Sunday, January 17, 2010

Unabridged Rules of Canasta based on Hoyle Rules

I grew up playing cards with my parents.  We mostly played Spades, Gin, Uno or Skip-bo.  I love to play cards and luckily, so does my husband.  A couple of years ago, my parents introduced us to a card game called Canasta.  What a blast we had playing teams!  Now, when the four of us are together for our precious little times during the year, we always get in a few rounds of Canasta.  My parents have a monthly card game with two other couples.  It is a great way to get together and share some laughs and friendly competition.

Edited by Bill Hill

December 24, 2009

The name Canasta means “basket” in Spanish, which probably derived from the basket holding the draw and discard piles; the discard pile is of paramount importance in this game.

Canasta was originally invented in Uruguay in the late 1940s, and soon became popular in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. In the late 1940s/early 1950s, Canasta reached the United States, where it became even more popular than Bridge for a few years; it was probably the most popular card game at any one time. It has since greatly declined in popularity, except for some holdout enthusiasts.

How did Canasta get so popular? It may have been because it has elements of Mah Jongg, another enormously successful game, and as a partnership game, it is easier to learn than Bridge. (Canasta can be played with two, three, or five people, but the most popular version worldwide is the partnership game.)

Derivations of Canasta include Bolivia, Samba, Cuban Canasta and Bolivian Canasta.

How the Game Is Played
Canasta uses two regular decks of cards, including the jokers (two from each deck). Each player is dealt eleven cards. Players across from each other are partners and play cards to a common area, so each partner can take advantage of the other’s play. Canasta is usually played over several hands; the first team to reach 5000 points wins.

Jokers and 2s are wild cards and can be used to represent other cards. Black and red 3s have special properties.

Rules Summary for 2 Teams
On your turn, you either draw a card from the draw pile or take the entire discard pile (there are special rules for picking up the discard pile; see “Picking Up the Discard Pile” later in this chapter). You can then play melds and canastas. At the end of your turn, you must discard a card to the discard pile.

Either you or your partner must make an initial meld for your team. Once your team has made its initial meld, both of you can play as many melds and canastas as you want on your turns.

If your team has made at least one canasta, either you or your partner can go out if you can play all the cards in your hand

Making Melds and Canastas
Teams score points by making melds and canastas.

A meld is three or more cards of the same rank such as 4-4-4, 6-6-6-6-6, or Q-Q-Q-Q-Q. Wild cards (2s and jokers) can substitute for any card, if needed (the only exception is a meld of black 3s, which can’t include any wild cards). For instance, you could have a meld of 8-8-2. A meld must contain at least two natural cards, and cannot contain more than three wild cards.

Black 3s can only be melded as your very last play of a hand before going out.

A canasta is a meld which has seven or more cards of the same rank such as 8-8-8-8-8-8-8. Your team must make at least one canasta to win a hand. A canasta can contain up to three wild cards. If the canasta contains only natural cards, it is worth more points.

Making the Initial Meld
The first play your team must make to the table is your initial meld. Either you or your partner must play to the table, in one turn, one or more melds whose point value is equal to or greater than the initial meld value.

Your game score at the end of a hand dictates how many points you need for the initial meld in the next hand. At the beginning of a game, both teams always have an initial meld requirement of 50.

Score Meld Requirement

0-1495 50
01-2995 90
3000 or more 120
Negative score 15

This system gives the losing team a better chance of a comeback, since they can potentially play to the table earlier and “go out” earlier. A team with 1600 points must make an initial meld of 90, while the second-place team, with a score of 1250 points, only needs an initial meld of 50.

To figure out whether you can make an initial meld, add up the point values of any cards that you meld:

Card Point Value

4, 5, 6, 7, and black 3 5 points
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10 points
A and 2 20 points
Joker 50 points

Picking Up the Discard Pile
At the beginning of your turn, you can pick up the entire discard pile in certain situations. To pick up the discard pile, you must be able to immediately use the upcard (the top card of the pile) in a meld (either adding it to an existing meld or making a new meld with it using cards already in your hand). You do not get to take the other cards in the pile until you use the upcard in a meld.

