Directions on Playing Canasta

By Bryan Perkins
Natural Meld
cards image by Dragan Stankovic from

Canasta is a four player team card game played using two standard decks of 52 playing cards and four Jokers. In Canasta, each card is given a specific point value based on the rank of the card. The three through seven count as five points each, the eight through King count as 10 points each, the Ace and two count as 20 points each and the Jokers count as 50 points each. The object of the game is to play as many melds as possible. Melds consist of three or more cards of the same rank played at the same time. Jokers and twos count as wild cards and can be played to complete a meld of any rank, but no meld can contain more than three wildcards. In order to play the first meld of any rank you must use at least two natural, not wild, cards of that rank.

Choose a dealer at random. The dealer should then shuffle the cards and deal 11 cards to each player. The remaining cards are placed face-down in the center of the table and the top card is taken off and placed face-up next to the pile. If the first card is a wild or a red three continue flipping cards until a card other than a wild or red three is on top. In such a case turn the wild or red three perpendicular to the rest of the pile to indicate the discard pile is frozen.

Place any red threes you were dealt face up in front of you and draw cards from the center stock pile to replace them. All players should do this immediately after the hands are dealt. Play starts to the left of the dealer after this process.

Draw the top card from the face down discard pile or take the whole of the discard pile depending on the cards in your hand. You can take the entire discard pile only if you have two cards in your hand with which you can complete a meld with the top card of the discard pile, or if your team has already played a meld which matches the top card of the discard pile and you add the top card to that meld. To take the discard pile play the two cards in your hand face up, add the top card of the discard pile to them to complete the meld then add the rest of the discard pile to your hand. If the discard pile is frozen you can only take it if you have two natural cards that match the top card of the discard pile in your hand.

Play any other melds in your hand. After taking the discard pile or the top card from the stock pile you can play as many melds as possible.

Discard a single card from your hand face up on the discard pile. If this card is a black three then the next player cannot take the discard pile on their turn, but the pile is not frozen.

Continuing play going clockwise around the table until one player melds all their cards, or melds all their cards but one then discards the last card. This is called "going out". A player can only go out if his partnership has melded at least one canasta. A canasta is any meld that contains seven or more cards. If all the cards are natural, then it is called a natural canasta. If some of the cards are wild, with a maximum of three wild cards in any canasta, then it is called a mixed canasta.

Count the points your team has earned. The player that goes out first receives 100 bonus points. Each natural canasta is worth 500 points and each mixed canasta is worth 300 points. Each red three played counts for 100 points and if a single team played all four red threes they receive an extra 400 point bonus on top of the 100 points for each three. Each card played on the table gets counted based on their point value, and any cards left in any player's hand count against that team's score based on the cards standard point value. The team with the higher total score wins.

About the Author

Bryan Perkins is a writer from Baton Rouge, La. His work appears in various online publications, covering topics related to science. Perkins holds a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Louisiana State University.