Canasta, the card game, is a variant of Rummy.  It was invented in Uruguay in 1939 and first spread to South America before becoming popular in the United States in the 1950s.  The word Canasta means “basket” in Spanish.  It gets its name because in the card game, you try to get a basket-full (or 7) cards of the same rank in order to obtain points for a canasta.  There are several variations of the game that we’ve run across over the years such as Brazilian, British, Italian, Cuba, Boat, and even one called Hand and Foot Canasta.  The rules and strategies below are based off the game as it’s primarily played in the United States, with American Canasta Rules.

Canasta is a great strategy game that teaches you to think a few steps ahead.  Although it can seem complex on the surface, it’s a fairly simple game to learn if you follow the steps below.  One great thing I love about playing Canasta is that there are more advanced strategies, so you can continually improve over time if you want to, no matter how long you’ve played.  And if you’re not interested in that, you can have fun playing the game anyway, without implementing all the advanced nuances.  


This page is broken down into 3 sections: how to play Canasta, recommendations on cards and other Canasta accessories, and finally, some strategies that you can try after you’ve learned the game.

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How To Play Canasta

canasta rules


Canasta rules vary from region to region and from family to family. We’ll set out to go over the rules we learned from below.


The object of Canasta is to be the first player to reach 5000 points in the game. Points are achieved by melding (laying out) sets of 3 or more cards of the same rank and making “canastas”, which are sets of 7 cards of the same rank.   


Canasta rules require 2 decks of cards, including the jokers, for a total of 104 cards.  The dealer shuffles the deck and offers his opponent to cut the deck.  The player cuts, attempting to leave exactly 30 cards (without counting of course) on the table.  Each player receives  15  cards  face down  from  this pile, and then an initial card is turned face up to start the discard pile.  If this card is a wild card (Joker or Deuce) or a red 3, another card is flipped until the card on top is not a joker, deuce, or red 3.  

A cut deck of exactly the 30 cards needed for the deal, or 31 (or more if wilds or red 3s were turned) with the discard pile created, means the player “cut straight” and is awarded an additional 100 points  at the end of the round.  Any additional cards needed for the deal are pulled from the top of the other portion of the deck.  Extra cards in the cut deck are simply placed on the other portion of the deck after the deal.  This pile of remaining cards is called the “stock pile”.


The player who cut during the deal will go first.  The first action of this player is to search his hand for any red 3s.  Red 3s are a “bonus” card and will be melded on the table in front of the player immediately and the card is replaced with another from the stock pile.   

A player may choose to pick up the pile or pick 2 cards off the top of the stock pile during his turn.  He must have 2 of that card in his possession in order to pick up the pile.  If the pile is frozen (see below), the player must have 2 of that rank in his hand to pick up the pile.  The entire pile must be taken while picked up, and the player must meld the card they are picking up.   Meld minimums for picking up the pile listed below under “Melding Rules”.


After picking up the pile or picking 2 cards from the stock pile, the player has an opportunity to meld if they choose, then the player must discard in order to end her turn.  Play goes back and forth until someone goes out (see “going out” below) or the stock pile runs out.  If the stock pile runs out, the round just ends there.  As a result, cards remaining in each player’s hand are subtracted from her meld.  Finally, the scores are recorded at the end of the round, and the next round begins.  At this point, the dealer and cutter alternate each round.


A player must have at least 2 canastas and have no cards remaining in their hand in order to go out.  The player may, but is not required, to discard a card when going out.  A canasta is made by having 7 of a kind (called a natural canasta or straight) or 7 of a kind using 1- 3 wilds mixed in.  Going out is awarded with 100 bonus points, 200 points if it’s done concealed.  If a player goes  during the same turn as laying her first meld for the round, then it’s considered going out concealed, or a “sneak attack” as it’s sometimes called.  

going out in canasta

Note, the player that did not go out must count all of the points in their hand and subtract those from their meld, if any.  It is possible to have negative points in a round of canasta.


A player may only meld on his turn.  In addition, the player must lay out at least the minimum amount based on his points in the game so far in order to meld.  Moreover, red 3s do NOT count towards your meld minimum.


