Canasta was one of the most popular card games in the US in 1950s. The use of wild cards makes this rummy variation highly unpredictable and interesting. Although it works perfectly with any number of players, Classic Canasta is basically a 4 player partnership game.
Requirements for a game of Canasta
Two card decks: Both the decks should include 2 jokers. This brings the total number of cards to 108.
Pen and paper for keeping score: A game of Canasta involves high scores. Unless you are a math whiz, you will need a pen and paper to keep track of scores.
Four players: Although you can play Canasta with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 players, ideally it is a 4 player game. You can form partnerships randomly or by drawing cards.
Two players with the lowest value cards play against those with the highest value cards. If 2 players draw cards with the same rank, the higher card is decided based on the suit rank. In ascending order suits are ranked as clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades.
Rules of dealing
Once the partnerships are formed, players once again draw cards. The player with the highest card gets to play first and cards are dealt by the player seated to his right. After shuffling and offering a cut to one of the opponents, the dealer gives out 11 cards to each player in clockwise direction one by one.
The dealer starts creating a discard pile by turning up a card from those remaining (the stock). He is required to turn up another card, if the first one is a wild (a two or a joker) or a red three. This continues until a card that is neither a wild nor a red three turns up. The deal shifts by a place after each hand in clockwise rotation.
Getting started with the game
The player who drew the highest card earlier begins the game by picking up a card from the stock. He can either hold on to his cards or meld i.e. put down a combination of 3 or more cards having the same rank on the table. The player concludes his turn by placing a card on the discard pile. This card is placed face up. It covers the cards discarded earlier.
The play moves ahead as each player takes a card, hold on or makes a meld and finally discards a card in clockwise rotation. This continues until a player gets rid of all the cards except one. The hand comes to a close as the player discards the final card. A player is allowed to draw more than a single card from the stock without any penalty. But he is required to disclose the card to all the players. The subsequent player can either shuffle the returned card into the stock or take it.
A meld with 7 or more cards is called a Canasta. A team need to make a Canasta before either member leaves. A Canasta can begin as a 3 cards meld that is later built up by either member of the team. There are two types of Canastas - clean or natural and dirty or mixed. A Canasta made using wild cards is called mixed, while one made purely from same ranking cards is called natural. Although both are valid, the latter carries more value.
If you begin a meld using only natural cards, it is a good idea not to mix it with wild cards. This offers two benefits - it prevents opponents from discarding the cards you need (to stop you from making a natural Canasta) and allows you to earn maximum points by making a clean Canasta.