Normally, you can pick up the discard pile if you can use the upcard in an existing meld or in a new meld; to use the upcard in a new meld you must combine it with at least two natural cards from your hand or with at least one natural card and one wild card from your hand.

However, if someone has discarded a 2 or joker to the pile, the pile is considered frozen. When the discard pile is frozen, you can only pick it up if you can use the upcard in a meld using at least two natural cards in your hand.

A pile stays frozen until someone picks it up.

Important: Before your team has made your initial meld, the pile is not shown as frozen, but you can only pick it up with two natural cards. You can never pick up a pile if the top card is a joker, 2, or black 3.

Going Out
Your team is qualified to go out (ending the current hand) if you have at least one canasta on the table. To go out, either you or your partner must play all of the cards in your hand to the table. The last card in your hand can either be melded or discarded; this is the only time in the game you are not required to discard at the end of your turn.

When you are ready to go out, you may, if you wish, ask your partner permission to go out. This gives you a way to find out whether your partner wants you to go out, or whether your partner still has a lot of points in his or her hand (that might be used to make canastas) and wants to continue to play. Asking for permission is optional, but your partner’s answer is binding; you can only go out on that turn if your partner gives you permission.

Note: It is possible to go out without previously having placed any melds on the table. This is known as going out concealed and is worth extra points. You must be able to immediately play all of the cards in your hand to the table, making your initial meld and at least one canasta. You can discard one card to the discard pile if necessary. Going out concealed is very difficult to do, because you don’t get any help from your partner.

How the Game Is Played
At the beginning of the game, one card is flipped to the discard pile. If that card is a 2, joker, or red 3, another card is flipped on top of it and the pile is frozen. Before play begins, any red 3s in players’ hands are automatically played to the 3 pile on the board and replaced with new cards.

On your turn, you either draw a card from the draw pile or pick up the discard pile. See “Picking Up the Discard Pile” earlier in this chapter. If you pick up the discard pile, the top card of the pile is automatically played to the appropriate card pile. If the pile was frozen, you must then also play two natural cards to that pile; if you don’t, you won’t be able to take the pile.

Next, meld cards to the table, if you want to. (The first play your team can make is the initial meld.) You may be able to undo melds, if you need to; see the in-game help for details. At the end of your turn, discard a card by dragging it to the discard pile. You must always keep at least one card in your hand at the end of a turn, unless you are going out.

Play proceeds with the player on your left. Continue playing until one team goes out or the deck runs out. If you’re ready to go out, you can go out by laying down all your cards (one card can be discarded, if desired.) If you wish, you can ask your partner for permission before you go out. You can ask for permission after you draw cards but before you play them.

If a player draws the last card in the deck, special conditions apply. If the next player cannot take the discard pile, the hand ends immediately. However, if that player can play the top card of the discard pile to one of his or her team’s melds, the player must take the discard pile and play that card. If the player can take the discard pile with a card in his or her hand, he or she can choose to either take the pile or end the hand. In any of these cases, the hand ends, and neither team gets points for going out.

Each card you play to the table is worth a certain number of points. These points count towards your initial meld requirement, and are scored at the end of the game. (Note: Any red 3s on the table don’t count towards the initial meld points.)

Scoring occurs at the end of a hand, after one team has gone out, or if the deck runs out of cards and someone ends the hand. The team that went out gets points for going out, and each team scores points for all the cards they’ve melded to the table (including the cards in canastas) and any bonus points (points for any red 3s and any mixed or natural canastas). Then, any cards remaining in team members’ hands (including the partner of the person who went out) are subtracted from each team’s score.

Card values
4, 5, 6, 7, and black 3 5 points
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K 10 points
A and 2 20 points
Joker 50 points
Red 3* 100 points each

Other scoring
Mixed canasta 300 points each
Natural canasta** 500 points each
Going out 100 points
Going out concealed*** 200 points
Going out before the other team has melded: varies, see below

The other team loses 100 points per red 3 owned by the team, or 800 points if the team owns all four red 3s.

* A canasta made with all natural cards (no wild cards)** (800 if your team has all 4 red 3s)** Going out without having made an initial meld on a previous turn.

The main reason for making melds is to work with your partner to make canastas. Canastas are worth a lot more points, so focus on making them instead of a number of small melds.

