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How to Play CanastaA popular game for two card players, Canasta requires a lot of attention and the winning of points. To play a game of Canasta it requires two decks of standard playing cards and a way of keeping track of points, such as a notepad and pencil.

How to Play Canasta

The decks are shuffled together and each player receives 15 cards. The remaining deck is placed in the center of the table and the top card is turned over and laid alongside it. This is the discard pile. Should the card be a red three or wild card (twos or jokers), the next card is turned over, and this continues until a natural card appears.

The players must also check their hands for the red threes, and if they should have one or both, they are “melded” or laid face up on the table for the rest of the game, and two new cards are dealt.

Card Values in Canasta

In a game of Canasta, the cards are assigned set values as follows:

  • Jokers= 50 points
  • Ace and two= 20 points
  • King, Queen, Jack and ten through eight= 10 points
  • Seven through four= 5 points

This describes only the natural cards, and the twos and jokers can be used as substitutes for any natural card. The three cards have varying values depending upon the variety of Canasta being played.

Object of the Card Game Canasta

The object of the game is to score as many points as possible through melding or Canasta. A meld is three or more cards of the same ranking (meaning three aces, three eights, etc.). When playing partnership Canasta, the melds belong to both players and so can be used by them equally.

When a player can meld seven cards, this is referred to as canasta. If these cards are all natural, and none wild, it is a “clean” canasta, but should it have a wild card in the stack, it is referred to as “dirty” canasta. To establish the difference, the player with the clean canasta will neatly stack the cards and lay a red card on the top, but the dirty canasta is stacked up with a black card on top and one of the wild cards turned in a right angle to indicate a mixed canasta.

To play, each player either draws from the deck or takes the entire discard pile, but this can only be done if the player is able to meld the top card from the pile on their turn. Each player’s turn MUST end with them discarding a single card in the discard pile, or beginning a new one with their card.
There are many rules around taking the entire discard pile, but the one that applies to every single variety of Canasta is that no player can take the pile if the top card is a wild card or if it is a black three.

Melding Cards in Canasta

To begin melding, each player has to meet the basic meld requirements, and this rule applies to every variety of Canasta as well. This requirement is derived from the player’s score or from the value of the meld if the game has just begun.

Scoring in Canasta

These scores are:

  • Zero to 1,495 = meld must total 50 points
  • 1,500 to 2,995 = meld must total 90 points
  • 3,000 and up = meld must total 120 points
  • Negative score = meld must total 15 points

How to Win in Canasta

Each hand ends when a player goes out, which can only be done if there is at least one canasta in front of them. Scoring is done based on the meld values minus the cards remaining in the player’s hand.