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Canasta is a matching card game in which the object is to create melds of cards of the same rank called canastas and then go out by playing or discarding all the cards in your hand.

It is believed that Canasta was invented in Montevideo, Uruguay in the early twentieth century. It then spread to the United States and the rest of the world. There are variations of the game for two to six players, but the original version is played by four.

Table of contents
1 Rules for Canasta

Rules for Canasta

The Cards and Deal

The four players are organized into two teams of two players each. Partners sit opposite each other. Canasta uses a pack made of two complete decks of 52 cards plus four Jokers (108 cards total).

Point values for cards in Canasta
3, 3Special
3♣, 3♠, 4, 5, 6, 75
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K10
A, 220

The initial dealer is chosen at random, and the deal then rotates clockwise after every hand. The dealer shuffles the pack, the player to the dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals out 11 cards to each player.

The remaining cards are left in a stock in the center of the table. The top card from the stock is turned over to form the discard pile. If this first card is a red three or a wild card, the discard pile is frozen (explained in Picking up the discard pile, below). Additional cards from the stock are turned over to the top of the discard pile until the top card of the discard pile is neither a red three or a wild card.

Any player who received a red three in their initial hand must immediately play it to the table for their team and draw a new card to their hand.

The Play

The player to the dealer's left has the first turn, and play then proceeds clockwise. A turn begins either by drawing the first card from the stock into the player's hand or by picking up the entire discard pile. However, there are restrictions on when you can pick up the discard pile. (See Picking up the discard pile, below.) If the card drawn from the stock is a red three, the player must play it immediately and draw another card.

The player may then make as many legal melds as they wish from the cards in their hand. A turn ends when the player discards one card from their hand to the top of the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas

Each team keeps separate melds of the various ranks of cards. A player may never play to an opponent's meld. A legal meld consists of at least three cards of the same rank. Suits are not considered except that black threes are treated differently than red threes. Wild cards can be used as any rank except for threes. Red threes may never be melded. Black threes may only be melded as a players last meld before going out.

A meld must consist of at least two natural cards, and can never have more than three wild cards. Examples: 5-5-2 and 9-9-9-2-2-Joker are legal melds. 5-2-2 is not a legal meld as it contains only one natural card. 9-9-2-2-2-Joker is not legal as it contains more than three wild cards.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or wild. A natural canasta (or clean canasta) is one which comprises only natural cards. A mixed canasta (or dirty canasta) is one which comprises both natural and wild cards. Natural canastas score more points than mixed canastas.

Initial melds

When a player's team has not yet made any melds in a hand, that player must meet an additional point score requirement to make their first meld(s). The sum of the values of the cards played in the player's turn must exceed the minimum initial meld requirement according to the team's total score:

Team scoreMinimum initial meld
Less than 015
0 - 149950
1500 - 299990
3000 and above120

Example: If a player's team had a score of 1600 and had not yet made any melds in a hand, an initial meld of 6-6-6, K-K-K-2 could not be made as it scores only 65 points and the requirement is 90. A meld of 6-6-6, A-A-A-2 would score 95 points and could be played. Note that both initial melds could be played if the team's total score were below 1500, and that neither could be played if the team's total score were 3000 or higher.

Picking up the discard pile

At the beginning of their turn, a player may pick up the entire discard pile instead of drawing a card from the stock. They may only pick up the discard pile if they can use the top card either in an existing meld or by making a new meld along with two other cards from their hand.

If a wild card has previously been discarded to the pile, the discard pile is frozen. When the discard pile is frozen, it may only be picked up if the player can meld the top card with two natural cards of the same rank in the player's hand.

If the player's team has not yet made any melds, the discard pile is frozen for that team. In addition, the player must meet the initial meld requirement using the top card of the discard pile in order to pick up the pile. Only the top card may be used in meeting the requirement before the player may pick up the rest of the discard pile.

If a wild card or a black three is on top of the discard pile, it may not be picked up.

Going out

A player may go out by using all the cards in their hand only if that player's team has made one or more canastas. The player may go out either by melding all cards in their hand or by melding all cards but one and discarding the final card. If the player's team has not yet made any canastas, the player may not make a play which would leave them with no cards in their hand at the end of their turn.

Black threes may be melded only as the last play before a player goes out, and wild cards may not be used in a meld of black threes. The hand ends immediately when a player goes out.

When considering going out, a player may ask their partner for permission to go out; however, the player must abide by the partner's answer. If the partner refuses permission, the player may not go out this turn. If the partner responds "yes", the player must go out this turn. Note that it is not necessary to ask permission before going out.

If the stock is completely depleted when a player is required to draw a card, the hand ends immediately with no player having gone out. This includes the case where a player is required to draw an additional card as a result of drawing a red three. The player may not meld any cards before the hand ends. If the player can legally pick up the discard pile when there are no cards remaining in the stock, they must do so.

The Scoring

At the end of each hand, the score for each team is calculated as follows:

The total value of all cards melded by that team, including cards in canastas minus the total value of all cards remaining in the team's hands plus any bonuses:

Bonus scores
Going out100
Going out concealedadditional 100
Each mixed canasta300
Each natural canasta500
Each red three, up to three100
The fourth red three500 (total of 800 for all four red threes)

A player goes out concealed when the player makes their team's initial meld and goes out legally in the same turn.

The bonuses for red threes are subtracted from a team's score rather than added if the hand ends without that team having made any melds. That is, if a team has three red threes but has not made any melds at the end of a hand, the team will suffer a penalty of 300 points rather than gaining a 300 point bonus.

Scoring Example: At the end of a hand in which the North player has gone out (not concealed), the cards in each team's melds and in each player's hand are:

3 33
3♣ 3♠ 3&spades4 4 2
6 6 6 6 6 6 27 7 7 7 7 2 Joker
9 9 9 9 9 9 9 910 10 Joker
10 10 10A A A A A
J J J J 2 2 Joker 
South4 5 5 Q K A A
East2 5 6 10 J J
West4 4 10 Q Q K K

Hand scores
Mixed Canastas600300
Natural Canastas5000
Red Threes200100
Going out1000

The game ends when a team's total score reaches 5000 or above. The team with the highest total score at this point wins.