Be careful not to meld too many cards. Having a small hand is a big disadvantage, because you are less likely to be able to pick up the discard pile. However, if your partner has already laid down a meld, it is usually a good idea to play any cards you can to it, so that you can get closer to having a canasta. If you can make a canasta, you should always do it.

Except when making the initial meld and taking the discard pile, avoid adding wild cards to piles (unless you want to finish a canasta). Wild cards are stronger in your hand, since they can be used to make canastas and freeze the pile.

If you have more than three cards you can meld, try just melding three of the cards, holding the others back. This gives your partner a chance to play cards to that meld, but leaves cards in your hand that can potentially pick up the discard pile. It also may let you make a surprise canasta!

Keep track of the discarded cards. If the other team takes the pile, you will want to remember what cards were in it so you can discard safely. Keeping track of discards also gives you an indication which cards the other team are short of.

If you have no choice but to discard a card that lets the other team take the discard pile, stick to low cards (4, 5, 6, 7) whenever possible, since these give the other team less points, and leave more points in your hand for melds.

Strategies for Taking the Discard Pile
A key strategy to Canasta is getting the discard pile and preventing your opponents from getting it, whenever possible. But consider how many cards are in the pile. It is often not worth showing the other team what cards you want by taking a small pile with four or less cards.

Black 3s are valuable discards, since they protect the discard pile. Hold on to them until the discard pile is large or something you particularly want to defend.

When the discard pile is not frozen and is full of cards the other team wants, try making safe discards, such as cards that your team already has a large meld of (since you know the other team probably can’t meld them). Or discard cards you’ve already seen the other team discard, or discards they have passed up before.

If the other team has more melds on the table, consider freezing the discard pile, so that you can safely discard cards that your opponents have large melds of.

If the discard pile gets really big, restrain yourself from melding, so that you have more chances to get the pile.

If you’re holding cards that the opponents can meld (and you can’t), try to discard them when the discard pile is frozen, or when it is small.

Strategies for Going Out
If you’re in a weak position—the other team has melded most of the card ranks, so there are no safe discards, for example—consider going out to minimize your losses.

Asking your partner to go out is sometimes a good way to find out whether your partner can make more canastas. But don’t forget that your partner’s answer is binding!

If you ask your partner to go out and your partner tells you no, play as many naturals on your turn as possible, holding on to wild cards and at least one safe discard. This gives your partner more opportunities to play cards and make canastas. Holding on to the wild cards means that you are more likely to be able to go out next turn.

If your partner asks you to go out, and you say no (because you have cards left to play), be sure to play as many wild cards as you can on your next turn, and any natural cards that you can use to make canastas (or large melds which your partner could potentially make into canastas). Be sure to keep one card that you can discard safely on your next turn (so that the player to your left can’t go out before your partner)!

If all other things are equal, and the other team has three red 3s and the fourth red 3 hasn’t been drawn, consider going out as soon as possible. If that team gets the last red 3, they’ll get 500 more points! Likewise, if your team has three red 3s, and the fourth red 3 hasn’t been drawn, consider postponing going out until you get that last red 3.

Rule of Play for 6 Players
Canasta for six players is the same as for four players except three decks of cards are used for play.

Rule of Play for 3 Players
Canasta for three players is the same for four players except 13 cards are dealt.

Rule of Play for 2 Players
Canasta for two players is the same as for four players except for the following:
• Each player plays for himself.
• Each player is dealt fifteen cards.
• A player cannot go out unless he's complete two canastas.
• If the player draws from the stock, he draws two cards, but only discards one.
• If there is only one card remaining in the stock, the last player can draw it and continue as though he drew two cards (i.e. it is a legal play).
• The penalties for exposed cards and insufficient melds do not apply.

Pennies from Heaven
The rules of ordinary Canasta apply, except for the differences explained below.

Players and Cards
There are 6 players in two teams, sitting alternately. 4 packs of cards are used, including 2 jokers for each pack - a total of 216 cards. All twos and jokers are wild. Red and black threes have special properties as in regular canasta. The values of the individual cards, as in Canasta, are:

Joker ..... 50 points each
Two, Ace ..... 20 points each
K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 ..... 10 points each
7, 6, 5, 4, black 3 ..... 5 points each

The dealer deals 13 cards to each player, one at a time, which the players may look at, followed by a further 11 cards to each, which must not be looked at and are kept in a face-down pile until the player has completed a canasta. The remaining stock of 72 cards is placed face down and its top card is turned face up beside it to start the discard pile.

