Canasta is a recently developed game that originated in Uruguay, gaining popularity amazingly quickly throughout the American continent.

Canasta Deck

Aim of the game

It consists of getting rid of the cards held by placing them face up on the table to form combinations of seven cards, Canasta, and reaching the minimum 5,000 points required to win the game before your opponents during several partial games.

Deck of cards

It is played using two 52 card English decks, plus the two wild cards or Jokers in each deck. In addition to the four wild cards, the eight deuces have the same use.

Number of players

It can be played by two or more players up to a maximum of six, though it is best with four players, playing in pairs, the rules for which are explained below.

Order and value of the cards

For any of the four suits the value of the cards is as follows:

Wild card 50 Points
Deuce 20 Points
Ace 20 Points
K, Q, J, 10, 9 & 8 10 Points
7, 6, 5 and 4 5 Points
Each Black Three 5 Points

The red threes are bonus cards, and are not meldable.

Dealing the cards

Each player draws one card, the two players with the highest cards play against the other two. The player seated to the left of the one who drew the highest card, the “hand”, is the dealer. The dealer shuffles the cards and the deck is cut by the player on the dealer’s left, the dealer then deals out eleven cards to each player, one by one, in an anti-clockwise direction, with the next card being placed face-up on the table. This card starts the discard pile. If the said card is a wild card, a deuce, a Black Three or a Red Three, then another card is taken, placing it on top of the first card until the said card is none of the ones mentioned. Only the top card of this pile can be seen, and no player can examine the cards that are in it.


The “hand” starts the game, taking the top card off the stock deck or the card or cards from the discard pile. To take from the discard pile for the first time, two conditions are necessary:

  • Have a natural pair matching the top card on the pile.
  • 2 That the value of the cards that have to be displayed for the first time, in one or more melds, reach the points required to go out. The top card of the pile must form part of the meld, being able to add its value to the others for the purpose of going out. The other cards in it can be melded or held. It is not necessary to satisfy this second condition if, at the time of going out, all the cards are displayed at once with a Concealed Canasta.

Because each pair plays their hand together, the two conditions need only be met by one player from each pair.

The other cards that go to form the discard pile cannot be used until the cards held have been played and the points needed to go out have been reached, using the top card of the pile. After going out for the first time, the pair who did it can take the discard pile without fulfilling the second condition, and as for the first condition, it is sufficient to have a card equal to the card on the top of the pile, with the other being supplemented by a wild card.

The pile can also be taken when it is not frozen or when its top card is equal to that of a completed Canasta or that of an initial Canasta meld being played. When the pile is frozen, that is to say when it contains a Red Three or wild card, it is necessary to have two natural cards in the hand equal to the top card on the pile in order to take it.

The pile can never be taken by using two wild cards. Taking the top card off the pile forces the player to take all the other cards that were in it. If a player’s hand is reduced to one card, they are obliged to announce this fact by saying “Pumpa” out loud and may not take a card from the discard pile unless the stock deck is finished.

If the top card of the stock deck is taken, it is not necessary to display cards, however, if the top card of the discard pile is taken then going out is required. Taking cards from the discard pile is not obligatory, it is possible to go out using the cards held if they reach the required valuation. Play is completed with the forced discard of a card from the player’s hand.

The game continues in strict left to right turn and each player, when their turn arrives, must take the top card off the stock deck or take the discard pile with all the cards in it, ending their turn by discarding one of their cards. Once a player has gone out, in subsequent turns both they and their partner may add cards to those already played or play new melds, without having to meet the conditions to go out.


    Each meld must contain at least two natural cards of the same rank and not more than three wild cards.

    • Canasta.A meld of seven equal cards. At least four of the cards must be natural. To start this meld, at least, three cards must be laid on the table. A pure Canasta is one that has no wild card and a mixed Canasta is one with them. Additional cards may be added to a completed Canasta to score their point values, but these do not affect the value of the Canasta If a wild card is added to a pure Canasta, it becomes a mixed Canasta. A concealed Canasta is a canasta assembled in the player’s hand without their partner’s help and played to the table complete.
    • Canasta of canastas. This receives a special bonus and consists of forming seven pure or mixed Canastas.
    • Five Canastas Similar to the previous one but consisting of five Canastas.
Canasta Play

Once a Canasta is completed the cards are squared up. A red card is placed on top to indicate a pure Canasta and a black card on top to indicate a mixed Canasta. A player is only allowed to go out after their team has completed at least one Canasta. Having achieved this, they play their remaining cards in one or more melds or on cards already played, finishing as soon as they have no more cards in their hand.

If the player still has one card left, they can also end the game by discarding it. When a player sees the opportunity to go out, they can ask their partner for permission to “Go out” before displaying the cards that remain in their hand, but without giving them any information, and their partner can only say “Yes” or “ No”. The player can go out without asking their partner for permission, but if they do ask for it, the answer is binding.

