld must consist of at least two natural cards, and can never have more wild cards than natural cards (and therefore 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 wild cards than natural cards.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or mixed. A natural canasta is one that comprises only cards of the same rank. A mixed canasta (or dirty canasta) is one that comprises both natural and wild cards.

A "concealed" canasta is a canasta assembled in the player's hand and is played to the table complete, or requiring only the top card from the discard pile (the discard pile being picked up in the usual way). A concealed canasta may be natural or mixed and carries a bonus score of 100 points (so 400 for a concealed mixed canasta and 600 for a concealed natural canasta).

Initial melds

At the beginning of a game, both teams always have an initial meld requirement of 50. 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
Negative 15
0-1495 50
1500-2995 90
3000 and above 120

Example: If a player/team has a score of 1,600 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. Only the top card is relevant for the player/team to pick up the rest of the discard pile. 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.

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 thawed (picked up) if the player can meld the top card with two natural cards of the same rank in the player's hand.

If a wild card or a black three is on top of the discard pile, it may not be picked up. Playing a black three does not freeze the pile, however; it just acts as a "stop card." The card discarded after a black three allows the pile to be picked up again (unless it is a wild card).

Going out

A player may go out by using all the cards in their hand only if that player/team has made two or more canastas. The player may go out only by melding all his cards, and may discard a single final card if necessary. It is not required to discard a card in the process of legally going out. If the player/team has not yet made any canastas, players in that team 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 any player goes out.

When considering going out, a player may ask their partner for permission to go out; however, it is not required to ask partner's permission, but if done 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 a player can legally go out, but has three or more black threes in his hand, these may be melded at this time only. If the stock is completely depleted when a player is required to draw a card, the hand ends immediately, that is, neither team gets the going out bonus.

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 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 red three, up to three 100
If all four red threes are held 800

If a partnership has accumulated red threes, but has not yet made any melds when the opposition team goes out, then the total value of all the cards left in the player/team's hand(s) as well as the bonus value of melded red threes are subtracted from that team's previous score. That is, if a team has three red threes but had not yet made any melds, at the end of that 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 5,000 or above. The team with the highest total score at this point wins.

Canasta for two or three players

Canasta can be played with fewer 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. In a two player game each player receives 15 cards and each player draws two cards on each of their turns and discards one. If each player draws two cards, there is usually the additional requirement that a player must have made two canastas in order to go out.

US 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

Melding rules

Other scoring rules

Samba

Samba is a variant of Canasta, played with three decks, including jokers, for a total of 162 cards. 15 cards are dealt to each of four players, and an additional card is turned up. The game is to 10,000 points instead of 5,000. Samba allows sequence melds of three or more (for example, the 4, 5, and 6 of hearts or the Queen, King and Ace of Spades). If a player is able to make a sequence of seven (for example, the 5 through J of diamonds), this is a samba and is worth 1,500 points. Rather than four red threes being worth 800 points, six red threes are worth 1,000 points. Two wild cards is the maximum allowed for a meld. The minimum initial meld is 150 if a partnership has 7,000 or more.

Other "National" Canastas

Bolivian Canasta

Bolivian Canasta is similar to Samba, as it uses three decks and sequence melds. Play is to 15,000. Wild card canastas (bolivias) count 2,500. A side must have a samba (called escalera in this game) and at least one other canasta to go out. Red threes only count positive if two or more canastas have been melded. Black threes are negative 100 instead of negative 5 when left in hand.

Brazilian Canasta

Similar to Bolivia, but only to 10,000. The minimum meld requirements are 150 from 5,000 to 7,000; a canasta from 7,000 to 8,000; 200 from 8,000 to 9,000; and a natural canasta from 9,000 up. Wild card canastas count 2,000. Partnerships receive 1,000 for five red threes and 1,200 for all six. If a side has a sequence of five cards or less, it loses 1,000.

British Canasta

Similar to the original rules but with the important addition of 'Acaba' (Spanish for 'The End'). A player may say this at any point during their turn and will immediately forfeit the round awarding the opposing player or team 1,500 points and receiving 0 points, ending the very dull phase where one player or team has total control over the discard deck. When playing in teams a player may ask their teammate for permission to say acaba just as they may ask before going out and they will also be bound by the response in the same way.

Chilean Canasta

Allows both sambas and bolivias. Can be played with either three decks (162 cards) or four decks (216 cards)

Cuban Canasta

A two-deck variant to 7,500. Requires 150 for an initial meld if a partnership is over 5,000. The deck is always frozen. Wild card canastas are worth between 2,000 and 4,000; depending on the number of deuces. Threes are scored only if canastas are made; they count 100 for one, 300 for two, 500 for three and 1,000 for four. Black threes are removed from play if a discard pile is taken; a partnership that removes all four black threes this way gets 100 points.

Italian Canasta

Italian canasta is a Samba variant. The number of cards in the discard pile at the beginning of the game varies with the initial card turned up. The discard pile is always frozen. Deuces may, but a partnership may not play deuces as wild cards if deuces have been melded and a canasta is incomplete. Game is to 15,000

Uruguayan Canasta

This is regular canasta with two variants:

Boat Canasta

This variation originates in Slovakia. Since the definition of Canasta rules differed from player to player a strong urge has risen for unified rules. This in turn was satisfied by the creation of Boat Canasta, which really is a mix of other known rules, but thoroughly optimized. Currently this variant of Canasta is steadily gaining popularity mainly in Slovakia, but also in countries such as France, Germany and England.

Hand and Foot Canasta

This version is a quad deck game that is played with a hand and a foot, unlike traditional canasta that just has a hand.

Hand and Foot

Hand and 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 and Foot than in standard Canasta, which changes the strategy considerably. Some players feel this version is more enjoyable for beginners. The variant was born in the 1970s; commercial decks to play Hand and Foot have been available since 1987. Important rule changes for this variant include:

Initial melds

At the beginning of a game, both teams always have an initial meld requirement of 50. 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
1st hand 50
2nd hand 90
3rd hand 120
4th hand 150
  You must have a non-playable discard.
  You must have a minimum of three red (no wild cards) and 4 black canastas.
  You ask your partner for permission to go out.

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 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

Point values are:

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

Miscellaneous variations for Classic Canasta and other types

In Popular Culture

The expression "as dead as Canasta" cites the transience of popular interest in the game within the United States.

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Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy