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    Canasta Game Rules

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    When 50 years ago the Canasta 'craze' reached the United States, Newsweek was reporting that Canasta now "rivaled Monopoly and Mah Jongg, the two biggest games of all time". Time magazine wrote that canasta "had spread across the entire hemisphere". Fortune magazine reported that sales of canasta books and card decks were breaking all prior records. Life featured a cover story about canasta and published canasta rules inside. The New York Times Magazine wrote several articles on canasta -- a rummy-like card game.

    Canasta was invented in Uruguay around 1940. During the 50s, canasta was one of the most popular card games in the United States. The game also reached craze proportions in 1950s Britain. Canasta in Spanish means "basket". Tejiendo las cartas, that is, "weaving the cards", is a colorful Spanish way of saying that a meld of three of a kind or more is being "woven" together. The biggest meld of all (7 cards), the canasta, is called a "basket".

    The credit for canasta invention goes to an attourney by the name of Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato, an architect. The story of the invention of canasta was first published in Coronet Magazine in 1953 (Coronet was the rival to Reader's Digest at the time.) In 1939 in Montevideo, Uruguay, Segundo Sanchez was a member of the elite Jockey Club where he used to relax with a game of cards before dinner with associates.

    The card game that Segundo Sanchez was initially playing was Bridge -- and Bridge took way too much of his time, and in the mornings, Sanchez felt dull and mentally exhausted.

    Sanchez shifted from Bridge to Rummy but Rummy was too fast for him. Eventually, with his partner Alberto Serrato these two gradually introduced a double-deck game that involved melding, adding to melds, and the ability to claim the entire discard pile under certain circumstances. Their friends Arturo Gomez Harley and Ricardo Sanguinetti liked the game as well but the game was not yet named... and Santos had merely referred to it as "The Game."

    At one point, while sitting in a restaurant at their "play-test" table, Santos noticed a small wicker basket they had borrowed from a waiter to store their cards. That's how the initial name of "Canastillo" appeared, which in Spanish means "little basket." A bit later, someone suggested to make the name shorter - "Canasta" ("basket"). As name had a nice ring to it, everyone agreed and the name stuck!

    Canasta game started spreading like wildfire at first within the Jockey Club, then throughout the whole capital city of Montevideo, and then up the coastline of Uruguay.

    Vacationing Argentineans liked the game and brought it to Argentina, where canasta managed to drive away bridge from the prestigious Club de Bridge. Then canasta game jumped to Chile and Peru and Brazil.

    Canasta epidemic was now a South American affair. Only after the Second World War canasta found its way into the United States. The first player to make real money with canasta was neither Santos nor Serrato but Josephine Artayate de Viel, a visitor to New York from Buenos Aires. Josephine Artayate de Viel introduced canasta to her New York friends and the game took over the Regency Club in Manhattan. Josephine was asked to codify the rules for publication and so she did.


    Canasta is played with 108 cards, consisting of two standard 52-card packs with four Jokers. To avoid player collusion online, only two-player canasta variations are supported. Each player is dealt 15 cards. The rest of the deck is placed facedown to form the stock, and the top card of the stock is turned faceup and placed alongside the stock to start a discard pile.

    The object of the game is to be the first to score the agreed-upon number of points (default -- 2,500 points). Points are earned by melding sets of three or more cards of the same rank. A meld of seven or more cards is a canasta and the player must have at least one canasta to end the game (by default -- 2 canastas are needed to end the game).

    Click Here for Canasta Table

    Playing the Game

    Each player in turn performs one or more actions in the following order:

      1. Draw the top card(s) of the closed stock (drawing the top 2 cards from the closed stock is a default option, but the drawing of 1 card can be selected in setting up the table) or discard pile if permitted. To draw a card, either double-click the closed stock or drag the card from there into your hand.

      2. Meld  (if any meld is possible and subject to certain restrictions described below). To meld, either double-click on a card or drag the card into the meld area.

      If melding of a card in hand is allowed, you can also meld by single-clicking on a specific meld area and the natural card would go there. If you have no natural card for that meld area, the wild card will go there (starting with a Joker).

      It is possible to 'undo' the meld (undo one card at at a time or all at once) by clicking on 'Undo' button or Delete key for a single undo or by using a right mouse button menu (or Shift Delete) for multiple undo. Right-mouse button menu can also be used -- close to the end of the hand -- to meld all naturals at once.

      3. Discard (unless you go out by melding all cards left in hand). To discard, either drag the card into the discard pile or (if you can't legally meld this card) double-click on it. To force discarding a card, hold down the Ctrl key and either double-click or right-click with your mouse on a card.
          Draw -- Details
    You may always take the top card(s) of the stock and add to your hand. If you draw a red Three, it is placed face up in front of you and another (replacement) card is drawn for you. (If a replacement card is again a red Three, the process of replacement is repeated until the replacement card is not a red Three.)

