“Canasta” is the Spanish word for “basket” which was originally used to hold the undealt and discarded cards.
Canasta Cards & All Things Canasta
A Quick Look at the History of Canasta: The game originated in Uruguay in the late 1930’s. From there the game spread throughout South America and underwent some refinements in Argentina to produce the game we know today. Shortly after World War II, Canasta made it’s way to the United States where it became the game of choice for nearly twenty years. Canasta even surpassed Contract Bridge in popularity for a brief time in the early 1950s. Canasta is still a popular game today, and many variations of play have developed over the years to allow play for 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 players. We will concentrate on the classic version of Canasta which is best played with 4 players, which form two partnerships.
What You Will Need to get Started: Classic Canasta is played with 108 cards (104 regular cards, plus four Jokers), so you will need two decks of Stingray Canasta cards to play. Our very own line of Stingray cards are made especially for Canasta. We have incorporated the point values of each card directly on to the cards, which makes scoring a breeze. Our attention to detail did not stop there, we carefully chose a back design with hot, vivid colors to reflect the Latin flavor of the game.
You may need additional decks depending on which game of Canasta you are playing. The following versions of Canasta require the indicated number of decks:
- "Bolivian", "Brazilian", "Chilean", "Cuban", "Samba", "Six Handed", "Three Way", & "Uruguay" Canasta require 3 decks of Stingray Canasta cards
- "Pennies From Heaven" and "Racehorse" requires 4 decks of Stingray Canasta cards
- "Hand and Foot" requires 5 decks of Stingray Canasta cards.
There are two more items you will need to make your game a pleasure to play. A 2 or 6 deck revolving tray to keep your discards organized, and a Stingray Jumbo-Size score pad to keep track of the score as the games progresses. When it comes to Canasta,we have you covered.
Object of Canasta: Is for your partnership to score more points than your opponent’s partnership, Canasta is a race to 5,000 points, if both opponents reach 5,000 points on the same hand, the partnership with the higher point total wins. Points may be scored several ways:
- By melding, in which case you get the cumulative total of the points contained in your melds.
- By earning bonuses based on several factors, such as “going out” first, or collecting red treys, or for making natural or mixed “Canastas”.
We will examine scoring in more depth later.
To Get Started: Shuffle two decks of Stingray Canasta cards together, each deck consists of 52 regular, and 2 Jokers. You will play with 108 cards total. Next, the partnerships must be randomly determined, this is accomplished by drawing from the deck. Each player pulls one card from the deck at random, the two players which draw the highest rank are partners, and the two players which draw the lowest rank are partners. For the purpose of determining partners only, Spades is the highest suit, followed by Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs respectively. If two players pull the same rank and suit cards, they must both discard and pull again. Once partnerships have been formed, suits no longer matter in Canasta.
The player that pulled the highest card gets his choice of seat first. Then the other players sit down. The player to the right of the player that drew the highest card becomes the dealer. The player to the right of the dealer is allowed to “cut the deck” before each deal. For 4 player games, each player is dealt eleven cards (3 player games are dealt 13, and 2 player games are dealt 15), and one card is turned up to start the discard pile. If the first up card is a Red 3 or a wild card, an additional card(s) is turned up until a natural card is the first up. The players take turn dealing as the dealer position moves clockwise around the table.
The Card Values: In Canasta, each card is assigned a point value as follows:
- Black 3s, all 4, 5, 6, & 7s have a point value of 5.
- All 8, 9, 10, J, Q, & Ks have a point value of 10.
- Any Ace has a point value of 20.
- Any Two (deuce) is a “wild” and has a point value of 20.
- All Jokers are “wild” and have a point value of 50.
- Red 3s (treys, or three spots) have a point value of 100 (double if all red 3 are held by one opponent).
To assist you in scoring, Stingray Canasta cards have the corresponding point value printed on the face of each card. Red 3s feature a star symbol to mark their special significance.
Game Play: Once the cards are dealt out, the player to the dealer’s left acts first, and proceeds in clockwise order throughout the length of the game. Each player’s turn is defined by three actions:
- First, the player must draw a card from either the stock (the undealt pile), or from the discard pile. In order to draw from the discard pile, the player must be able to immediately use the top discard in a meld with at least two natural cards (a natural is a non-wild card), After using the top card in a meld, the player then takes the entire discard pile into his hand, from which he may continue melding, or save the cards for later use. The top discard may not be taken if it is a Black 3, or a Wild Card.
- Secondly, after drawing a card from the stock, a player has the option of melding. There is no requirement to meld.
- Lastly, a player must discard one card from their hand (not from a previously played card which is part of a meld), or alternatively the player must “go out” to end the hand.
Melding: As play progresses, the players attempt to lay down melds, and lay off cards on their partner’s melds. A “Meld” consists of three or more like cards of the same rank (at least two of the three cards must be naturals, one wild card is permitted). For example: a player may lay down three Jacks, or three Kings, or two Fours and one Joker. Suits are irrelevant. Three Deuces, three Jokers, or three Red 3s are not legal melds.
- If score was a negative number, the minimum count is 15 points.
- If your score was 0 to 1,495, the minimum score is 50.
- If your score was 1,500-2,995, the minimum score is 90.
- If your score was 3,000 or higher, the minimum score is 120.
For the purpose of fulfilling this requirement, a player may put down two or more melds at once if necessary. The individual card point values are added cumulatively for all melded cards to verify compliance with the minimum count requirement. This is made easy if you are playing with Stingray Canasta cards because the point values are printed right there on each card! Once the initial meld requirements have been met, any further melds may be laid down without regard to point values.
