How to Play Partnership Hand and Foot

By Joe Andrews
Hands and Feet!

Hand & Foot is an immensely popular card game that is loosely based on the classic Canasta, which was introduced to America in the late 1940s. One variation of Hand & Foot features two sets of partners playing the standard version with points assigned to different ranks and sets of cards. Three, four and five-player variations are also favorites. Custom-designed Hand & Foot sets are available; however, regular decks of cards can be used as well. We will explore the social game, which can be a lot of fun, especially for the casual or novice player. WARNING: THIS GAME IS FUN AND MAY CONSUME A LOT OF YOUR TIME!


There will always be one more deck in play than the number of participants. Let us assume a 4-player game with five decks (270 cards). Determine who are the partners, as they will sit opposite each other. KEEP the Jokers (there are two per deck) and shuffle the cards accordingly. Some groups prefer to use an automatic card shuffler! The dealer of the first hand will be decided by a "cut," with high card winning. Each person will receive TWO 13-card SEPARATE packs of cards. One is called the "hand" and the other is called the "foot." Only ONE pile (the hand) may be examined by a given player; the other pile (the foot) remains face down, NEXT TO THAT PLAYER.


The ranking of the cards does not determine any point value. A set of Aces does not outrank or outscore any other ranking card. However, some cards do have "special instructions." The idea is to accumulate sets or "melds." Points are not counted and there are penalties for players who are left with card after the other team wins the game.

Aces through Jacks are "common" cards whose numbers merely distinguish them from other cards. A Jack is an "eleven". Suits are irrelevant, as there are no "runs". A QUEEN is a WILD card, and may be used as an Ace, deuce, or any numerical card or another Jack. A KING is a worthless, neutral card which has no value, and no WILD power. It is a card which should be discarded as soon as possible. A JOKER has the power to "freeze" the pile and prevent the next three or five players from drawing. The pile can be "frozen" for only one round of play. Another Joker unfreezes the stock. The Joker is NOT a wild card, and has no other value.


There are two piles of cards in the middle of the table. A large card tray with two compartments can be very helpful. The pile of unseen/unplayed face-down cards in the middle of the table is called the "stock." The other pile is face up (top card only) and is called the "discards"-a dumping ground for unwanted cards. Only one card is discarded by a player with each turn. If a player chooses to draw from the discards, he/she MUST take the ENTIRE batch, and not just a few cards OR the player (on turn) draws two cards from the stock, and must decide to keep one or the both of them and deposit a card to the discard pile.


There are two goals for each team or partnership. 1) Complete your Meld requirements for that game and 2) Discard or play all of the cards from your hand and foot. Both partners must get rid of all of their cards in order to win. The player with the first turn draws TWO cards from the unused (or face-down) pile. A turn for a given player ends with the discard of a card. Play moves to the left, clockwise.


There are three types of melds: clean, dirty and partial. A clean or natural meld consists of seven cards of the SAME Rank. A dirty meld consists of a minimum of five cards of the same rank with two WILD cards (Queens) or six cards of the same rank with one WILD card. A Partial meld is four of the same rank. It does not constitute a completed meld; however, the addition of same rank or WILD cards will establish it is one of the two regular melds.


The first game of the match requires each team (not each player) to complete three clean and three dirty melds. It does not matter if there are two melds of the same rank. One member of each partnership is usally designated to place his team's melds in front of him. They must be arranged to clearly show completed melds. There is no penalty for additional completed or partial melds. Both members of the team MUST deplete their hand and foot cards. The foot may NOT be examined until the hand is depleted. If the stock is depleted or runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and placed with the top card face down to become stock.


Each team must complete four clean and four dirty melds, and be the first to deplete ALL of the cards in their respective hands. There is no credit for dropping cards on the opponents' melds. A third game of a match will use Level 1.


In addition to building melds, it is acceptable to discard cards on to the opponents' completed melds. This will help to deplete your hand (or foot). For example, if the other team has completed a set of seven Aces, you may discard an Ace on to the other team's meld of Aces. Kings are never melded and Queens may be used only to complete dirty melds. Most matches consist of the best of three games (or levels). Three teams can play, and two additional decks must be added in order to accommodate the extra team.


For a more challenging twist, try playing this variation: Deal 15 cards to each player This will be the hand. Deal a separate pack of cards to each player. This will be the foot. EACH member of the partnership must complete their own RUN of consecutive sequential cards from the Ace (low) to the Jack (high). No Wild cards can be used for runs. In addition, the combined partnership must have one clean meld and one dirty meld, thus a team will have two runs and two melds in order to win the game. Both members must deplete their hands, then foots (feet) in order to go out!