Canasta Rules

Canasta RulesCanasta is a member of the Rummy family of card games. It was developed in Argentina and Uruguay in the 1940's, exploded onto the public consciousness in the 1950's, and has remained a popular game ever since. The object of the game is to score points by making melds, which is a set of three or more cards of the same rank, regardless of suit. The game uses 108 cards - two 52-card decks plus four jokers. Canasta is usually played as two-on-two partnerships.

The Basics of Canasta

Here's how Richard L. Frey described the game in his book How To Play Canasta:

I don't think it's very important to know that the name "Canasta" comes from a Spanish word for basket. It's more important to know that the best way to win is to pick up the pack when it contains so many cards that you "need a basket" to hold them all in your hand. In Canasta, unlike most other Rummy games, the more cards you can grab the bigger your score will be; the slimmer your hand becomes, the less chance you will have of winning. You will soon see why - but since that is the most important principle of the game, it is well to state it early.

Canasta's American popularity is based on three simple things:

  1. Canasta is high-scoring, exciting, subject to such huge swings in the score that it is literally true that you cannot be too far behind to win the game.

  2. Canasta is an excellent game for two players, and a good two-handed game is a vital need on far more occasions than even a good four-handed game.

  3. Canasta is a perfect four-handed partnership game. Where Gin Rummy played four-handed is, in fact, merely a combination scoring system for two simultaneous two-handed games, Canasta is actually a four-handed game. The partnership feature lets families play as families, instead of competing against one another. There is no bidding to create arguments, and while the factor of skill is important, the basic theories of skillful play are so easily learned that, with a fair degree of luck, anyone who has played Canasta a few times can beat the most experienced opponents.

I will not attempt to compare Bridge and Canasta. Both are played with cards and there the similarity ends. The great and growing group of people who are crazy about Canasta includes bridge-o-philes and bridge-o-phobes in about equal proportion.

Anyway, why should I try to sell you the game? Canasta is inevitable, you might as well relax and enjoy it.

Canasta Introduction Video

Canasta Rules

The following sites provide authoritative rules to play the Canasta card game:

  • Rummy-Games: Canasta offers a comprehensive collection of rules and resources for rummy games, including Canasta, Canasta For Two, Canasta For Three, Canasta For Five, Canasta For Six, and the related games of Bolivia, Hand and Foot, Pennies From Heaven, and Samba.
  • 5-Person Canasta
    Rules for a Canasta variation involving five players. The page includes detailed rules, tips on seating, dealing, playing, and scoring.
  • Albany Canasta
    Rules for a variation of Canasta called "Albany Canasta". Developed in Albany Kentucky, it is the most complex Canasta card game with three standard decks and 2 to 6 players.
  • Crazy Canasta Rules
    Crazy Canasta is an exciting Canasta variation that seems to have originated in the Southern USA, probably Texas, but possibly Arkansas or Arizona. After spreading to Florida, where many people commune during winter, Crazy Canasta made its way across the United States throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
  • HowStuffWorks: How to Play Canasta
    Learn how to play Canasta and three variations of it -- Italian Canasta, Pennies From Heaven, and Samba.
  • Official Canasta Rules
    Official Rules of the Association of American Playing Card Manufacturers for Canasta.
  • Pagat Canasta
    John McLeod's Canasta page, with rules, strategies and links.
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Last Update: October 12th, 2011