Rules of Canasta

Since the birth of Canasta in the 1930’s, the rules have been tweaked here and there and many variants of Canasta have evolved over time. Some of the more popular variants include:

  • Classic –  Canasta in its purest form, the original version
  • Samba – Canasta that features sequences
  • Hand and Foot – Canasta that favours a ‘foot’ or a second hand that is dealt to each player once the original hand is depleted
  • Modern American – Canasta that rewards players with huge bonuses for Canastas in Sevens and Aces

For our purposes the rules pertaining to International competition Canasta are appropriate and the basic tenets are:

  • Two 52-card standard decks plus four jokers are used
  • All deuces (twos) and jokers are considered wild
  • The dealer is randomly chosen and rotates clockwise thereafter

Card Values are as follows:

Red Threes

Special Value

Black Threes

Special Value

Four to Seven


Eight to King


Ace and Twos




Getting Started

If there are over two players, eleven cards are dealt to each player and one card is drawn at each turn but if there are only two players, fifteen cards are dealt and two cards are drawn at each turn. All the remaining cards are viewed as the stock pile and placed in the centre of the table. The top card from the stock is turned over to form the discard pile.

Should the top card be red or black threes or either wild card (jokers and twos), additional cards are discarded from the stock pile until the top card of the discard pack is neither a three nor a wild card. When the initial discard pack contains a red three or either wild card, the pack will be deemed ‘frozen’ and will remain so until the ‘freezing’ card has been legally removed.

However, before we get carried away with the special value of cards, it is important to remember that before the dealer turns the card to begin the discard pile, each player must remove any red threes they have been dealt, place them face up on the table and replace them from the stock pile. This action pertains to any red three picked up by the players for the duration of the game.

Once the cards have been dealt each player must count the points in hand according to the card value table.

  • Zero – 1199 points – the player will open with 50 points
  • 1200-1499 points – the player will open with 90 points
  • From 1500 points upwards – the player will open with 120 points.

It is important to remember that cards laid out in melds on the table count as plus points whereas any cards left in the hand are minus points and subtracted from the player’s total when scoring takes place!

Play begins when each player either draws a card from the stock, or picks up the entire discard pile. He or she makes as many melds as possible and then discards.