Points to Meld

0 - 1495

Points to Meld

1500 - 2995

Points to Meld

3000 or More

Points to Meld

Melding is done by laying out cards in sets of 3 or more.  The idea is try to and make canastas and straights in order to build points and/or go out.  See below for card point values.


red 3s

Red 3s

Anytime a red 3 is picked from the stock pile, it’s immediately melded and a another card is picked from the top of the stock pile.  If a red 3 happens to start in the initial discard pile during the deal, the player who picks that pile up gets to lay it in his meld, but an additional card is not awarded in this situation.   

black 3s

Black 3s

Black 3s are safe cards and, as a result, cannot be picked up as the top card of the discard pile ever.  Black 3s can only be melded in sets of 4.  However, the one exception is when going out, they can be melded in a set of 3.


Wild Cards

Jokers and Deuces are considered wild cards.  Wild cards can be used in replacement of a regular card in your meld (never more wilds than the rank card being used in that pile) or can be used to “freeze” the pile.


Freezing the Pile

The discard pile is considered “frozen” when a wild card is played on the discard pile (or if one is still present on the discard pile from the deal).  A frozen pile cannot be picked up unless the player has at least 2 of the card being picked up in his hand.  Of course, this means he may NOT use cards already melded to account for the two cards in this pick-up. 


Ultimately, the player that reaches the target score (typically 5000 points) first is the winner.  In addition, the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner if both go over 5000 points in the same round.  Scoring comes in both bonus points and card points. 

Bonus Canasta Points:


300 points


500 points

Red 3s*

100 points each

All Four Red 3s**

800 points

Going Out

100 points

Going Out "Concealed"

200 points

* All four red 3s must be held by the same player to be awarded the 800 bonus points.

**Red 3 points are against the player, or count negative, if no meld was made during that round.

Card Values:

wild card

Jokers = 50 points

canasta duece

Deuces = 20 points

canasta ace

Aces = 20 points

canasta 8

8s thru Ks = 10 points

canasta 4

4s thru 7s = 5 points

black 3s

Black 3s = 5 points


The rules for Canasta change slightly based on the number of players in the game.  It can be played with 2, 3, or 4 players.


When played with 2 players, each player is dealt 15 cards and is required to make 2 Canastas to “go out”.  Note, the rules listed above were written specifically for 2 player Canasta.  Ultimately, the rules for how to play Canasta are pretty similar for each variation, with just minor changes as noted below for 3 or 4 players.


Canasta can also be played with 3 players.  This is great because there are not a lot of 3 handed card games.  It’s the most unique form of the game as all 3 players play independently, rather than on teams.  In 3 player Canasta, each is dealt just 13 cards so there are enough left in the deck for game play.  To clarify, the player to the right of the deal cuts and the player to his left goes first.  Of course, play goes around the table in a clockwise motion.  The Canasta requirement for going out in 3 player Canasta is reduced to only 1.  Besides these modifiers, the rest of the standard rules apply to this form of the game as well.

3 player canasta


4 player Canasta is quite different than 3 player Canasta because much like the 2 player version, there are only two teams.  This time, each time just has 2 players rather than one.   In this case, players opposite of each other are on a time.  Each players is dealt only 11 cards on the deal.  As with 2 players, two Canastas (per team) are required to “go out”.  Similarly to 3 player Canasta, the player to the left of the dealer cuts, and the player to his right goes first.  Again, play continues around the table in a clockwise motion.  All other rules are consistent with the standard variation.

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Canasta Cards & Accessories

The first and most important tool in Canasta is the cards.  Most importantly, you need a dual deck of cards with all Jokers.  Buying a ready-made set of Canasta cards like this one is great because you know all the cards are there, but the also mark the cards with the point values.  This makes it very easy to count points at the end of the hand.  In addition, Canasta Set comes with a revolving tray for both the remaining deck and also the discard pile!

Shuffling cards can be a difficult task when playing Canasta since there are 108 cards (essentially 2-decks of cards), especially if you have small hands.  Growing up, we always had a card shuffler that accommodated at least 2 decks of cards at once.  This allows for anyone to stack the cards and then just press a button while the shuffler does all the work.

