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Canasta

January 26th, 2016

Canasta is a super fun, complicated, fairly long but very rewarding game.  It has plenty of strategy and “you little shit” moments (as my Mom used to call me), but also is casual enough to play over cocktails and wine.  Play with two or more people.  Mom used to play a variant of this game called “Hand and Foot” where each individual was required to also get a canasta of 7’s and wilds.  It’s a bit more challenging if you want to try that.

What you need:

For up to five people:

  • 6 full decks of cards (leave the jokers in, total 54 cards/deck).   For each additional person above 5, add one deck. i.e. 7 people = 8 decks.  For more than 6 people, you might find Team Canasta to be more fun.
  • Paper and pen to keep score.
  • Wine!

Definition Quick Reference:

  • Hand: The first 13 cards you are dealt.
  • Foot: The second 13 cards you are dealt. You never look at your foot until you’ve played all of your hand.
  • Canasta: A set of 7 cards (i.e. 7 fours, 7 Kings).  Getting Canastas is your main goal – they count for a lot of points!
  • Wild:  2’s and Jokers are Wild.  A card that can be used as any other card to make a Canasta (i.e. A canasta can be made with 6 Kings and one Wild).
  • Meld: The number of points you need to put cards on the table at the beginning of the game.
  • Frozen: When a red 3 or a wild card is in the discard pile, the pile is frozen. See How to Play for more info. “Please freeze it so it’s harder for Shannon to pick up the pile”
  • Burnt: When another player gets a Canasta, they have “burnt” that Canasta.
  • Burned: If another player burns a Canasta, if you do not have those cards melded, you are BURNT on those cards and can no longer play them.
  • Natural Canasta: A Canasta with no wild cards. 500 points.
  • Unnatural Canasta: A Canasta with wild cards. 300 points.  
  • Ratio: When placing cards into a canasta, you must respect a 2:1 natural:wild ratio.  EG two Q’s and one Joker is OK.  Two Q’s and two Jokers is NOT ok!
  • “Dirty”: When you add a wild to an otherwise Natural canasta, you “dirty” it!
  • Wild Card Canasta: A Canasta consisting of only Wild Cards. The Holy Grail of Canasta and a game changer. 2,000 points. -2,000 if you get caught with 4 or more in your hand trying to collect! (honor system)
  • Base: The point total for just your Canastas

General Rules

Here is a list of general rules, see below for how to play.

Card Points – for melding and for counting points:

  • Jokers (wild): 50 Points
  • 2 (wild): 20 Points
  • Aces: 20 Points
  • 3 black: 5 Points – black 3 is a useless card – it can’t be melded, put into a Canasta,or picked up
  • 4 – 7: 5 Points
  • 8 – King: 10 Points
  • 3 red: 50 Points (see next section: red 3 placed on top of a Canasta adds 100 points to your Base only).  A red 3 on the pile cannot be picked up – see Frozen.

Canasta Points – for counting Base only:

  • Natural Canasta (no wilds): 500 Points
  • Unnatural Canasta (up to 2 wilds): 300 Points
  • Wild Card Canasta (all wilds): 2,000 Points. Note: If you meld a wild-card Canasta but do not burn it (are short of 7 wilds), you get -2,000 points! If you are caught with 4 or more wilds in your hand when someone goes out, then you will also get -2,000! If you’re afraid someone will go out, play those wilds!
  • Red 3 placed on top of a Canasta adds 100 points to your Base only

Hint: You’ll learn later that you must have two Canasta’s to go out, at least one of which must be natural.  Don’t dirty them all with wilds!

How to Play

Dealing

Cards are dealt counter-clockwise. For each person, two sets of 13 cards are dealt. The first set is called the Hand, the second the Foot. Place your Foot on the floor (hence the name), or somewhere out-of-the-way. The remaining cards are put into a pile in the middle of the table; this is your Draw pile. If you run out of cards in the Draw pile, the game is over. Turn the top-card over and place it on the table. This is your Discard Pile. If the top card was a 2, Joker, or Red 3, turn over another card.