    Instead of drawing from stock, you may draw the whole of the discard pile if you can immediately meld the upcard -- either by adding it to one of your existing melds or by using it to start a new meld together with two or more matching cards from your hand (see Game Options).

    You may not take the discard pile if it is frozen. The discard is frozen:
  • until you have made your initial meld
  • when it contains a wild card (or a red Three as the result of initial deal)

    If discard is frozen, you may only take it if you can immediately use the upcard to start a new meld in conjunction with at least two matching natural cards (see Game Options). If the upcard is a black Three, you may not take it; you need to draw from stock.

  •       Meld -- Details
    To meld, you need a set of at least three cards of the same rank placed face up on the table (in front of your hand). Points are only scored for melds that are made before the hand ends. Jokers and deuces (twos) are wild cards that can be used as cards of any rank in a meld. However, all melds must contain at least two natural cards, no meld may contain more than three wild cards, and no meld may contain more wild cards than natural cards.
    A canasta is a meld of seven or more cards. A canasta must contain at least four natural cards.
    Red threes may not be melded or discarded (except in 'Red 3 Freezes' game option, where a red Three can be discarded. See Game Options). Black threes may only be melded when going out, in which case the meld must consist of a set of three or four black threes without wild cards.
     Current Score
    Required Meld Value  
    Less than 015 (any meld will do)
    0 to 149550
    1500-2995 90
    3000 or more120

          Discard -- Details
    After drawing and optional melding, you complete your turn by discarding a card face up on the discard pile (unless you go out and have nothing left to discard).
    You may not discard a red Three unless the table was created with 'Red Three Freezes' game option (see Game Options). If you discard a black Three, you will freeze the discard for your opponent for one turn only. With 'Red Three Freezes' option, discarding a red Three also freezes the discard for your opponent for 1 turn only. If you discard a wild card, you will freeze the discard and it will remain frozen until taken.

    Ending the Hand
    Going Out
    A player "goes out" when no cards are left after a meld or discard. A player is not permitted to go out, however, unless there's at least one canasta (or at least two canastas, as in default game option. See Game Options).

    Upon going out, a player earns points as described below. In addition, the other player subtracts the point values of all cards that remain unmelded in the hand from his score. Values of all melds are also calculated, and players go on to the next hand unless one of the players has reached the winning total. If both players reach the winning total, the player with a higher total is the winner. Very rarely, the hand may end in a tie, and an extra tie-breaker hand will be played.
    Ending Hand By Exhausting Stock
    If nobody goes out before the stock is exhausted, the play ends after the player who took the last stock card completes his turn. The hand is scored as usual except that nobody earns a bonus for going out.

    Each card has a point value when it is melded. The same card values are subtracted from the other player's score for cards left in his hand when someone goes out. The values for each card are:
    Point Value 
    2, A20
    K, Q, J, 10, 9, 810
    7, 6, 5, 4, black 35

    In addition to the point values of the melded cards, the following bonus points are scored at the end of a hand:
     At End of Hand
    Bonus Points 
    Going out100
    Each red three (up to 3)100
    All four red threes800
    Each natural canasta500
    Each mixed canasta300

    Game Options

    Canasta can be played with various optional table settings:
  • The number of points to play to can be set from 1,000 to 10,000
                  Default: 2,500 pts.
  • The number of cards to draw from the closed stock can be set to 1 or 2
                  Default: 2 cards
  • The number of canastas to go out with can be set to 1 or 2
                  Default: 2 canastas
  • Allow (or disallow) the top card of the discard pile to go to melded canasta
                  Default: disallow
  • The top card of discard pile can only be picked up with 2 natural cards in hand. TRUE or FALSE
                  Default: TRUE.
  • The Red Three freezes discard pile. TRUE or FALSE
                  Default: FALSE. If the 'Red Three Freezes' option is selected, discarding a red Three will freeze
                 the discard for opponent for 1 turn only.
  • The Wild canasta is allowed. TRUE or FALSE
                  Default: FALSE. If wild canasta is allowed, then at any point in the game 7 or more wild cards can be
                 melded together in a separate wild card meld earning a 1,000 points.

    How Canasta Game Options are Listed

    Canasta game options are listed in short-hand notation (see below) in table listings (lobby) window and prior to game start in the lower left corner of the table and in the top portion of the table window.

    Standard (default) canasta options at GameColony are listed in table listings as: 2-2-2
           The first number in the above short-hand notaion means: 2 cards to draw
           The second number means: 2 naturals required for taking a top card
           The third number: 2 canastas needed to go out

    Other examples of short-hand canasta options listings are:
  • 2-2-2|3F|W  (default options as above PLUS 'Red Three Freezes' option PLUS wild canasta option
  • 2-0-1     (2 cards to draw, NO 2 naturals required for picking top card, 1 c anasta to go out)
  • 2-2-2 X     (default game options PLUS private invitation-only table)
  • 2-2-2 R     (default game options PLUS non-rated game)
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