» How to Play Canasta

Canasta is a game that can be played in a wide number of styles. There are classic formats, multiple player and team formats and even special scoring formats. While these have special rules that the players follow, there are some very basic rules which almost anyone can use to enjoy a game of Canasta.

In order to play, it requires at least two players, two decks of standard playing cards and a pencil and paper to keep score. A game of Canasta requires only a few actions on the part of each player, and these consist of melding, drawing and going out.

Before beginning a game, it is important to understand how the cards are viewed or valued. There are “natural” cards and then there are “wild” cards. The natural cards are the A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 cards. The wild cards are the jokers and the twos. The three cards have different functions depending upon the style of game being played.

The cards also have different values or points, and these are:

  • 7 through 4= 5 points each
  • King down to 8= 10 points each
  • Ace and 2= 20 points each
  • Jokers= 50 points each

The values of the cards need to be known to figure out the points at the end of the game, but also to determine if a player can meld during a game. For example, to meld for the first time a player must have at least fifteen points in the meld(s) they place on the table.

What is a meld? Melding is when a player has three or more cards of the same natural rank, which they lay in front of themselves on the table. This could be three or more kings, three or more aces, but it can also include wild cards as well. For instance, a player with four queens, a two and a joker can use them as a meld.

Threes are the only cards that cannot meld.

If a player has a meld of seven cards, this is called a canasta. If the cards are all natural, it is referred to as a “pure” canasta, if it is made up of naturals and wild cards then it is known as a “mixed” canasta. These are distinguished by the color of the top card: red is a pure canasta and black is a mixed canasta. Additionally the player with a mixed canasta must turn the wild cards at a right angle from the naturals when they meld.

To begin playing a game, the dealer gives each player fifteen cards. The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table and the dealer flips the top card over to create a discard pile. If this card is a red three or a wild card, they must flip another until it is a natural card.

Additionally, anyone who receives a red three on the initial deal must also meld all they have received and new cards are dealt to the player. Play begins with the player to the left of the dealer (or the non-dealing player) drawing from the deck or taking the entire discard pile. They can only take the discard pile, however, if they are able to meld the top card from it immediately. The player’s turn ends when they discard a single card or go out.

To go out requires the player to have one or more canastas in front of them, and have no more cards remaining.
Scoring is then done based on the values above, and a new game begins

4 Comments on How to Play Canasta

  1. Blanchw says:

    I have played Canasta since the 1960.s the rules I play by are very different to yours Firstly I play that it is 50 to go down until your score is 1495 or more then it is 90 to go down and when the score is 3000 you need 120 to go down I also play 2 Canasta’s to go out. You do not mention what happens after the initial start of play you said nothing about red 3’s and wild cards and freezing the pack
    I do not think you have given enough details for anyone learning.

  2. Blanche says:

    You did not say anything regarding freezing the pack with a wild card or needing 50( you quote 15) or 90 or 120 to do down depending on your score or about black 2/s being a wild card and a jokers value is 50 also wild, and if the pack is frozen you need 2 like cards to pick up the pack you did not quote that you need 1 or 2 Canastas( depending on what you agree before the game commences) to go out and that you have no cards left in your hand. Where did you get your rules????

  3. Blanche says:

    I too have played since the 1960’s I totally agree 50 to go down initially and 90 when you reach 1495 and 120 when you reach 3000 and play to 5000. Nothing was said about black 3’s freezing the pack to the next player or red 3’s being worth 100 points but if you get all 4 they are worth 800.

    I use to play that if you did not have a wild card to freeze the pack but had a red 3 we used use that but I am not sure if that was only a rule we made up for our own game play plus i seem to remember that we could only freeze the pack twice until it had been won. You do not say what the value of a natural canasta or an unatural Canasta is worth.

  4. Michelle Reyes says:

    This game is amazing! I played it with the little kiddos and they had a blast!
    This game is fantastic family fun which we could play for hours! Love this game.

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