Canasta game image

This is a complete guide to the rummy game Canasta.
I will explain how Canasta is played.
I will tell you all about its rules and variations.
Sounds good? Let’s dive in…


1: Canasta Game Family

2: Canasta Rules

3: Other Canasta Variations


1: Canasta Game Family

In this chapter I will explain what Canasta is.
I will tell you briefly how it spread.
Then in later chapters I will elaborate on its rules and restrictions.

Canasta is a card game family that is usually played with two or more decks and with many wild cards. In general, there are lots of rules in Canasta regarding first melds, final melds and taking the deck. These are games that go under Canasta family:
• Buraco
• Biriba
• Canasta
• Samba

So, Canasta is a card game of the rummy family of games and it is believed that it is a variant of 500 Rum. Again, there are indeed many variations depending on how many players play it, but it is most often played by four in two partnerships with two standard decks of cards.

In the game players attempt to make melds of seven cards of the same rank and “go out” by playing all cards in their hand.

The game of Canasta was invented by Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato in Montevideo, Uruguay, along with Dicy Louise Evans of Bonnyman, Kentucky in 1939.

Then, in the 1940s the game spread in thousands of variations to Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina. The rules were altering as the game went through different places. It was introduced to the United States in 1948. Interestingly enough, there it was referred to as the Argentine Rummy game. The game became largely popular in the 1950s. Today the Classic Canasta actually originates from this 1950s version from the Unites States as it has become widely popular since. There have been many variations of the game, but in this guide you will see what Classic Canasta is about.

2: Canasta Rules

In this chapter I will explain what Canasta rules are.
I will tell you about the card value and the way Canasta is played.

Rules in Canasta vary depending on the region and the variation of the game. However, here you will find general rules that apply to classic or basic Canasta.

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

Dealing in Canasta rotates clockwise after every hand. In general, the dealer shuffles the pack, the player to the dealer’s right cuts, and then the dealer deals out a hand of 11 cards to each player and the rest of the cards are left in a stack in the center of the table.

This is how the gameplay goes. The player to the dealer’s left starts and then the game proceeds clockwise. On your turn, you can either draw the first card from the stock or you can pick up the entire discard pile. However, there are certain rules on when exactly the discard pile can be picked up. You can read more about this below.

If the card drawn from the stock is a red three the player must table it immediately, as one would if melding, and draw another card. Then you can make as many melds as you wish from the cards in your hand. You end your turn by discarding one card.

Melds and Canastas

Each player or a team keeps separate melds of the various ranks of cards. A legal meld consists of at least three cards of the same rank. Suits are not relevant to the game except that colors are treated differently, that is, black threes are treated differently from red ones.

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 have at least two natural cards and you can never have more wild cards than natural cards.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or mixed. A natural canasta contains 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).

At the start of the game, both teams have an initial meld requirement of 50. This means that if a player or a team has not yet made any melds in a hand, they 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

Rules for picking up the discard pile

When it is your turn, you can pick up the whole discard pile instead of drawing a card. However, this can be done only if you can use the top card either in an existing meld or by making a new meld along with at least two other cards from your hand.

If you have not yet melded, you must meet the initial meld requirement and you can do this by using the top card of the discard pile.

However, if a wild card is the last one on the discard pile, then the discard pile is frozen and this means that it can 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. Furthermore, the discard pile is also frozen for a player or a team that has not yet melded at all this 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 or another black three).

Going out

The rule for going out says that you can go out by using all the cards in your hand only if you have made one or more canastas.

The player can go out only by melding all his cards, and may discard a single final card if necessary.

You do not have to discard a card when you are legally going out.

There is another interesting rule. When you consider going out, a player can ask their partner for permission to go out, although it is not required. However, if done, then the player must abide by the partner’s answer.

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.


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 player/team 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.

This means that 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!

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.

3: Other Canasta Variations

In this chapter I will explain what other Canasta variations are.
I will give you a brief summary of some Canasta games.

Canasta can be played with more than four players and there are some variations to the rules. Then the number of cards dealt changes. For instance, if three players play, each player receives 13 cards. In a two player game every player gets 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.

There is a very widespread version of Canasta in the United States (US American Canasta) and it was the official tournament version managed by the American Canasta Association.

This version is only meant to be played by exactly four players, in two two-person partnerships. Melding and scoring rules are somewhat different than in the classic version of Canasta.

Samba is a popular variant of Canasta. It is played with three decks, including jokers, for a total of 162 cards. Each player is dealt 15 cards 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 called 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.

Randy Rasa’s describes Canasta with several variations including , Bolivia, Cuban Canasta, The Sevens, Mexicana, Uruguay Canasta and versions for two, three, five and six players.

So, Canasta games differ and have certain variations of the rules depending on the region and on the number of players involved. Accordingly, the way of scoring is different and very often the rules for melding or drawing cards are altered.