Canasta is a very versatile and fun card game. Most games have one wild card, but Canasta has two wild cards making it twice the fun. These instructions aim to help you learn the game of Canasta.

Canasta is a game that most often is played with four players who split into two teams. The game can also be played by two or three individual players.

Step 1: Object of the Game

Canasta is played with two full decks of cards, including two Jokers from each deck totaling 108 cards.

The object of Canasta is to pick up cards and fit them into groups. You score points for these groupings, or melds, so the more melds you can make, the more points you will get. The first team to score 8500 points wins!

The goal of the game is to outscore the opposing team, or players. Points are scored by forming melds – combinations of three or more cards of the same rank, with or without the help of wild cards. Cards are added to the melds to make Canastas (a meld with seven cards). Two Canastas are needed to “go out” or end the round.

The big goal is to go out first. If you are the one going out, your opponents will have to count what is in their hands against their score. The second big goal is to pick up the discard pile often. That puts lots of cards in your hand which will put lots of cards on the table and rack up your score.

Step 2: Gameplay Flow

Here is a brief overview of how the game is played.

1) All of the cards are shuffled, and each player is dealt 13 cards.

2) Each player takes a turn in which he or she has the option to pick up a card from the draw pile, or use the top card in a meld and then put the entire discard pile in his/her hand. He or she must then discard one card at the end of every turn. Play moves in a clockwise direction. A’s and 7’s and any card that matches a closed canasta may not be discarded into an empty discard pile.

Wildcards may never be discarded unless they are the only cards remaining in the player’s hand.

3) Play continues until one player goes out by clearing his or her hand of all cards and completing at least 2 canastas.

4) Each team’s points are recorded and added to their existing score.

5) After each round the scores are tallied and the team that has attained 8500 points wins and the game is over. If not, another round is started.

Step 3: The Cards and Melds

The point values of respective cards are assigned as follows:

Natural Cards:

Wild Cards:


One         Red or Black           100

Two         2 Red or 2 Black     300     

Three      3 Red or 3 Black     500

Four        4 Red or 4 Black   1000

All 8 3’s                                 3000

meld consists of a group of cards with the same numerical rank, with or without the addition of wild cards. A meld is only valid if it has at least two or more natural cards, and no more than two wild cards.

canasta is a meld that contains seven total cards. Once there are 7 cards no more cards can be added.

natural canasta is a meld that contains seven natural cards (no wild cards). A Dirty canasta is a meld that contains seven of the same cards and may contain no more than 2 wild cards.

Step 4: Choosing Teams and The Deal

In a game of four players, there are two teams of two players. Teammates sit across from one another.

One player is chosen as dealer and shuffles the cards. The dealer hands the cards to the person on his/her right to split the deck. The one that splits the deck takes the top part of the deck and counts eight (8) cards from the bottom. These eight (8) cards are put down on the table or tray to begin the draw pile. One card is then placed perpendicular to that card. This is called the Bridge. The Bridge alerts all players that eight (8) cards remain to be played. The rest of the remaining cards are placed on top. The dealer takes the bottom part of the split pile and deals 13 cards to each player face down. Any remaining cards are placed on top of the draw pile on the table or tray. Note: 100 extra points are given for dealing out the exact number of cards.

Each player picks up and looks at the cards that are dealt to him or her, making sure to keep the cards hidden from opposing players. The cards that are held by an individual player are called that player’s hand.

At the beginning of each turn if a player has any 3’s in his or her hand or draws one, the player places the 3(s) face up in front of them on the table, and draws a replacement card from the draw pile. After the bridge no extra cards are drawn.

Step 5: Opening

In order for a player to be able to place any meld or canasta on the table during his or her turn, the player, or team, must have a certain amount of points. Opening value depends upon the score at the end of each round. A player must place a meld, or melds, in front of him or her. In order to do an initial meld, the played card’s points must amount to a certain total point value (defined below) on the table in front of them.

-Total game score is under 3000     – required points to open  125

-Total game score is 3000 – 4999   – required points to open  155

-Total game score is 5000+             – required points to open  180

Once a player (or the player’s team), has melded, on following turns he or she may add to, or play new melds, without restrictions.

Step 6: Playing the Game

At the start of each player’s turn, the player has two options.  (1) Draw one card from the draw pile or (2) take the card from the discard pile along with all the cards below it.

Taking a card from the discard pile:

If a player wants to pick up the top card of the discard pile, he/ she must have the required points to meld, and two cards from his/her hand matching the top card in the discard pile. Wild cards may not be used to take the discard pile.

When it is a player’s turn, he or she may take the discard pile using any of the following:

a) Creating an initial meld by combining two or more held, natural cards and the top card of the discard pile. On the initial meld if the pile is taken with two cards that match the top card, the points of those cards do not count in the initial meld point required as they are not a complete meld from the player’s hand.

b) By adding the acquired card to a meld the player (or player’s teammate) has already played on the table.

After playing the initial meld, the player adds the rest of the discard pile to his or her hand, and may play additional melds while it remains his or her turn.

Step 7: Melding Without Taking the Discard Pile

A player may choose to do an initial meld without taking the discard pile. After determining that the player has the correct number of points needed, the cards are laid down, the player discards a card. If the player is the first to go down he or she picks 4 cards from the draw pile. This is called the Toulon. If the opponent team then chooses to lay down without taking the pile, their Toulon is then 3 cards. Once the pile is used for initial meld, the opponent team gets a three card Toulon.

Step 8: Penalties

A’s – Aces may be used in the initial meld only with no more than two jokers. Once the initial meld is on the table (and the aces were not used) the aces must then be played as natural (clean) only. If three or more aces remain in a player’s hand at the end of the game, there is a penalty of 1500 points. If there is an incomplete meld of A’s on the table at the end of the game, there is a 2500 point penalty.

7’s – Sevens can only be melded as a natural canasta and can NEVER have any wild cards with them. Three or more sevens remain in a player’s hand at the end of the game, there is a 1500 point penalty.  If there is an incomplete meld of 7’s on the table at the end of the game, there is a 2500 point penalty.

Wild Canasta – incomplete canasta of wild cards on the table carries a 2000 point penalty. No penalty for wild cards in player’s hand. If 4 jokers are present in the wild card meld, there is a penalty of 2500 points.

3’s Penalty:

3’s on table and no canastas: If the team has 3’s on the table and no canastas at the end of the round/game value of 3’s and the value of all the cards on the table and in the hands are deducted from score.

3’s on table and one canasta: If the team has 3’s on the table and one canasta at the end of the round/game value of 3’s do not count but everything else does.

3’s on table and two canastas: If the team has 3’s on the table and two canastas at the end of the round/game all points count.

Step 9: Going Out

A player goes out, or gets rid of all of the cards in their hand, to end the current round. In order to go out, a player, or team, must have melded at least two canastas, or make one in the process of going out. Otherwise, the player must always keep at least one card in his/her hand. To go out you must ask permission from your partner before going out. You may ask only once. You may not go out if there is an incomplete canasta of A’s, 7’s or wild cards.

If the last card of the discard pile is a three, the game ends. The player who drew the three places it face up on the table. No discard necessary. No points for going out.

A 100 point bonus is awarded to the team that goes out.

Step 10: Scoring

Once the round is over, each player must count the points they have accumulated during the round and add it to their total game score.

Refer to score sheet for point values

Any cards that are left in the hand of the partner of the player that went out are counted as negative points toward the team’s score. The opposing team counts their points separately.

The team that reaches 8500 points first wins!