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