The game of Canasta

Canasta is one of the most well known Rummy games. It was invented in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1939. Already by the 1950's it became a popular past time in the United States, from there it expanded to the entire world and the rest is history. You can find many different variations of Canasta and it may seem that sometimes the similarities are few and far between. Sometimes it is played in teams and sometimes it is played head to head which changes the game play. Although there are many differences there is a basic game pattern that is found in all Canasta games.

Canasta Table

The game is played by 2-6 players and the main goal of the game is to be the first player to accumulate 8500 (or the highest score). The game is played in rounds in which each player takes a turn at playing. Each turn consists of 2 moves: first the player must draw a card. The card can be drawn from one of two piles: from the stock pile or from the discard pile. If a player chooses to draw a card from the discard pile, they must use the card immediately to form a meld. When choosing this option the player receives all of the cards from the discard pile as well as the card he wished to pick up. The second move consists of discarding a card which is of little or no use to your hand.

The benefit of each card is measured according to its compatibility with the sets of cards the player is trying to collect. In order to get rid of all of your cards you have to form sets from the cards in your hand. A set consists of a minimum of 3 cards and a maximum of  7 cards. A full set of 7 cards is called a Canasta.

Compared to most Rummy game variations, the card sequences you collect are a little different. All of the cards except for 2's, 3's and jokers are called "natural" cards. The 2's and jokers are referred to as "wild" cards and can replace natural cards in a set ( 3 wild cards maximum per set) while the 3's are collected on the side and play a large role in the calculation of points awarded at the end of the game.

A set containing natural cards only is referred to as a natural Canasta ( a set made up of all 7's or ace's have special values). A set of only wild cards is referred to a wild canasta and a set consisting of both wild cards and natural cards is called a mixed Canasta.

The game ends when one of the players has melded all of the cards in their hand, or when there are no more cards in the stock pile. No matter how the game ends, each player receives points according to the remaining cards in their hand, taking into a count the number of Canastas each player has formed, the number of unfinished Canastas and the number of 3's that are collected.

The game of Canasta is a complex game of cooperation between teammates, which requires vigilance and strategy throughout the game. Visit our Canasta tips and Strategy page to improve your Canasta Skills!