A turn consists of the following stages:
1. Drawing the top two cards from the stock or taking the entire discard pile.
2. Possibly starting a new meld or adding one or more cards to your own side's melds.
3. Discarding one card from your hand face up on the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas
A canasta is a meld of seven cards. Four types of canasta are possible.

Type Description Bonus
Natural (red) canasta Seven cards of the same rank with no wild cards. 500 points

Mixed (black) canasta Contains one, two or three wild cards. The remaining cards are all of the same rank (not threes or sevens). 300 points

Wild canasta Any seven wild cards. 1000 points

Sevens canasta Seven sevens (no wild cards) 1500 points

A meld can be started with three or more cards and built up to a canasta by adding cards on later turns. No meld may ever contain more than seven cards. If you have completed a canasta, it is permissible for your team to start another separate meld of the same rank.

A mixed meld in course of construction must contain at least two natural (non-wild) cards and cannot contain more than three wild cards. A natural meld can be turned into a mixed meld by adding wild cards to it.

The minimum requirements for a team's initial meld are as follows:
Team's cumulative score Minimum initial meld
Any minus score ..... 15 points
0 - 4995 ..... 50 points
5000 - 9995 ..... 90 points
10000 - 14995 ..... 120 points
15000 or more ..... 150 points

Bonuses for red threes and canastas do not count towards this minimum - it must be achieved from the value of the cards in the meld.

NOTE: Few books include this game. Two that do are Scarne's Encyclopedia of Games (1973) and the Bicycle Official Rules of Card Games (1994, 1999). Both give the score ranges for the different initial meld requirements as 0 - 495; 500 - 995; 1000 - 1495; 1500+. Comparing these with the typical amount that can be scored in a hand and the target score for the game, it seems certain that this must be a misprint, and the ranges should be increased by a factor of 10, as in the table above. My thanks to Jonny Groves for pointing out this error.

Discarding, freezing and taking the pile

Sevens cannot be discarded unless both teams have completed a canasta of sevens. Any other card, including a wild card, can be discarded.

You can never take the pile if the top card is a wild card or a three.

If the top card of the pile is a natural card and you have two matching natural cards in your hand, you can always take the pile, provided that:

1. You immediately meld its top card together with the two cards from your hand;

2. If your side has not melded before, you must at the same time put down sufficient cards from your hand, in this and possibly other melds, to satisfy the minimum meld requirement. Only after meeting this requirement are you allowed to take the rest of the pile.

If a wild card is discarded, it is placed sideways in the pile, which is then frozen. If the pile is not frozen (i.e. does not contain a wild card buried in it), you can also take the pile if its top card matches one of your team's existing (pure or mixed) melds of fewer than 7 cards, and you must then add the card to the meld. However, if a card is discarded that matches one of your completed 7-card canastas, you cannot take the pile unless you have two matching natural cards of that rank in your hand, and you use these three cards to start a new meld of that rank.

Picking up the Foot

You are not allowed to look at your face down card of 11 cards until you have personally completed a canasta - i.e. contributed the seventh and last card to a canasta for your team. When you first complete a canasta in this way, after discarding at the end of that turn, you pick up your 11 face down cards and add them to the cards in your hand.

Red and Black Threes
Anyone who is dealt or draws a red three must immediately place it face up with their team's melds and draw a replacement card from the stock. Red threes do not count towards a team's minimum meld. If a red three is turned up as the first card of the pile after the deal, it freezes the pile, and the first player to take the pile must immediately lay out the red three. At the end, if you have completed your canasta of sevens, each red three you have laid out counts for 100 points bonus. A team which has all eight red threes counts 1000 points instead of 800. If a player has not yet completed a cansta and picked up their 11 card packet (foot), any red threes in the 11 cards count minus 100. If a team has not completed a canasta of sevens by the time the game ends (either because the other team goes out or because the stock is exhausted), all their red threes count minus 100 each (minus 1000 if they have all eight).

