Canasta, an Overview

Canasta’s popularity reached its zenith in the United States of America in the 1950’s when players were trying to find an easier and less contentious card game to bridge and boy, did they find an alternative! The game literally took the world by storm, causing a veritable Canasta epidemic and by 1953 over 30 books on the newly conceived card game had been published. But, as with all crazes, the dust soon settled until it was stirred up all over again with the epic growth of  poker a couple of decades later on!

Canasta falls within the Rummy family and the objective of the game is to create as many melds of cards of the same rank as possible and then go out by discarding all the cards in hand. A meld is a set of matching cards, generally in groups of three, which earn a player points and allow him or her to deplete their hand. Examples of a meld are 8-9-10 of diamonds or 5s-5c-5d.

Distinctive Canasta Features

There is one distinctive feature that separates Canasta from the rest of the rummy family – when a player successful makes a seven-card meld, called a Canasta, he or she is rewarded with an enormous bonus that in itself can decide the hand or even the game.

Another feature, unique to Canasta, is when a player opts to pick up cards from the discard pile he or she is forced to pick up the entire pile and not only the top card as is the case in Gin Rummy. The rules of the different members of the Rummy family will obviously produce very different play:

  • In Gin Rummy the goal is to go out as fast as possible or to finish the game with as few cards as possible in hand
  • In Canasta the goal is to make as many melds as possible and consequently picking up the entire pile of discards is a wise move.

The Birth of Canasta

Canasta was actually invented by a Uruguayan attorney, Segundo Santos, in an effort to move away from the mentally exhausting Contract Bridge that was so very popular amongst the well-heeled and influential citizens of the South American country.

He initially turned his attention to Gin Rummy but found that it was too much of a game of chance for his liking, so he enlisted the aid of his bridge buddy, architect, Alberto Serrato, and together they took a combination of all the best elements of Bridge, Gin and a Rummy variant called Cooncan and played, and played and played. Eventually they settled on a double –deck matching game involving melding, adding to melds and the ability to claim the entire discard pile under the correct circumstances – Canasta was born!