The Rules for Canasta

When you know the rules for canasta, you will be able to play a challenging card game that is usually played with four players paired into two partnerships. The cards for this game consists of two standard 52 card decks plus four jokers for a total of 108 cards. These are the rules for classic canasta.

The Rules for Canasta: The Basics

Each player is dealt 11 cards. The remainder of the deck is placed face down in the middle of the table. The top card is then turned over face up to start the discard pile before the round starts.

The ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4 are referred to as natural cards. Jokers and 2s are wild cards, although there are some restrictions. If you draw a red 3, you can place the card down face up and draw another card. Discarding a black 3 prevents the next player from picking up the discard pile.

The object of the game is to get points by melding cards between you and your partner. A meld consists of a minimum of three of a kind, such as three 4s. This is called a natural meld. However, you can use one wild card to make up that three of a kind, so a meld could also be 4, 4, 2. A canasta is a meld of seven cards.

Rules for Canasta: Points and Melding

Cards have values assigned to them. These points are:

  • 7, 6, 5, 4: 5 points
  • King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8: 10 points
  • Ace, 2: 20 points
  • Jokers: 50 points
  • Black 3: 5 points

Your partnership can't meld for the first time in a round without having a minimum number of points. This number is dependent on your score prior to the round you are playing. The scores and respective points needed to meld are as follows:

  • Negative Scoring: No minimum
  • 0 to 1495 points: 50 points from the meld
  • 1500 to 2995 points: 90 points from the meld
  • 3000 plus points: 100 points from the meld

You can put down more than one meld at a time or more than three per kind to meet the minimum meld point requirement.

After the first meld, you and your partner can add to any of your partnership's melds.

Rules for Canasta: The Discard Pile

In order for a team to pick up the discard pile, the team must have made the initial meld. However, you can use the top card to make your initial meld if you have two appropriate natural cards in your hand. When you take up the top discard, the rest of the discards go into your hand, too.

The pack is frozen, or can't be used, if a black three or a wild card is discarded.

The only way that you can unfreeze the pile is if you have a natural two of a kind in your hand and the top discard will make a meld.

Rules for Canasta: Winning the Game

The game is over when a player runs out of cards. However, the partnership has to have at least one canasta, or seven cards in a meld, before one of the partners goes out.

Your score is based on the point value of your partnership's melds plus the point value of any bonuses that the partnership might have minus the point value of the cards left in a partner's hand.


Bonus scoring includes:

  • 100 extra points for going out
  • 500 points for a canasta will all natural cards
  • 300 points for a canasta that includes wild cards
  • Add 100 points for each red 3
  • If the team has used all four red 3s, add an additional 400 points
  • If a player lays out all of his or her hand at once, the partnership scores an additional 100 points. The hand, which is called a concealed hand, must include a canasta.

Five thousand points wins the game.


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