When a player takes the last card from the stock deck and discards it without finishing play, the next player must take the discard pile if the top card matches their meld. If they cannot take the discard pile, then play ends If they do take the pile and discard it without finishing play, the game continues until a player finishes or cannot take the pile. Play also ends when someone lays down a whole hand of cards all at once.

The minimum value of cards necessary to initially go out varies in relation to the score that is reached during the course of the game, with only the cards being counted, not the Bonuses. If when going out all the cards are displayed at once, this can be done even when the value of all the cards does not reach the minimum..

In short, the objectives that the Canasta player must pursue are:

  • 1 Play cards with a view to form Canastas.
  • 2 Take the discard pile whenever possible.
  • 3 Prevent opponents from taking the discard pile.
  • 4 Finish the game with as many points possible over their opponents.
Score reached Minimum value of the cards
Negative 15 Points
Between 0 and 1,495 50 Points
Between 1,500 and 2,995 90 Points
Equal to or greater than 3,000 150 Points
Canasta Play

These are bonus cards and are not used to form Canastas. A player finding a red three in their hand must, on their first turn, put it face up on the table and draw as many replacement cards from the stock deck as Red Threes held. A player who draws a red three from the stock deck also lays it on the table face up and draws a replacement card. In order to score points from these Bonuses, at least one completed Canasta must have has been played before finishing the hand. Otherwise the points for these Bonuses will be negative.

When a player takes the discard pile and finds a Red Three in it, they must place the three face up on the table but do not draw a replacement card from the stock. If the last card in the stock deck is a Red Three, the player who takes it lays it face up on the table and continues play, without having to discard, and then finish the hand.


These are not used to form Canastas, nevertheless, they represent an important defence strategy, because when placed on the discard pile they prevent the next player from taking it. Their effect lasts only one turn, until it is covered by the next discarded card. Black Threes can only be melded to end the game, and a meld with
Black Threes cannot contain wild cards.

As with Black Threes, the jokers and deuces prevent the next player from taking the discard pile.

Scoring in the game

A match consists of the partial games necessary for one of the pairs to reach 5,000 points.

The score is common to both players in the pair. At the end of each partial game, the Bonuses are counted and scored, subtracting the total for Penalties. Below are the values for all the cards played by the winning pair, including cards that form completed Canastas, and the value of the Black Threes played to finish. The value of the cards still held by the winner’s partner and the two opponents is negative and is deducted.

If there are any unused penalty cards, these are counted as negative.

The players can score points for the following Bonuses:

Pure canasta* 500 Points
Mixed canasta* 300 Points
Each Red Three 100 Points
The 4 Red Threes 800 Points
For playing the 4 Black Threes to finish 500 Points
Bonus for Going out (end a hand) 100 Points
Canasta of canastas** 2000 Points
Five Canastas** 500 Points

* Plus the value of the cards that form them.

** Plus the value of each Canasta and the cards that form them.

With a concealed Canasta , the points for Bonuses are as follow:

Playing all cards at once without help from cards played by the partner 1000 Points
Playing all cards at once with help from cards played by the partner 500 Points
Playing all cards during the game without help from cards played by the partner 500 Points
Playing all cards during the game with help from cards played by the partner 200 Points

If any player incurs any of the following Penalties, the following points will be deducted:

If , when finishing a hand, a player has the four Black Threes in their hand. 500 Points
For each Red Three still held at the end of the hand. 500 Points
For taking the discard pile before showing the cards to which it is linked 200 Points
For playing cards during your partner’s turn 200 Points
For taking a card out of turn, mixing it in with those held. 200 Points
For taking a card out of turn from the stock deck 100 Points
For playing cards during an opponent’s turn 100 Points
For taking the discard pile out of turn 100 Points
For requesting permission to go out and not being able to. 100 Points
For taking two cards instead of one. 100 Points
For taking a card from the discard pile and not being able to go out 50 Points
For returning a card just taken 50 Points
Pack How to play Canasta

Penalty cards are those with which an irregularity has been committed and are left on the table in front of the player who is at fault. They may be considered as if they were cards in the player’s hand and can be used to take the discard pile or used to meld. When used to meld or added to melds already in play, they lose their status as penalty cards.

Penalties that stand:

  • Cards that a player shows accidentally or those that are put on the table in error and are seen by the other players.
  • Cards that are shown out of turn.
  • Cards used when first going out if their value is insufficient, or those that are left over after amending the initial going out.
  • If a player takes the discard pile without first showing the cards in their hand that link with the top card on the pile, any other player can request that this player show the cards in their hand as well as the cards in the pile to decide whether a penalty applies, and if so, those cards that formed their hand are penalized.
  • The card or cards that are shown to finish the game without forming or having a Canasta.

Any irregularities and their penalties are annulled if they are not announced before the player next to the player at fault finishes play.

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