Game Rules

The game of Canasta was developed in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1939. In the early 1940s, it soon spread across Uruguay and Argentina. It made its way to New York and, via the USA, the game made its way to Great Britain and the European continent. In the 1950s, Canasta was the most widely played card game next to Bridge.

OBJECT: The goal of the game is to form as many melds as possible.
MATERIAL: 108 cards (double 52-card decks (2 to 10, Jack, Queen, King, Ace of all 4 playing card colours) and four jokers)


Canasta has an interesting approach to forming partnerships. Partnerships are formed by drawing cards from the deck. The player that draws the highest card gets to choose his seat and goes first. The person with the second highest card becomes the partner of the player that drew the highest card. For the purpose of picking partners, card values are as such, A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 / Spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs. If player drawsana equal card or joker, they must draw again. Partners sit across from one another.

Card values:
In Canasta the value of cards is as follows:

  • Cards values between 4 – 7 = 5 points
  • Card values between 8 – K = 10 points
  • Aces & Dueces = 20 points
  • Jokers = 50pts
  • Black 3 card = 5pts
  • Red 3 cards = 100 or 200 points

How to deal:
Rotation of the deal follows clockwise and starts with the player to the right of the player that drew the highest card. Anyone can shuffle, but the dealer has the right to shuffle last. The player to dealer left cuts the deck after the last shuffle.
The dealer then passes 11 cards face down to each player, one at a time, dealing clockwise. The remaining cards are placed in the center of the table to serve as the stock. The top card of the stock deck should be turned over for all players to see. If the turn over card is a joker, deuce or three, another card must be turned on top of it until the upcard is a “natural” card (four or higher).

Red threes:
If a player is dealt a red three, he must place it face up on the table and replace it with another card. If a player draws a red three from the stock pile they must also place the card face up on the table in front of them and draw another card. Lastly, if a player picks up the red three from the discard pile he must table the card as well but is not required to pick up a replacement for the card.
Red threes are valued at 100 points a piece but if one team collects all four red threes then the value of the card raises to 200 points a piece. A team can only receive the value of the red threes if they have made a successful meld, if game pay ends and the team has made no meld, then the red threes are debited against their score.


A player begins by drawing a card from the stockpile or picking up from the discard pile. The player then has the opportunity to lay down a meld if applicable and then discard one card to the discard pile to end their turn.
If the player chooses to take the the top card of the discard pile to form a meld, then he is required to pick up the entirety of the discard pile.

How to make a meld:
A meld is a combination of three or more cards of the same rank. The rules state that you must have two “natural” cards to every one wildcard and a given meld is to have no more than three wildcards in total. A set of black threes may only be melded when a player is going out.
Any cards left in a players hand at the end of the game, even if it’s a meld, counts against the players score. Only the melds that have been placed on the table count as plus.
Opposing team can create melds of the same rank, and players can add on to existing melds as long as the meld remains valid (no more than three wild cards). Players cannot add to their opponents melds.

How to canasta:
A canasta is a run of 7 cards of the same rank, e. g. 7 Kings. There are two types of canastas, a “natural” and an “mixed” canasta. To make a natural canasta a player must obtain 7 cards of the same rank with out the use of wildcards. A natural canasta is signified when the player lays the seven cards on the table, in a stack, and showing the value of the top card in red. For example, to display a natural canasta of 5’s a player would stack the cards and place either the heart or diamond of 5’s on the top. A natural canasta earns 500 points in addition to the point values of the cards in the canasta
An unnatural canasta is made when a  run of 7 cards of the same rank is created with the use of wildcards (jokers, deuces). This canasta is displayed by stacking the card and placing the black rank of the card on top of the pile. An “unnatural” canasta earns 300 points in addition to its regular base value points.
After the first round of play, and before the start of each round thereafter, players are to look at their current score and their score at that time will dictate how many points are needed for their first meld of the coming round. The values are as follows:

  • Accumulated Score (at beginning of the deal) Minimum Count
  • Minus Score = Meld must equal 15 points
  • 0 to 1,495 score =  Meld must equal 50 points
  • 1,500 to 2,995 score = Meld must equal 90 points
  • 3,000 or more = Meld must equal 120 points

The count of a meld is the total point value of the cards in it. To meet the minimum, a player may make two or more different melds. If he takes the discard pile, the top card but no other may count toward the requirement. Bonuses for red threes and canastas do not count toward the minimum.

The minimum count is only required for the first meld, every meld thereafter is acceptable regardless of its’ value.

The discard pile:
Teams are not allowed to pick up from the discard pile until they have created their first meld. Once the initial meld is created, the discard pile is open to both partners.

Freezing the discard pile:
If a red three (only possible if turned up as an upcard), black three,  or wildcard is placed atop the discard pile, the pile is effectively frozen. To indicated the state of the frozen pile, the freezing card is placed at a perpendicular angle on the discard pile.

To unfreeze the pile, a natural card must be discarded atop the frozen pile and the pile must then be taken. Only by taking the pile will the pile unfreeze.

A player may take the discard pile only when: 

  1. The pile has been topped with a natural card
  2. The player has a NATURAL pair already in hand that matches the top card of the discard pile.
  3. The player shows the board that pair of natural cards in his hand before picking up the pile.

If the discard pile is not frozen a player may take from the discard pile as long as:

  1. He has a pair of natural cards in his hand that match the top card or
  2. He has one natural card and one wild card in his hand to accompany the top card or
  3. He can add the top card to a meld he already has on the table

A player can then take the remaining cards from the pile into his hand to form other melds and discards one card to end his turn. Remember that picking up the discard pile is not an option until a team has met their initial meld requirement.

How to go out:
A player cannot go out until the team has made at least one canasta. Once a canasta is a made a player may go out by either discarding their final card or adding it to an existing meld. A player is not required to discard when going out, and a player is not allowed to pick up the discard pile when they have only one card in hand and the discard pile has only one card in it.

A player can go out in a “concealed” hand, which means they meld the entirety of their hand in one turn. If a player goes out in this way and their partner has yet to meet the initial meld requirement, they are required to meet that initial requirement themselves.


Points are awarded as follows:

  • For each natural canasta 500
  • For each mixed canasta 300
  • For each red three 100 (All four red threes count 800)
  • For going out 100
  • For going out concealed (extra) 100

Players must add up their score and minus the value of any cards left in their hand at the time of going out. Score is traditionally kept on a sheet of paper with two columns titled “we” and “they”.

It is important to keep proper score as it determines the amount needed for the initial meld each round.

End of game

The team that is the first to reach 5,000 points is the winner.

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