A quick Explanation of Canasta

At the Canasta Palace, you can play in real-time with fellow card game enthusiasts from all over the world. We offer tables for two and four players. Our rules are based on the official rulebook of the New York Regency Whist Club. Since a game of Canasta can take a while, we allow setting a limit to the number of rounds. Our basic rules are perfectly adjusted for novices and make getting started easy. Once you gained some experience, you can arrange custom rules to construct the game you enjoy most. Go easy or go for a challenge.
You find explanations for all terms concerning Canasta in our glossary. The foundations of Canasta at our Palace are subsequently explained.

Cards and Playing Field

Most of the time, Canasta is played with two decks of French playing cards (52 cards each) and four Jokers. This makes 108 cards in total. There are eight cards of each rank, for example eight Kings, eight 3s, etc. The cards are dealt at the beginning of the game. In a game of two, each player receives 15 cards. In a game of four, each player receives 11 cards. The leftover cards become the stock. One card is revealed from the stock pile. It is now the base of the discard pile. The teams, or alliances, are randomly determined at the beginning of the game and persist throughout all the rounds played at the table.

2 Player Field

In two-player mode, the playing field is divided horizontally. Each player has their melding area in front of them. The stock, discard pile, and score display are placed in the central field, separated by horizontal lines. There are also two buttons in the center – the undo-button and the going-out-button. The opponent has an orange marker. Their points are displayed in orange as well. Your points are displayed in blue.

4 Player Field

In four-player mode, the playing field is divided vertically. Your own team’s melding area is on the left. Accordingly, your opponents’ melding area is on the right side. The stock, discard pile, and score display are placed in the central field, separated by vertical lines. There are also two buttons in the center – the undo-button and the going-out-button. The opponents have orange markers. Their points are displayed in orange as well. Your own team’s points are displayed in blue.

The Aim

In a round of Canasta, you want to be the first one with no more hand cards. This is achieved by cleverly collecting and combining cards to form sets and melding them. To be able to go out of a round you must have melded at least one set of seven cards – a canasta. A table of Canasta is played over several rounds. A maximum number of rounds can be set at own tables in the Canasta Palace. Any table of Canasta ends when one team hits 5.000 points, also, if the maximum number of rounds was not reached yet. Scoring is explained further below.

The Cards of Canasta

In Canasta the pip values on the cards do not correspond with the card scores. The score and type of each card can be learned from this table:

Card Type Points
Red 3 Bonus card 100
Black 3 Block card 5
2 Wild card 20
Joker Wild card 50
Ace Natural card 20
King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8 Natural card 10
7, 6, 5, 4 Natural card 5

Bonus Cards

Bonus cards have no function in the game. They only yield bonus points. In Canasta, these are the red threes. When a player receives a red three by dealing or drawing, it is automatically placed openly in the field. The player receives a new card. Red threes score 100 points. These points cannot be used for the first meld. If a team collects all red threes of a round, they gain 400 additional bonus points. If a team couldn’t play any melds by the end of the round, all points for red threes are converted into negative points.

Block Cards

The black threes are block cards. When a black three is on top of the discard pile, it is blocked: It can neither be used for drawing a card nor can the whole discard pile be bought. The players can only draw from the stock pile.

Wild and natural Cards

In this game, Jokers and twos are wild cards. They help to form melds because they can be used to replace other cards of any rank in melds. Two Kings could form a correct meld with a Joker. Discarded wild cards freeze the stock pile: As long as a wild card is in the discard pile, it can only be picked up when the top card can be used for a meld with at least two natural hand cards. Natural cards are Aces, face cards (King, Queen, Jack), and the pip cards four to ten.

Melds

  • A meld must consist of at least three cards of the same rank.
  • The same card can be repeated within a meld. (2x Ace of Hearts, for example)
  • There is no limit to the number of cards in a meld.
  • A maximum of three wild cards can be in a meld.
  • Wild cards cannot outnumber natural cards.
  • Once played in a meld, wild cards cannot be swapped or picked up again (In contrast to Rummy).
  • You can’t add your cards to the opposing team’s melds.
  • Black threes can be melded before going out exclusively.

The first Meld

Each team’s initial meld must score a minimum amount of points. This minimum depends on the team’s current total score and can be seen in the following table:

Current score Minimum score for first meld
Below 0 15
0 to 1.495 50
1.500 to 2.995 90
3.000 and above 120

The required score for a round’s first meld increases during the game. The minimum score is set separately for each team. This brings some balance and enables the trailing team to enter the game a bit earlier. A card from the discard pile can be drawn to compile the first meld. The other cards from the discard pile can only be used after the first meld was formed with the drawn card and hand cards.

Shuffling, Dealing and round it goes

Course of Action during a turn

  1. The player can draw a card from the stock or, if conditions are met, pick up the whole discard pile.
  2. The player can now play melds or add cards to their team’s existing melds. If the player’s team has no melds yet, a minimum score must be reached with the initial meld.
  3. When the player is done with all actions, they must discard a card from their hand and it’s the next player’s turn. The game goes clockwise. The discard pile can be blocked or frozen for the following players by discarding a block card or a wild card.