As play continues, each player attempts to lay down more melds, or more individual cards on his teams existing melds, never lay off on an opponent’s melds.
Canastas: Ultimately, the players are attempting to make Canastas before the hand ends. A Canasta is a 7 card meld of the same rank cards. There are two types of Canastas, and each type earns bonus points when scoring:
- “Mixed Canastas” consist of both naturals and wild cards. There is a maximum of three wild cards (whether they be Jokers or Dueces, or a combination of both) allowed per Canasta. Mixed Canastas receive 300 bonus points.
- “Natural Canastas” are harder to come by, they are as the name implies, seven natural cards, no wilds allowed. A Natural Canasta is rewarded with 500 bonus points.
Red Treys: Special rules apply to all Red Treys in Canasta:
- If a red trey is the first up card immediately after the deal, another card must be taken off the top of the stock to cover the red trey, and the discard pile is frozen.
- If a player is dealt a red trey, he must immediately lay the card down face up for all to see, and draw from the top of the stock to replenish his hand to eleven cards.
- When a player draws a red trey from the stock, he immediately places the red trey face up and draws again to replace it.
- If a player gathers a red trey from the discard pile, he places it face up but does not draw to replace it.
- Red treys carry a bonus point value of 100 points each provided your partnership has been able to meld at least once before the hand ends. If you collect all four red treys (and have at least one meld), you are award a double bonus of 200 points each for a total bonus of 800 points.
- Red treys cannot be melded, and they cannot be held in your hand, they must be visible to your opponents and partner.
Black Treys: Black treys may be melded only when a player is going out. Otherwise, black treys may not be melded. They can be used as stop cards when discarded, this means your opponent must draw from the stock and not the discard pile. This can be especially useful if you want your partner to have the opportunity to pick up the discard pile.
The Discard Pile: Initially, the discard pile is frozen until your partnership is able to meet the minimum requirements of an Initial meld. You may use the top card of the discard pile to unfreeze the discard pile for you and your partner. The discard pile remains unfrozen for your partnership until such time as one of your opponents discards a black trey or wild card.
If the pile is unfrozen, and a player wishes to use the top discard, he must first show his opponents he is entitled to take the card by first showing the two or more cards already in his hand (either two naturals, or one natural card plus a wild) which he intends to meld with the top discard. Only then can the player pick up the entire discard pile and use whichever cards he chooses to make additional melds (optional). The melds produced from the discard pile cannot be used to meet the minimum count requirement of an initial meld. A player cannot take the discard pile to be used as an addition to an already played meld unless he can combine the top card with two additional cards already in his hand.
You may not take the discard pile if the top up card is either a black trey or a wild card, the discard pile is said to be frozen.
You may not take the up card if there are no other cards in the discard pile, and you have only one card in your hand.
Going Out: When a player is left holding no cards whatsoever, because he either discarded his last card, or he played his last card in a meld, the hand is over, provided his partnership has at least one Canasta. Without at least one Canasta, a player is not allowed to go out, he must keep one card or more in his hand. Going out earns a 100 point bonus.
Going Out Concealed: This is hard to do. To go out concealed, you must play all of your cards at once, with at least one Canasta. To go out concealed, you must not have played any previous meld cards of your own, nor contributed any meld cards to your partners meld(s). Going Out Concealed earns a 200 point bonus.
Asking Permission: In a unique twist to Canasta, a player may ask his partner for permission to go out. A player may only ask at the beginning of his turn, or immediately after drawing a card. The partner must reply with only a one word answer: “Yes” or “No”, partners are not allowed to discuss strategy. If a player answers “yes”, his partner must go out. Permission is not a requirement for going out, a player may go out at any time he meets the minimum requirements.
Scoring: When a hand ends, each partnership begins scoring by adding the point values shown on the melded cards, then each partnership subtracts the point values of any cards they are left holding in their hands, finally you add any bonus points your partnership may be entitled to. The following bonus points are available:
- 100 for each red trey laid down.*
- 800 if one side has laid down all four red treys.*
- 100 for “going out”.
- 200 for “going out concealed”.
- 300 for a “Mixed Canasta”.
- 500 for a “Natural Canasta”.
*In order to collect this bonus, your partnership must have played at least one meld. If no melds have been played at the time the hand ends, any red trey(s) your partnership has played is considered a negative 100 point penalty each.
Scores are typically recorded on a 2 column score pad similar to a Bridge score pad, one player keeps score for the table and generally refers to the two partnerships as “We” and “They”. After each hand the score for that hand is added to the previous total and a new cumulative total is achieved. Canasta is a race to 5,000 points. If both partnerships reach 5,000 points in the same hand, the partnership with the higher point total wins.
Irregularities: Canasta can be a complicated game to learn, and sometimes mistakes do happen. It is generally accepted that a mistake should be corrected as soon after discovery as possible. For example:
- If the wrong number of cards were dealt, all players will draw from the stock until the correct card count is achieved.
- An improper meld should be restored to the player’s hand.
- If a player attempts to go out after receiving his partner’s permission, but is unable to, the player must expose all of his remaining cards to his opponents to prove he cannot go out.
- If a player inadvertently exposes one card or more, he places all exposed cards face up on the table for all to see, he must then successively discard from the face up cards as his turn progresses. Exposed cards may be used for future melds before discarding.
A Final Word: Canasta is a fast-paced and exciting game the whole family can play. It is also a great way for friends or neighbors to spend an evening together. The game may be a little complicated to learn at first, but no need to worry, you will quickly learn why Canasta is enjoyed by millions around the world! Be sure to pick up a couple decks of Stingray Canasta decks while you are here.
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