How to play Canasta:

the most recent card game to achieve
worldwide status as a classic

Canasta, a game of the Rummy family was the most popular American game in the early 1950s.

THE PACK

Two to four players and requires two complete decks.

CARD RANK

Highest to lowest – A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4

Black 3’s are negative 100 points and should be discarded in the throw-away pile if you are dealt one or pick-one up from the stock pile.

Red 3’s are plus 100 points. If you are dealt one or pick one up from the stock pile, place it face up on your side of the table (or by your partner, if they are displaying the melds on their side of the table). Once you place your red 3 on the table, draw a replacement from the stock.

WILD CARDS

Jokers and deuces are wild. Only one joker are deuce is allowed per meld.

THE DRAW

Partnerships may be determined by drawing cards from the deck. The player drawing the highest card has choice of seats, plays first in the first deal, and has the player drawing the second-highest card as their partner. In drawing, the cards rank: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2. Jokers are void. Only for the draw, suits rank: Spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs. Players drawing equal cards or jokers must draw again. A player drawing more than one card or one of the four cards at either end of the deck, must draw again. Partners sit opposite and across from each other.

THE SHUFFLE AND CUT

The first hand is dealt by the player to the right of the person who drew the highest card. Thereafter the turn to deal rotates clockwise. Any player who wishes may shuffle the deck, and the dealer has the right to shuffle last. After the shuffle, the deck is cut by the player to the dealer’s left.

THE DEAL

The player with the second highest drawn card is required to cut the deck and take a portion to create two piles of 11 cards, called the “Dead” pile. Both Dead piles are put face down off to the side.

The dealer takes the rest of the cut cards and gives 11 cards face down to each player, one at a time, clockwise, beginning with the opponent on their left and ending with themselves.

The undealt remainder of the pack is placed face down in the center of the table, becoming the stock, and the top card is turned face up beside it.

OBJECT OF THE GAME

The principal object of play is to form melds: a sequence of a minimum of seven cards of the same suit in chronological order, with or without the help of wild cards. Each meld (or Canasta) with a joker or deuce is worth 100 points and is called a dirty Canasta. Melds without jokers or deuces are known as “clean Canastas” and are worth 200 points.

In order to first be able to put down a meld, you must put down a minimum of three cards in the same suit, or two cards plus a joker/deuce. In a 4-player game, one partner keeps the cards out in front on their side of the table, and each partner can add to or create new melds during their turn of play.

The player (in a 2-player game) or the set of partners (in a 4-player game) that finishes first AND scores the greatest amount of points wins the hand. Games are played until a total of 3,000 points are won.

THE PLAY

The player to left of the dealer plays first. Thereafter, the turn to play rotates clockwise (to the left). Each turn comprises a draw, creating or adding to an existing meld (optional) after drawing, and a discard, which ends the player’s turn.

When the players turn comes, a player is always entitled to draw the top card of the stock. Or, if the player wishes, they may instead (subject to restrictions under “Taking the Discard Pile”) take the entirety of the discard pile AND must use the top card right away in an existing meld OR by taking 2 cards from the players hand and inserting the top card from the discard pile into a new meld. Having done so, they must take the rest of the discard pile in their hand and discard one card back onto the table as the start of a new discard pile.

The discard is always one card from the hand (never from a meld). All discards are placed in one pile beside the stock, and the discard pile must be kept squared up.

Once a player or one of the partners finishes the cards in their hand, they must pick-up one of the “Dead” piles of cards and continue the play as described above. The first player to finish their Dead pile finishes the game and scores an additional 100 points.

At the end of the hand, players must subtract the number of cards in their hands from the total value of the points scored.

MELDS

A meld is valid if it contains at least two natural cards-aces down to fours-and not more one wild card.

A player may meld as many cards as they please, of one suit or different suits, forming new melds or adding cards to previous melds. All the melds of a partnership are placed in front of either partner. 

A player may add additional cards to a meld by their side, provided that the melds remain valid. He may not add cards to the opponents’ melds.

CANASTAS

A meld comprising seven or more cards, is a canasta. In addition to the point values of the cards, a canasta earns a bonus of 200 for a natural or “pure” canasta (one that has no wild card), and 100 for a mixed canasta (one that has a wild card).

A completed canasta is squared up with a card on top to indicate a minimum of 7 cards. Additional cards may be added to a canasta to score their point values.

POINTS

Every card has a fixed point value, as follows:
Each joker 50
Each deuce 20
Each ace 20
Each K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 10
Each 7, 6 ,5, 4

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

A player may:

1) Call attention to the correct minimum count needed if their partner is making an initial meld.

2) Remind their partner to declare red threes or draw replacements.

3) Turn the sixth card of a meld crosswise to indicate that only one more card is needed to complete a canasta. When it is their turn to play, a player is entitled to be informed of a) the number of cards held by any player; and b) the number of cards remaining in the stock. If a player’s hand is reduced to one card, they may announce this fact.

4) In addition to the chronological melds (laid out horizontally on the table), players can make a vertical meld of a single card (ie: all 4’s, all 6’s, etc.). Seven of the same card in a vertical pile is also considered a Canasta, and one joker/deuce can be used to form or complete the canasta. A vertical meld of jokers is not allowed.

EXHAUSTING THE STOCK

The hand ends if there are no more cards in the stock pile. Neither player/team can claim an additional 100 points for finishing. Instead, each player/team counts their melds, subtracts cards from their hand from the total, and adds/subtracts any black or red three’s in their possession. If a team/player did not pick up the Dead pile, they must also subtract 100 points from the total for that hand.

A partnership’s score for the hand is the values of all cards that were melded, minus the values of the cards left in both hands. In other words, the final score of a side for a deal is the net of its base and point scores. (It may be a negative sum).

The score should be recorded on a sheet of paper divided into two columns, one for each side. 

The side that first reaches a total of 3,000 wins a game. There is no bonus for winning a game; the margin of victory is the difference of the final totals.

Instructions modified from to reflect how the Israel family plays the game: https://bicyclecards.com/how-to-play/canasta/

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