Canasta Rules in Detail
The Object of the Game is to Score 8500 Points
The main goal is to outscore the opposing team and be the first to accumulate 8500 points. If both teams go over 8500 at the same time, the team with the greatest number of points wins. Games are broken down into rounds.
To start accumulating points in a round by 1) playing a 3 (see ‘Playing the 3’s‘ below) or B) “melding” cards from your hand. In either case you must place the cards face up on the playing table. You will need a qualifying number of points to make an initial meld (see ‘Points needed for opening meld’ below).
Points are totaled once the round is over and added to, or if negative subtracted from, your team’s score.
The point value of each card is explained on our Point Values in Canasta page.
The penalties are explained on the Canasta Scoring and Penalties page. These are subtracted from the positive point values in each round. You can have a negative score during the game.
The secondary goal is to pick up the discard pile, often if possible. This puts additional cards in your hand and allows you to meld more cards on the table to increase your final score.
Choosing Teams and Dealing a Round
Canasta is played with two full decks of regular playing cards, including the four Jokers, for a total of 108 cards.
There are two teams of two players in a four player game. Teammates sit across from one another.
One player is chosen as the initial dealer. (Note: The deal passes to his/her left for each subsequent round.)
The dealer shuffles the deck of cards and then passes the deck to the person on his/her right to split (or cut) the stack. The person who cut the deck takes the top portion and the dealer deals from the bottom portion.
The person who split the deck counts out the bottom eight cards and places them face them down on the table as the start of the “draw pile”.
The ninth card from the bottom is placed perpendicular to those eight cards, again face down. This card is called the Bridge card. It alerts all players that each player has only two turns before the round ends. This also alerts players to get rid of as many cards as they can before the round ends to maximize their score.
The remaining cards are placed face down on top of the draw pile.
The dealer deals 13 cards face down clockwise (starting to his/her left) to each player from the portion of the split pile. After the deal the remaining cards are placed on top of the draw pile. The Bridge will be visible on the draw pile as it is aligned differently.
100 extra points are given to the dealer for dealing out the exact number of cards.
How the Game is Played
Each player picks up his/her cards, making sure opposing players cannot see them. Those cards are called the “player’s hand” and should be arranged in groups of the same cards, regardless of suit. For example, groups might include 4’s, 7’s, Jacks, etc.
Card suits (hearts, spades, diamonds and clubs) and runs (i.e. 6, 7, 8 and 9) are not used in Canasta.
The play starts with the person to the left of the dealer. He/she picks up a card from the draw pile and then discards any unwanted card (may include the one just picked) face up on the “discard pile” next to the draw pile. Play continues clockwise.
Playing the 3’s
At the beginning of each player’s turn any 3’s that are in his/her hand are placed on the table face up and a new card is drawn from the draw pile to replace it. If the replacement is a 3, the player can also place it face up on the table.
The value of the 3’s are found on our Point Values in Canasta page.
See the penalty page for penalty rules for 3’s on the Canasta Scoring and Penalties page.
Scoring Points by Melding
You score points by selecting cards from your hand and ‘melding’ them face up on the table.
A meld consists of three or more cards of the same rank. One wild card may be used in a meld with two of the same cards. A wild card can not be used with the top card taken from the discard pile.
A maximum of two wild cards may be used in any meld. Points are accumulated per values as shown on the Point Values in Canasta page.
A specific point value is needed to start an initial meld. The points needed varies according to a team’s accumulated total points at the beginning of each round. This is covered in the next section – Points needed for opening meld.
C) Once a team makes an initial meld, additional cards may be melded as well. Either teammate may add a single (or more) card to an existing meld or start a new meld. Cards can either be used from his/her hand after selecting from the draw pile or using two same rank cards to select the top card on the discard pile. In the latter case, the entire discard pile is added to the player’s hand.
Seven cards forms a Canasta. It is the maximum number cards in any single meld; no more cards can be added to a meld. The cards in a Canasta should be stacked together, with a red card on top to indicate a natural (no wild cards) Canasta or a black card signifying a dirty (contains one or two wild cards) Canasta.
Note: A’s, 7’s, wild cards or any card that matches a closed canasta on the table may not be used to start a new discard pile. Also a new meld cannot be started with a card that matches a card in a closed canasta.
Points Needed for the Opening Meld
Total game score is under 3000 requires 125 points to open.
Total game score of 3000 to 4999 requires 155 points to open.
Total game score of 5000 or more requires 180 points to open.
Taking the Discard Pile
There are two ways a player may take the discard pile:
A) For the initial opening meld:
He/she must have the required points for the opening meld (see previous) PLUS two natural cards from his/her hand which match the top card in the discard pile.
Note: The points for the cards used to match the card taken from the discard pile do NOT count towards the initial meld points required. Also, wild cards may not be used to match the top card in the discard pile.
B) To add to the cards on the table after the initial opening meld:
Once a team has melded, either partner can use two natural cards to take the top card from the discard pile. These cards may be added to an existing meld or used to create a new meld.
After either meld, the player adds the rest of the discard pile cards to his/her hand. Additional melds may be made at that time as it remains his/her turn until a card is discarded.
Melding Without Taking the Discard Pile
A player may choose to do an initial meld without taking the discard pile if he/she has the correct number of points needed to qualify for an initial meld. The player first melds the cards, then he/she discards a card.
If the player is the first to go down (without taking the top card from the discard pile) he/she picks four cards from the draw pile. This is called the “Toulon”. If one team has already completed their initial meld, the player from the other team that goes down without taking the top card from the discard pile gets a three card Toulon.
Ending the Round – Going Out
When a player gets rid of all of the cards in his/her hand, including a discard, he/she “goes out” to end the current round. To qualify to go out, a player (or team), must have completed at least two Canastas, or make the second Canasta in the process of going out.
If a player is not going out he/she must always keep at least one card in his/her hand.
A player must ask permission from his/her partner before going out. A player may ask only once. You may not go out if there is an incomplete canasta of A’s, 7’s or wild cards on the table.
A 100 point bonus is awarded to the team that goes out.
The round also ends if all the cards are played from the pick pile. Then there are no points for going out.
If the last card of the discard pile is a three, the player that drew the three places the card on the table and the game ends. No discard is necessary and no points are given for going out.
Each team tallies their score. The sum (which can be negative) is added to their existing score. (Download a Canasta Score Sheet). The team that has reached 8500 points wins and the game is over!
If not, another round is started.