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 valueis specific in Canasta:
|Point values for cards in Canasta
||100 (200 each if all four held)
|4, 5, 6, 7
|8, 9, 10, J, Q, K
|2 (Wild), A
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 canastais 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:
||Minimum initial meld
|3000 and above
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).
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:
|Each mixed canasta
|Each natural canasta
|Each red three, up to three
|If all four red threes are held
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.