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How To Play Modern and Classic Canasta

Canasta is a card game which can be enjoyed by anywhere from two to six players (although the four player variety is most popular). The object of the game is to score points by melding cards together. Due to the challenging nature of the game and the complexity of the rules, Canasta continues to be a favorite card game of citizens in many different countries.

History of the Game

Canasta was originally conceived in 1939 in Montevideo, Uruguay, by an attorney named Segundo Santos. A devoted Bridge player, Segundo was looking for something to help distract him from his obsession with the game.Segundo got together with a friend, architect Alberto Serrato, and Canasta was born. It soon became the most popular game at Segundo’s local country club, and it went on to spread throughout the city of Montevideo, then up the coastline of Uruguay. Tourists from other countries would then come across the game and take it back to their native lands.

During World War II, airline services were largely suspended, so it took a little while longer for Canasta to spread to the United States. But it eventually did, thanks to Josephine Artayate de Viel, a visitor to New York from Buenos Aires. She introduced the game to friends, and it quickly became the rage among Manhattan society.

By 1953, there had been over 30 books published about Canasta in the United States, with many making their way onto the New York Times Best Seller List. The game soon became a global sensation, with soldiers stationed in Japan and German helping it to spread across Europe and Asia.

The version of the game which gained worldwide popularity is now referred to as Classic Canasta. In many countries, it is still played more or less in its original form. The version most popular in the United States is often referred to as Modern American Canasta, and it differs from the classic version in many ways.

Rules of the Game

The game of Canasta is traditionally played with two 52 card decks plus four jokers, making a total of 108 cards.

The ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4 cards are known as "natural" cards. The deuces and jokers are known as wild cards. With some exceptions, wild cards can often be used as a substitute for a natural card of any rank. The three cards have special functions and values, depending on which version of Canasta is being played.

For scoring purposes, the values of the cards are as follows:

  • Jokers - 50 points each
  • Ace, Two - 20 points each
  • King, Queen, Jack, Ten, Nine, Eight - 10 points each
  • Seven, Six, Five, Four - 5 points each

To begin the game, each player is dealt a hand of cards (the number of cards will differ depending on which version of Canasta is being played). In the center of the table is a face-down pile of cards called the stock, and a face-up pile of cards referred to as the discard pile. The player to the dealer’s left begins the game, and play always continues in a clockwise fashion.

A basic turn in Canasta will see the player perform the following actions:

1. Draws the top card from the stock and places it in their hand.

2. Discards one card from their hand and places it face-up on top of the discard pile.

After drawing a card, but before discarding one, a player may also be able to play cards from his or her hand face-up on the table. This move is known as "melding," and the cards played in this fashion are known as "melds." Once played onto the table, melds will remain this way until the end of play.

A meld is made up of three or more cards of the same rank, such as three kings, three eights, etc. During team play, the melds belong to the team and not the individual player. Wild cards can also be substituted for cards of various ranks and add to the meld (depending on the version you’re playing). It should be noted, however, that threes cannot be melded in the traditional manner (as they serve a special role in the game).

A seven card meld is known as a canasta. If all the cards in it are natural (no wild cards), then it is known as a natural or pure or clean or red canasta. If it includes any wild cards, then it is known as a mixed or dirty or black canasta.

In some versions of the game, you may create a meld of more than seven cards by adding more cards of the same rank. You can add cards to a meld started by your partner, but you may never add to a meld started by your opponent.

When making an initial meld (the first time you or your partner puts down a meld during a round of play), players must meet a minimum count requirement, which is directly related to the total value of cards which you put down on the table. Separate melds played at the same time will also count towards this requirement.

In versions such as Modern American Canasta, the initial meld must be made entirely from your hand. In versions such as Classic Canasta, a player can also use the top card from the discard pile to satisfy the minimum count.

Play ends when a player gets rid of all the cards in his hand (also called "going out "). You must meet certain obligation before you can dispose of all your cards, and these requirements will depend on the type of game being played. However, you must always complete one seven card meld (or canasta) before emptying your hand of cards.

When play is ended, the cards are scored based on the value of the cards in the melds. In team play, the game usually continues until one team reaches a certain number of points.

Having looked at the basic framework of Canasta, let’s now take a moment and review some of the distinguishing features of the two most popular varieties of the game.

Modern American Canasta

The game is played with four players (with team members sitting across from one another). To win, a team must score a minimum of 8500 points. The game is played with two 52 card decks shuffled together along with four jokers (for a total of 108 cards).

13 cards are dealt to each player.Undealt cards are placed face-down in the center of the table and form the draw pile. A packet of four cards and a packet of three cards are placed face-down and make up the bonus cards. Play begins with the discard pile empty.

Melds of natural cards must contain at least three cards and not more than seven cards of the appropriate rank. Wild cards can be used, but no more than two per meld (meaning that a canasta must contain at least five natural cards). A meld must include at least two natural cards.

No wild cards can be used in a meld of sevens. Players receive a bonus for completing a meld of sevens, but they also incur a penalty for starting and failing to complete a meld of sevens on their turn.

A meld of aces cannot contain wild cards unless it is part of the team’s initial meld and includes at least one wild card from the beginning. No meld can contain more than seven cards, and a team is not allowed to have more than one meld of the same rank.

A normal turn is begun by either drawing the top card from the draw pile or taking all the cards from the discard pile. Each turn must be ended by placing one card on the discard pile.

You can only take the discard pile if you have a pair of natural cards in your hand which are of the same rank as the top card on the discard pile. You must show the pair and then meld these with the top card before taking the rest of the pile into your hand.

You can go out if your team has completed two canastas and you are able to meld all but one of your cards and discard your last card. You must have a card to discard at the end of your turn.

There are many other rules to this game. For a detailed description, I recommend checking out a site devoted entirely to the game of Canasta. The end of this article contains a few such links.

Classic Canasta

The game consists of four players, with partners sitting across from one another. Two 52 card decks are shuffled together (along with four jokers) for a total of 108 cards.

Each player is dealt 11 cards. The remaining cards are placed face-down at the center of the table and make up the stock pile. The top card of the stock pile is taken off and placed face-up next to it to begin the discard pile.

After the initial deal, players must immediately place any red threes on the table in front of them and draw to replace these cards.Each meld must contain at least two atural cards. A meld of seven or more cards counts as a canasta, but melds can grow as large as you wish. No meld can contain more than three wild cards. Melds consisting entirely of wild cards are not allowed. Partners cannot have separate melds of the same rank. But you can have melds of the same rank as those of your opponent.

At the beginning of a turn, a player may either draw the top card from the stock or take the entire discard pile. You can only take the discard pile if you can meld with its top card, or if the top card matches a meld made by your partner. Each turn must be ended by discarding one card to the discard pile.

You cannot take the discard pile if the top card is a wild card or black three.

If your partnership has not yet melded, then the discard pile is frozen against you (meaning you cannot take the discard pile, unless you have two natural cards which match the top card of the discard pile).

Red threes do not count as a meld, but they do score bonus points.

Black threes on top of the discard pile will prevent the next player from taking the pile.

Black threes cannot be melded, unless a player is going out. In this case, the player may meld three or four black threes as part of his last turn.

Play ends when a player goes out. Your partnership must meld at least one canasta to go out.

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