Picking up the Discard Pile

The fight for the discard pile is one of Canasta’s key elements. Players can strategically prevent opponents from picking up the discard pile. The taller the pile, the more suspenseful the fight. Who gets to pick up the pile can feel victorious: They gained many cards and, potentially, complete canastas. The chance to pick up a tall discard pile can decide the game. Picking up the discard pile is also called buying.

  • Picking up the discard pile is permitted only after the first meld has been played or when the first card of the discard pile can be used for a legitimate first meld.
  • The top card can only be used for a first meld if the hand cards suffice for the rest of the meld.
  • If the top card of the discard pile is a wild card or a black three, the player cannot pick up the discard pile. It is blocked.
  • If the pile contains a wild card (Joker or two) it is frozen. It can only be thawed and picked up by using the top card with two natural hand cards to play a meld.
  • The top card of a standard discard pile can also be added to existing melds in order to pick up the whole pile.

It’s tactically wise to carefully consider which card you are going to discard. Your opponent shouldn’t be gifted with perfect opportunities to pick up the whole discard pile. You must keep an eye on the course of the game and discard cards your opponent won’t find too useful. If you run out of such cards, you might have to discard a black three or even a wild card.

Going out – Ending a round of Canasta

Ending the round is called going out in Canasta. In a game of four, the player must ask their teammate for permission to end the round. If granted, the player can meld, append their last cards, and optionally discard one.

Scoring

Once a round ended, the scores are determined as follows:

Played melds Sum of the cards‘ scores
Hand cards Sum of the cards‘ scores as negative points
Going out 100 points
Concealed going out 100 additional points for going out
Natural canasta 500 points each
Mixed canasta 300 points each
Red threes 100 points each. If a team has all red threes, they gain 400 additional points. If no melds were played, all points for red threes are converted into negative points.

The end of a Table

At the Canasta Palace, a table can end either by reaching the maximum number of rounds or when one team reaches 5.000 points. The team with the highest total score wins the table.

Adjust the Game to Taste with custom Rules

Use extra rules to set up and play Canasta online the way you like it best.

We offer the following custom rules for our Premium players:

Custom Rule Description
3 Decks An additional deck is used.
3 Jokers per Deck There is one more Joker per deck.
Harder First Meld The minimum scores for the first meld are raised from 15, 50, 90, 120 to 25, 90, 120, 150 points.
Tough End Going out requires either two canastas or one natural canasta. If „Wild Canasta“ is activated as well, only the party going out receives a bonus for their wild canasta.
Wild Canasta Each team can now play one meld consisting of wild cards only. They have a maximum of 7 cards. If Jokers outnumber the twos, the bonus increases. Incomplete wild canastas score negative points.
Draw 2 Two instead of one card are drawn from the stock.
Strict Discard Pile The discard pile is permanently frozen. Laying off from the discard pile to canastas is forbidden.
Strict Wild Cards Two instead of three wild cards are permitted per meld. wild cards can’t be added to a canasta. After the first meld, wild cards can only be used in melds containing at least five natural cards.
Sequences Melding sequences is permitted. These melds are limited to seven cards of the same suit, no wild cards. The cards must be consistent and in order. There can be several sequences of the same suit.
All players receive 15 cards. There is no concealed going out. Going out always scores 200 points. If “Tough End” is activated, two canastas are needed for going out, no matter if natural or not.
Surprise Three additional cards are placed under the stock at the beginning of the game.
Game of Nothing This table isn’t ranked for the league.

Canasta online – What’s the difference?

Playing cards online is different from a game of cards at a real table in some irreplaceable aspects. But playing Canasta online also frees you of a couple of inconvenient tasks. An important improvement is avoiding human error: Players can’t deal too few or too many cards. Melds can only be played if they conform with the rules. All of this is prevented by programming. Handling and managing the cards in your hand and the playing field are also taken on by the computer.

Canasta’s complex Set of Rules

We know, we know… After taking a first look at the rules of Canasta, their multitude and the number of special cases can spoil the initial vim and vigor. This is partly due to synonymous terms used in different sets of rules – natural canasta vs. real canasta, for example. To help you keep track of the rules, we drew up this glossary. All the special cases can be learned step by step. The key elements of the game are quickly acquired, especially, if you played Rummy before. Once you learned those rules, you can broaden your horizon or put yourself up for a challenge with the custom rules.

Fancy more Card Games?

Here at Spiele Palast, we don’t just run the Canasta Palace. We offer a variety of popular card games. You can play trick-taking games like Skat, Pinochle, Doppelkopf and Schafkopf. Have a try at our solitaire card games, or patience card games, e.g. Klondike, Easthaven, Spider and Scorpion, or go classic with Rummy or Mau-Mau. All games are free to play in their respective Palace.