How to Play Canasta
How to Play Canasta
The goal of the game of Canasta is to score more points than your opponent by making melds or “canastas.” The almighty Canasta is a card meld made up of seven cards of the same rank.
Deal 15 cards to each player. Then both players take turns drawing one card from the stock and then discarding one card on the discard pile.
After a player draws a card, they can start to form “melds” if they want to. Cards get melded in columns of at least three–you can form melds of Kings or Fives or whatever. Three Fives in a row is a meld, as if four. Sequential melds don’t exist, so don’t try melding “four-five-six”. Once a card is formed into a meld, it cannot be drawn back into your hand. Discard ends a round of play.
You can choose to take the entire discard pile instead of the face-up card, but only if you can instantly meld the top card.
A hand of Canasta ends when one of the players has no cards left in their hand, or when there are no cards left on the stock pile. Players then compute their score, and begin dealing a new hand. A player can only go “out” when they have at least one Canasta. An entire Canasta match is over when one player reaches 5,000 points.
There are lots of specific Canasta rules about melding that have to be picked up as you learn the game. For instance, no game of Canasta is allowed to start with a red three or a wild card. These rules are different from game to game, and picking them up is a matter of repetition.
Here are the point values for scoring in Canasta.
Fours, Fives, Sixes, Sevens, and Black Threes are worth 5 points.
Eights, Nines, Tens, Jacks, Queens, and Kings are worth 10 points.
Deuces and Aces are worth 20 points.
Jokers are worth 50 points.
Red Threes are worth 100 points.
“Mixed” canastas are worth different bonuses than other Canastas. If a canasta has no wild cards, it is considered natural. If it has some wildcards it is considered mixed. “Mixed” canastas are worth 300 points, “natural” canastas are worth500 points, and a canasta made of nothing but “wild cards” is worth a huge 1,000 points.
The player that first “goes out” earns a bonus of 100 points.
If a player plays all four Red Threes on the table, their score of 400 points is automatically doubled to 800 points.
The most important part of Canasta strategy is basic hand management. That’s why Canasta is a great way to learn more complex games like Bridge. This means known when to hang on to certain cards and when to lay them down to form melds. Because you only draw one card (and discard one card) at a time, managing your hand is super important.
Balancing your melds is important as well. This means not playing a ton of melds as fast as possible, but playing enough to score more than your opponent. This skill really just comes with Canasta experience.
Canasta is not as popular now as it once was, but for fans of heavily strategic card games, it is a great introduction to basic strategy for meld-making games. Difficult to learn and sometimes hard to find a group to play with, Canasta has great rewards for patient card game fans.