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How to Play Canasta Card Game? – Rules & Strategies

Canasta. What comes to mind when you hear the word Canasta? It’s a game renowned for being popular back in the day, the 1950’s, in fact. But what about now?

Read on to learn how to play Canasta, the card game. Let’s bring Canasta from the 1950’s up to the 2022’s. 

Don’t let the complexities of the game dissuade you. Once you know the Canasta rules and strategies, this will soon be the game of choice at any small social gathering. 

The Overview of Canasta

how to play canasta

Canasta is a relatively new card game in relation to other games you may have played.

It was created by a lawyer, Segundo Santos and an architect, Alberto Serrato in Uruguay in 1939.

They wanted a game which would be quicker than Bridge as an alternative to play. 

The word “canasta” is a Spanish word which means “basket”. Simply, this is where the men who created the game kept their cards. 

By the 1950’s, Canasta was global and overtook Bridge as the most popular game to be played, especially in America. 

It is generally played as a team game with two players on each team, but it can be played as a two-player game as well.

How to Play Canasta?

The Setup

how to play canasta

The setup for this game is a little different in that you will need to shuffle two standard playing decks together, including the Jokers. 

After the shuffle, each player is dealt 11 cards, facedown.

The remaining cards are placed at the center of the table and become the “stock”. 

The dealer takes the card off the top of the stock and turns it over to begin the play.

If the card turned is a red three or a wild card (Ace or two) then the dealer will need to turn the next card. 

The Objective

how to play canasta

Your objective with Canasta is for your team to score the most and the team to reach 5,000 points first, wins. 

You score points by “melding” cards and by creating canastas. These will be explained in a moment. 

Melds and Canastas

A meld is a group of three or more cards of the same rank. A canasta is a meld of seven or more cards of the same rank.

Once a card has been melded, it cannot be taken back or used elsewhere.

Canastas made up of natural numbers scores higher than one made up with the use of wildcards. Natural canastas are worth 500 points. A canasta made using wildcards is 300 points. 

  • (Strategy point – Try to keep your canastas made up of natural melds to keep the point-scoring higher.)

Canasta Rules

Each player takes a turn by drawing from the stockpile. They have the option of using that card to meld or not to meld. They would then discard one of their cards. 

This continues until each player or team is out of cards in their hand and there are no stock cards left. 

When someone is out of cards, this is known as “going out.” 

At the point of someone going out, each team’s points are tallied up, and a new game would begin. 

Plays continue until a team reaches 5,000 or more points. To make it easy, we’ve included a scoring list to help you remember the Canasta scoring. 

Canasta Scoring

  • Jokers are worth 50 points each.
  • Deuces and Aces are worth 20 points each.
  • Kings through Eights are worth 10 points each.
  • Sevens through Fours and black Threes are worth 5 points.
  • Red Threes are 100 points each, but if a team has all the red Threes, they receive 800 points.
  • Canasta is worth 300 points each if wildcards were used to create. If the Canasta is all-natural (without wildcards), each is worth 500.

Scores would be made up of each player’s melds and canastas minus any cards they may have left in their hand if they haven’t gone out.  

When playing as a team, if one person on the team goes out, it is considered that the team goes out even if the second person in the team is still holding cards. Those card points would simply be deducted from the overall score. 

Canasta also uses wild cards, which are the deuces and aces. These can be used in place of any card when melding or creating a canasta. 

Jokers are used in Canasta as well. 

Red three’s are not allowed to be used in melds and must be put on the table immediately with the melds but not as part of a meld.

Suits are not used in Canasta. 

  • (Strategy point – Discarding. Try to keep track of what your opponents are discarding to see what they do not need. Through this you can determine which cards you can safely discard without having others pick it up to improve their own hand.)

During a player’s turn they can add cards to their teammates’ melds. 


So, there you have Canasta. A game created for no other reason than to have something other than Bridge to play and took the world by storm. 

Next time you are having some friends over be sure to have two decks on the ready. And if they haven’t played Canasta before, be sure to introduce them to this wildly fun game. 

Try playing in pairs but if you don’t have quite enough people to play pairs, you can easily adapt this to a two-person game. If you are so inclined or have enough people to play, three-person teams can be done as well. 

However you play it, we know you’ll enjoy it. But remember to raise a glass of clericó or perhaps Grappamiel to Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato in thanks for this lovely game. 

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