If the dealer picks up from the stack and deals the exactly correct number of cards, +/- the number of players, they get an additional 100 pts.  For example if there are 4 players, and after dealing hand+foot for each player I have <= 4 cards left in the stack I picked up, I get 100 pts.

Freezing the Pile

If a player discards a Red 3 or a Wild, that freezes the pile.  See Picking up #2 below.  Generally speaking, you want to freeze the pile if you want to make it more challenging for others to pick up the pile.  You don’t want to freeze the pile if you think YOU want to pick up the pile.

Picking Up

Each turn begins with a pickup. The player can do one of two things:

  1. Pick up two cards from the draw pile. You’ll need to discard ONE at the end of your turn, unless you’re going out.
  2. Pick up the discard pile. To pick up the discard pile, you must always be able to play the top card. To be able to play the top card, you must be able to meld or have already melded (see next section).
    1. If the pile is not frozen, you must play the top card in order to pick up the pile.
    2. If the pile is frozen, you MUST have two of the top card in your hand, no exceptions.

Hint: Picking up the pile can (and often does) reap points and sometimes Canastas.  But watch the pile to make sure you’re getting what you want!  Sometimes there is a bunch of crap in there (3’s, things you’re burnt on or other things you don’t want) and picking up can make it difficult to get into your foot!  

Melding

Melding means to put cards in sets onto the table. To meld a set of cards, you must have a minimum of 3 of a kind. When using wilds, you must always use a 2:1 ratio of cards to wilds. (i.e. 2 Q’s and 1 wild is ok, 2 Q’s and 2 wilds is not ok). For your first meld, you must lay down a minimum number of points, shown in the table below. This is to help players that are behind catch up.

Melding ranges:
Total Score / Meld
Any negative / 15
0 – 2000 / 50
2000 – 4000 / 90
4000 – 6000 / 120
6000 – 8000 / 150
8000 – over / 180

Getting a Canasta

Once you have 7 of the same cards down on the table, you have a Canasta. Put these cards in a stack and turn them sideways, this indicates to other players that you have burned that Canasta. If another player does not have those cards melded yet, they may no longer play them.

When you get a canasta, you can add a red 3 on top to get bonus points (see Card Points and Canasta Points above)

If you already have a Canasta, you can always add more natural cards to the canasta.  For example, I can add the Ace I just picked up to the Unnatural Canasta of Aces.  I cannot add wilds to a Canasta, unless it is a Wildcard Canasta.

Hint: If you’ve already burnt a Canasta, you can keep collecting those cards and make another Canasta!  For example, I burnt Aces above .. and rather than adding the Ace I just picked up, I could wait until I have three Aces and Meld a new Canasta of Aces!

Going Into your Foot

Once you have played or discarded all the cards in your hand, you may pick up your Foot. If on your last turn you don’t discard, you may play your Foot immediately. If you had to discard the last card in your hand, you must wait for your next turn to play your Foot.

Going Out

The first player that goes out gets an additional 100 points. To go out, you must have two Canastas, at least one of which must be natural (no wilds). You must play all the cards in your Foot. Your last card you may play or discard to the pile.

Counting Points

Once a player has gone out, the game is over. Now the players must count their cards to determine a point total. Here is a simple process to do this:

1) Count your Base. To do this, add up the point total for only your Canastas. Natural: 500 pts, Unnatural: 300 pts, Wild Card: 2,000 pts, Red 3 on top of any Canasta: 100 pts.

Example: If I have 3 Naturals and 1 Unnatural, with Red 3’s on top of two Canastas, then I have:

500 x 3 = 1500 300 x 1 = 300 100 x 2 = 200 Total = 2000 points.

2) Subtract any leftover cards. Cards left in your Hand or Foot count as negative. Subtract these by taking out equivalent positive cards.

Example: If I have 1 Ace leftover in my hand (-20 pts), then I must take out +20 pts from what I have melded on the table, i.e. two 9s. (2 x 10 = +20pts)

3) Count out your total. Easiest method is to group your cards into sets of 100 pts, then count the sets of 100.

Winning – The first person to 10,000 points wins the game!!

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