How to Play the Card Game Canasta

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Playing the card game Canasta can be a lot of fun once the basics are learned. Getting together with good friends and enjoying a game of cards is a nice inexpensive way to spend an evening.

Play canasta with either two or four players. There are only minor variations of the two options. Two standard decks of fifty-two cards are needed for a two hand game and four decks are needed for a four hand game. The jokers must be included in the decks. The game will be described using the four handed version and any differences for the two handed version will be pointed out.

Divide players into two teams, with partners sitting across from each other. The object of the game is to be the first team to earn 5000 points. To receive points, cards must be played in sets of three or more of the same rank. Bonus points are given for completing a canasta. A canasta is a seven of a kind..

Earn points by playing cards, making canastas and going out.


Deal thirteen cards to each player. The remainder of the cards are placed face down to form the draw pile. The top card of the draw pile is turned face up and placed next to the draw pile to start the discard pile.

Start with the player to the dealer's left. The player may either draw the top two cards from the draw pile. Alternately, if all conditions are met, the player may take a card from the discard pile. Conditions for taking the discard pile will be addressed in the next section. A decision is then made to either meld, if the conditions for melding have been met, or to discard one card and play moves to the next person on the left. Conditions for melding will also be addressed in the next section.

Continue playing in this fashion until one team has made at least one Canasta and the player can go out by discarding or melding the last card, or when the draw pile is exhausted.

Meld by placing a three of a kind or more face up on the table. A player is not required to meld but the cards will not be scored unless a meld is made by the end of the player's turn. Twos and jokers are wild cards. They can be used as any card in the deck to make a meld. The exception to this is that there can never be more wild cards than natural cards in any meld or canasta.

Playing a three is not the same as other cards. Threes are special cards in Canasta. Red threes are not to be melded or discarded. They are for points only. A player who draws a red three turns the card face up on the table and immediately draws another card to replace it in his hand. If the initial card in the discard pile is a red three the player who eventually takes the discard pile turns it face up. He will not draw to replace it. Black threes can only be melded when it's the last play a player makes to go out and must contain three or four black threes.

A team may not have two melds of the same cards, cards must be played on existing melds when they are matches. Cards may also be added to Canastas that have already been made. Wild cards may also be added to any meld or Canasta as long as the wild cards do not outnumber the natural cards in the meld or Canasta.

Conditions for Melding and Making Canastas

Playing the first meld must have a minimum value based on the score a team has achieved. The requirements are: Negative score to 0 points - 15 points to meld 0 points to 1495 points - 50 points 1500 points to 2995 points- 90 points 3000 points to 5000 points- 120 points

Score points by making melding cards, making Canastas and going out. A meld consisting of seven or more cards is a Canasta. It is important to make Canastas because a team can not go out without two Canastas. A natural Canasta is also called a red Canasta. A red Canasta has only seven or more natural cards with no wild cards. An unnatural Canasta is also called a black Canasta. A black Canasta has at least one wild card. When a Canasta is made, the cards in the Canasta are stacked together and placed at the top of the player's area on the table. Place a red card on the top of the pile if the Canasta is a red Canasta and a black card if the Canasta is black Canasta.

Score the end of the hand as follows:

Going out - 100 points Each red three (up to 3) - 100 points (in a four person game the first 7 red threes) All four red threes - 800points (in a four person game all 8 red threes are scored with 1500 points) Each red canasta - 500 points Each black canasta - 300 points

Conditions for Taking the Discard Pile

Take the discard pile when meeting the certain conditions. If a player can make a meld or add to an existing meld with the top card on the discard pile, and has at least two natural cards in his or her own hand, then the player may pick up the discard pile. The player must play the top card on the discard pile during the same turn he picked the pile up. The other cards in the discard pile may be used during this turn or placed in the players had to use in a future turn.

Pick up the discard to play the top card on an existing meld if the discard pile is not "frozen." The discard pile is considered frozen for a team until they have met the minimum points for an initial meld. The file is also considered frozen in a wild card has been discarded. The pile will remain frozen until the pile can be picked up and played.


Score the round by adding the assigned point values for each card. The values are as follows:

Joker - 50 points 2's and Aces - 20 points 8,9,10,J,Q,K - 10 points 3,4,5,6,7 - 5 points

These points are added to the Canasta points discussed earlier.

Play the last card in either a meld or discard it to end the play for the round. A player can not go out unless his team has at least two Canastas. If the last card is drawn from the draw pile, and nobody is able to go out, the round is over and the score is counted.

Scoring for the round is taken by adding up all earned scores and subtracting the point values of unplayed cards in the hands of all players. Once the score has been calculated, another is started, and play continues until one team reaches 5000 points.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 to 4 decks of cards
  • Paper for keeping score
  • Pencil


  • Don't play the majority of your cards early in a round. Having only a few cards in your hand limits your options for playing.


  • If the other team picks up the discard pile it is often best to cut your losses and go out as quickly as possible.

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