How To Play Canasta

canasta rules

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.

OBJECT OF THE GAME

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.   

THE DEAL

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”.

GAME PLAY

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”.

ALTERNATING TURNS

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.

GOING OUT

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.

MELDING RULES

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.

Negative

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.

OTHER CANASTA RULES

canasta red 3

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.   

canasta black 3

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.

canasta joker

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.

canasta duece

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. 

CANASTA SCORING

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:

Canastas

300 points

Natural/Straight

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:

canasta joker

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

canasta black 3

Black 3s = 5 points

We’ve provided a FREE Canasta score sheet that will allow you to keep score in your games.  The point values are listed above the score chart, along some basic canasta rules as a quick reminder.  Canasta rules can seem overwhelming at first, however its a very fun strategic game.  So, keep in mind…

free canasta game

Canasta Strategy

Learn some basic strategies to improve your game.

canasta strategy, learn to play canasta, canasta for dummies

Strategy Games

See our list of other recommended strategy games.

canasta melds logo

Canasta Score Sheet

Go to our FREE printable score sheet with point values.

canasta online, play canasta online, free canasta games, canasta online free against computer

Canasta Products

Check out what Canasta related products are available. (coming soon)