Black threes cannot be melded except by a player going out, who can at that point put down three or more of them as a meld (no wild cards are allowed in a meld of black threes). If a black three is discarded, the next player in turn is not allowed to pick up the pile, but as soon as the black three is covered it ceases to have an effect.

Going out and winning
You can only go out when your team has completed all four types of canasta. You must have at least one example of each type - natural, mixed, wild and sevens - completed with 7 cards in each, and you may also have additional canastas or smaller melds of any types. If your team has not satisfied these conditions you are not allowed to play in such a way as to leave yourself with no cards. You may (but need not) ask permission to go out from one of your partners, and if you choose to ask you must do as the partner says. To go out you meld all of your cards, or all except one, which you discard. Your final discard cannot be a seven.

After a player goes out both teams score for all the cards in their melds, plus any bonuses for canastas, and the team that went out scores 100 bonus for this. They subtract the value of all the cards left in their hands, including the 11-card packets (feet) of any players who have not yet picked theirs up. Scores for red threes are added or subtracted as appropriate.

It can happen that no one succeeds in going out before the stock runs out. In that case the play ends at the moment someone wishes to draw cards from the stock, but there are no cards left there. However the game can continue without a stock as long as each player is able and willing to take the previous player's discard. If the game ends because the stock has run out, the hand is scored in the usual way, except that of course that neither team gets the 100-point bonus.

The play can also end if one player has a hand consisting entirely of sevens, but at least one team has not completed its sevens canasta. If possible, you must play to avoid this situation: you are not allowed to meld all your other cards, leaving yourself only with sevens; you must keep at least one legal discard. However, if you discarded your last non-seven on your previous turn, and you then draw two more sevens from the stock pile, you have no way to discard. In this situation you may meld all but one of your sevens (if legal) and then because you have no discard the play ends. Both teams score in the usual way and no one gets the 100-point bonus for going out.

When either team reaches 20,000 points or more at the end of a hand, the team with more points wins. In case of equality, another hand is played.

Railroad Canasta
As in Pennies from Heaven most of the basic rules of Canasta apply. The exceptions are as follows:

Players and Cards
Two or more people can play and two decks of cards are used per person, including the jokers, of which there may be two or more per deck.

Deal and Play
As in some versions of Hand and Foot everyone deals their own cards. All the cards are put in a big pile on the table and each player counts out the number of cards they need: 13 cards for their hand and 11 for their kitty.

For convenience, the stock is arranged into several piles. When you draw from the stock you take two cards. These can be taken from the top of any stock pile(s).

Once a meld contains 7 cards, it is a closed canasta, and no more cards can be added to it. If you have three more cards of that rank, you can meld them as a new set.

There are four kinds of canasta:
• red, consisting of 7 natural cards of the same rank;
• black, consisting of at least 4 natural cards of the same rank and the remainder wild;
• wild, consisting of 7 wild cards;
• seven canasta, which is just that - a canasta of seven sevens.

A closed red or black canasta is indicated by squaring up the cards with a red or black natural card on top.

Picking up the Kitty
You are not allowed to look at your 11 card kitty until after you have discarded for the turn in which you complete your first non-black canasta. At that point you pick up your kitty and add it to your hand.

Red Threes
Red threes never count against a player, always in favor. There is no extra bonus for having all of them - they just count +100 each.

Black Threes
Black threes stop the next player from taking the pile as usual. When going out, and making a meld of black threes, you can have as many as you want - this is the only meld that is not limited to seven cards. You do not count a canasta bonus for a meld of black threes, however.

Going out
To go out, you must have completed at least one 7 card canasta of each of the four types.

You go out by melding all your cards except one, and discarding the last card. You are not allowed to meld everything and leave yourself with no discard. When a player goes out the play ends and the hand is scored.

The bonuses are:

• 100 for each red three
• 100 for going out
• 300 for each black canasta
• 500 for each red canasta
• 1000 for each wild canasta
• 1500 for each 7 canasta

The cards you have melded also score their usual values (50, 20, 10, 5) and you subtract points for any cards left in your hand, or in your kitty if you have not picked it up.