Maybe it’s because I learned to play Canasta as a child, but another tool we always have around is a set of card holders.  These are perfect for anyone who doesn’t like holding a handful of cards.  In some longer hands of Canasta, you can sometimes get 30-40-ish cards in your hand at one time and that makes it very difficult to see each of them without this handy tool!

This is obviously not a “must-have” in order to play Canasta at home.  A blank sheet of paper does just fine.  But, if your family is anything like mine, you’re going to want to keep record of the past “winners”!  This score book not only lets you do that, but also keeps a reference of the rules handy within it, just in case a dispute pops up during a game :).

Check our CANASTA DEALS page to see other great Canasta products!

Canasta Strategy & FAQs

canasta strategy


Not sure what to do when you get ahead of your opponent during the game?  Are you wondering how you can catch up when you’re way behind?  These are some Canasta strategies that you can test out during your next game or try your new skills against the computer when playing Our Free Canasta Game Online.


baiting canasta strategy

Baiting someone as a Canasta strategy is when you play a card that is prevalent in your hand, preferably early on in a hand.  This is done in hopes that it “baits” your opponent into thinking it was a card you wanted to get rid of in order to consolidate your hand.  This tactic may work better against more experienced players.  Someone that’s new to the game may not even notice and you’ll be giving away a card you might need later in the hand.


freeze the pile canasta

When your opponent melds a lot of points early in the hand, freezing the pile might put that player at a disadvantage for much of the remainder of that round.  They’re much less likely to have enough cards in their hand to pick up the pile now without being able to use their meld cards.  This is especially true if it was hard for them to make their meld points, requiring them to lay down nearly everything they had.  

But, be careful with this strategy.  It can backfire if they are able to pick up the pile with two cards from their hand.  Now, they’ll be that much closer to Canastas and going out.  Additionally, keep an eye out for a “sneak attack” if your opponent continually tries to lay you the pile.  They may be getting rid of all their bad cards to go out on you.


conservative canasta strategy

If you happen to be far ahead of your opponent in the game and getting close to 5000 points, consider playing a more conservative Canasta strategy.  Rather than trying to build big piles and go for lots of points in a hand, try to keep piles small and meld more of your hand earlier and more often to ensure your opponent doesn’t score lots of points this hand and you keep the lead.  Employing the strategy of melding early and often as well as trying to go out as quickly as possible is a great idea.  The #1 key is to make sure your opponent doesn’t pull you into a long drawn out game that may earn him or her many points.


aggressive play canasta strategy

If you’re behind in the overall game and about to lose, a better strategy would be to play much more aggressively, attempting to increase the discard pile size and increase the amount of points the winner will make in the round.  You have nothing to lose at this point anyway, so you might as well go for it!

Some approaches here might include baiting the winning player to pick up the pile early and then freezing it in an attempt to build it up.  It’s usually an all or nothing play, but when you have nothing to lose, it’s worth the attempt.

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how many decks in canasta


Q:  How many Canastas to go out?

A:  Two Canastas are needed to go out for 2 or 4 player games (straights count towards your total).  One Canasta is the requirement for 3 player card games.


Q:  Can you please define meld?

A:  Your meld are the cards you’ve laid in front of you.  These are your points towards going out.


Q:  How many decks of cards are used in a Canasta game?

A:  Two decks of cards, including four jokers for a total of 108 cards.


Q:  When was Canasta popular?

A:  It’s popular right now with many card playing families around the world.  It was more mainstream in the U.S. in the 1950s to 1980s.


Q: When does Canasta end?

A:  A Canasta game ends when the first player or team gets reaches 5000 points.


Q:  Are Canasta cards different?

You can play Canasta with standard playing cards.  There are specialty Canasta card decks at Amazon that make it easier to count points at the end of the game.  This is a great place to buy Canasta cards and Canasta card trays.


Q:  Where to play Canasta?

A:  You can play Canasta at home, online, or on your phone with the latest Canasta app.