How Do You Play?

     The version of the game we play here is identical to the one found on Yahoo Games and other game sites.  This version is also known as Classic Canasta.

     The best way to learn is simply coming to the club meetings and actually playing.  Officers will be there every time to teach and guide members how to play.  You are also always welcome to post questions or discuss the game in the Forums.  But if you prefer to read it, the rules are available at; just skim it if you want as we normally play a simplified version for our members.  

If you prefer to watch, we also have a tutorial video here: What is Canasta

The Basics

     The primary goal of the game is to gain points by forming melds, which are 3 or more of a card (ex: five Aces).  Once a meld reaches 7 of a kind, it is called a canasta.  A canasta gives you so many points that, in general, whoever has the most canastas wins the game - you only really bother to count points if the number of canastas are equal on both sides.

     The game is played entirely in turns; you cannot do anything if it is not your turn.  Each player starts the turn by drawing 2 cards from the deck.  After choosing to meld or make canastas, the player then ends the turn by discarding one card into the discard pile.  The next player can either draw 2 from the deck or take the discard pile if he or she can meld using the card the last person just threw out.  Along the way, there are a few special cards, such as wilds (Jokers/2s) to help meld more or black 3s to prevent the next person from taking the pile.

The Takeaway

     Those who have played Rummy or Mahjong will see a lot of similarities here.  Melding here would be similar to forming Pongs or Gong's in Mahjong (except that you can keep adding cards until you reach 7 of a kind).  There is also the tendency to watch what your opponents do so that you do not end up discarding cards that they can take.

     All of this may sound complicated, but it really isn't.  Once you get the basic idea down, it is not hard at all.  Most of our officers never played Canasta prior to helping form the club just this summer.  Within one or two meetings, they already figured the game out and are enjoying it themselves.  Just drop by one of our meetings any Friday night and we'll be more than happy to teach you! Smiley

      Below is a copy of our reference sheet (ie cheatsheet) that we include on our club cards (feel free to ask for one!).  You can see a printable copy here as well: Canasta Rules

Canasta Rules
Initial cards: 15 for 2 ppl, -2 per extra person.
Cards left in hand are negative meld points.

- Meld: 3 or more of a kind for points.
- Canasta: 7-card meld. Pure if no wilds.

Special Cards
- Wilds: 2, Joker. Meld or freeze/block pile.
- Red 3s: Bonus points or freeze/block pile.
- Black 3s: Block pile. Meld only if last.

Taking the Pile (instead of draw)
- Can take if you can meld the top card.
- Cannot use cards already in a canasta.
- If frozen, must use two real cards in hand.

Meld Points
   7 and below:    5
   8 and above:  10
   Aces and 2s:   20
   Jokers:           50
   Each Red 3:   100
Bonus Points
   Canasta:        300
    * Pure:          500
   Four Red 3s:   400
   Going out:      100
    * all at once:  200

Points Needed for First Meld:
Below zero:             none
0-1499:             50 points
1500-2999:        90 points
3000 or more:   120 points

The Strategies

     Long time players will know that the game involves a lot of bluffing, memory, and psychological warfare; there's no better term to describe it than simply "mind-reading" your opponents. To quote one of our players, there is a lot of "fishing" involved to figure out what your opponent has or doesn't want when discarding and a lot of mental or nonverbal communication between teammates to coordinate strategies.  Strategies are much more pronounced in 1v1 games, where you're basically locked in mental games with the opponent across from you, but that only shows it is so much harder in 2v2 games to coordinate between teammates, not because the strategies are less prevalent.

     One set of strategies we have developed amongst our members is a three-piece countering methodology similar to rock-paper-scissors.  We list the "levels" of the strategies in the order players are likely to discover them based on their experience in the game:

     Level 1: "Discarding What You Don't Want."  This is what most beginner players will do and is most obvious when handling the discard pile.  You will simply try to meld out as quickly as possible while using the discard pile as an actual discard pile (cards you don't want).

     Level 2: "Discarding What You Think They Don't Want." This is the first layer of psychology many players often discover.  Here you start to try and prevent opponents from taking the pile by often mirroring what they discard, assuming they are discarding what they don't (Level 1 players).  Hence, this counters Level 1 strategy.

     Level 3: "Discarding What You Think They Think You Don't Want (aka Fishing)." This is the reverse-psychology component of the game, coined "Fishing" by club co-founder Perlin.  Here, players start to realize that other players might be discarding cards that they discard, so the next logical step is to discard cards you actually want, tricking them into mirroring you so that you can take the pile.  Discarding cards you have many of also adds a probablity component to the game, as others are less likely to have the cards needed to take the pile to begin with.  Hence, Level 3 counters Level 2 strategy.

     So what counters Level 3? When you master all 3 strategies, you then realize it forms a rock-paper-scissors circle.  Level 1 counters Level 3. Why? Because if you are discarding cards you need in hopes they mirror you (and fall for your fishing bait), the worst thing that can happen is if they ignore you and meld out quickly.  Advanced players who learn to fish and bait (Level 3) without realizing the counter to their strategy often end up psyching themselves out to beginner players who simply don't see any of this psychological warefare to begin with.

     Of course, when you have truly mastered the game, the psychological component goes far beyond just the three strategies wheel.  You might find yourself card counting mentally, reading opponents' reactions and pauses, etc.


  1. Joe said,
    Nov-30-2016, 07:47am

    So I have been asked to learn how to play crazy canasta. Most of the game follows the rules of regular canasta but they deal from 6-7 decks and give each player two stacks of 13 cards. this is were I am lost. Any cheat sheets on crazy canasta

Leave a Comment

Name: (Have an account? Login or Register)
Email: (Optional, Won't be published)
Enter the code from image: