Canasta is a Spanish take on the popular game of Rummy. Canasta is cited as a variation of the popular 500 Rum variant. The game is commonly played in 4-player groups, with 2 players in a partnership, and involves special rules which facilitate the focus on teamwork, while awarding careful play.
How to Play Canasta?
Canasta, much like other variations of Rummy, has different variations for different player counts, though we will be focusing on the standard 4-player variant, with players assigned to teams of two. The standard Canasta deck consists of two 52-card Anglo American decks, and 4 Jokers.
The following instructions are for the 4-player variant of Canasta.
The dealer is determined by deck splitting, and the player getting the highest card value will become the dealer. Each player is dealt 11 cards, one at a time. The remaining cards are set aside, face-down, forming the draw pile. The top card of the draw pile is revealed, forming the discard pile.
The turn order follows clockwise, so the player to the left of the dealer goes first.
The main objective of the Spanish card game Canasta is for each team to create melds, which add to the score of each team. Melds are combinations of cards of the same rank. Melds must consist of at least 3-cards to be valid. To create a meld, a player reveals the 3 or more cards of the same rank, placing them face-up in front of either their own hand, or their teammate.
Since there are 2 52-card decks in total, that means there are 8 cards of each rank.
Multiple melds can be played in a turn.
An example of a meld is shown below:
A♦ A♦ A♠ A♣
In Canastas, the Jokers and 2-cards are wild cards, and can be used to substitute any card in a meld. Unlike some variations of Rummy, once a wild card is used in a meld, it cannot be removed via substitutions. In terms of scoring, the wild cards are scored identically to the substituted cards.
An example of a meld using wild cards is shown below:
A♦ A♦ A♠ A♣ 2♠
Note that a meld cannot have more Wild cards than non-Wild cards.
At the start of each turn, players draw one card from the draw pile or the discard pile. Players then reveal melds if they are available. To end each turn, a card of their choosing is discarded. If players draw a red 3-card, they set it aside in their team’s set, and draw another card as a replacement.
Cards can only be drawn from the discard pile if they are used immediately in a meld. When players draw a card from the discard pile, they need to take all cards from the discard pile.
At the end of each turn, players can play out specific cards to affect the discard pile. These are discussed in the following section.
When a black 3 is discarded, the discard pile is “blocked” for the next turn. The following player will be forced to draw from the draw pile instead.
Canastas and Going Out
A Canasta is a meld consisting of 7 or more cards. These melds are special as they allow a team to go out, and are awarded additional points.
Going out is a team calling for the end of a game. This is only allowed when a team has at least 1 Canasta. Before going out, a player is allowed to ask his/her teammate whether they should make the call. Based on the current cards in hand, a player might want to hold off on calling for the end of the game.
How to Win Canasta?
The Canasta card game is played across multiple rounds, and the first team to reach 5000 points wins the game. Scores are discussed in the Scoring section of the guide.
Official Canasta Rules
The Canasta card game includes rules to ensure smooth gameplay.
Each team consists of 2 players, and the standard game of 4 players consists of 2 teams of two.
The members from each team are to sit opposite each other during the game.
The first meld made by any team needs to have a minimum point value to be valid. The point values are as follows:
- 0-1499 game points: 50 card points
- 1500-2999 game points: 90 card points
- 3000 game points and above: 120 card points
These are the basic Canasta rules. To claim the top card of the discard pile, a player must be able to use it immediately. Drawing the top card of the discard pile also means the player takes all cards from the discard pile.
If a black 3 is discarded, the discard pile is blocked for the next turn.
If a wild card is discarded, it creates a “freeze”. This means a player cannot draw from the discard pile they are able to use the card in a natural meld.
Natural and Mixed Melds
Natural melds are melds that consist of no wild cards.
Mixed melds are melds made with wild cards included. Mixed melds cannot have more wild cards than non-wild cards.
If a red 3 is drawn as the first card forming the discard pile, another card is flipped to replace it. The same rule applies to black 3s.
If a wild card is drawn, it is turned sideways to indicate a freeze. Another card is drawn to replace it.
Depending on the ruling methods of the current round, this can be considered a valid match. However, this ultimately depends on the currently used ruleset.
Summary of Rules
In general, the Canasta card game rules are:
- Each player is split into teams of 2.
- Each player is dealt 11 cards each. Remaining cards form the draw and discard pile.
- Each turn, a player draws a card from the draw or discard pile (when allowed).
- The player then makes melds using available cards, ending their turn by discarding one card.
- Players can discard specific cards to affect the discard pile.
- Once a team has a Canasta, they are allowed to go out, ending the round.
Scoring & Cheat Sheet
Canasta scoring is somewhat complicated, since each card has a specific point value, and different conditions are awarded different point amounts. Thankfully, it is easy enough to understand the basics with our provided cheat sheet.
- Jokers: 50 points
- Aces and 2s: 20 points
- Kings, Queens, Jacks, 10s, 9s, 8s: 10 points
- 7s, 6s, 5s, 4s: 5 points
- Black 3s: 5 points
- Natural Canasta: 500 points
- Mixed Canasta: 300 points
- Red 3s: 100 points each
- Going Out: 100 points
To calculate the scores for each round, sum up the point values for each meld based on the card values. Then, subtract the card values that still remain in hand. A score card format is provided below:
|Team 1||Team 2|
|Player 1||Player 2||Melds||Player 3||Player 4||Melds|
An example ending hand with a team that has gone out for the Canasta Card Game is shown below, illustrating the point calculation process.
A♦ A♦ A♠ A♣ 2♠ = 20 x 4 + 20 = 100 points
Q♣ Q♣ Q♠ Q♠ Q♦ Q♦ 2♦ = 10 x 6 + 20 + 300 (Mixed Canasta) = 380 points
10♠ 10♠ 10♠ = 10 x 3 = 30 points
5♦ 5♣ 5♦ 5♠ 5♠ Joker 2♣ = 5 x 5 + 50 (Joker) + 20 (Two) = 95 points
Player 1: No Cards Left = 0 points
Player 2: K♣ 4♦ 7♣ 7♦ = 10 + 5 + 5 + 5 = 25 points
Meld Points – Hand Points = 605 – 25 = 480 points
The team is also awarded 100 points for going out, giving them a total of 580 points for this round.
Due to the nature of the point calculation process, it is perfectly possible for the team that did not go out to have a higher score, given the right melds.
The first team to hit 5000 points will win the game.
Strategy and Tips
As a Canasta strategy, keep the following points in mind:
- Always add to melds made by your teammate;
- The key is to be aware of possible cards. Counting cards can help you determine what comes off the draw pile;
- Manage your discards carefully. If your opponent has a meld of 5s, try not to discard 5s unless there is a freeze in place;
- Play melds as soon as you can, as melds cannot be affected once played;
- Manage wild cards. Wild cards in hand are a liability at the end game, but they can help make melds worth more;
- If you sense your opponent going for a closing play, play out as many cards from hand as possible to reduce the point deduction.
Play Canasta Online for Free
Canasta is a simple game to simulate, and you can play Canasta online for free with a quick Google search. Most variations allow you to play with your friends, provided you all have a computer available. Some are browser-based, but some might required a manual download to install.
We recommend the simple yet effective offering from PlayOK.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there variations of Canasta?
How many cards are dealt?
Each player is dealt 11 cards in Canasta.
How many people can play Canasta?
Canasta can be adapted to player counts of 2-6, though many prefer playing the standard 4-player version.
What is a meld in Canasta?
A meld is a combination of cards of the same rank, with the optional inclusion of wild cards such as Jokers and 2s