What’s Canasta?

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Canasta is a complex card game similar to rummy, played with two full decks of cards. Players form melds and canastas, and the game can be played individually or in pairs. The game originated in South America and became popular in North America in the 1950s. The game has several versions with slightly varying rules and point values. The game is played in hands, and each hand ends when a player goes out. The overall gameplay remains the same in all versions, and the game is popular in group tournaments and can also be played online.

Canasta is a card game similar to, but more complex than, rummy. In a game of Canasta, players use matched cards to form melds and then play melds of wild cards and matched cards to empty their hands and go out. This card game probably originated somewhere in South America before arriving in North America where it became very popular in the 1950s.

Despite early attempts to standardize the game of canasta, there are several versions where the game and the rules vary slightly. Canasta can be played individually or in pairs depending on the number of players, which can range from two to six. Canasta is played with two full decks of cards, including jokers, for a total of 108 cards.

The Deal – The starting dealer is chosen randomly and the deal proceeds clockwise around the table for the duration of the game. Each player is dealt eleven cards with the remaining cards being placed into the center pile to form a draw pile. In some versions, the player to the dealer’s right is given the option of cutting cards into an amount equal to the exact distribution for the bonus points. For example, in a four-player game, if the player to dealer’s right cuts exactly forty-four cards from the top, he receives 100 bonus points.

Card Values ​​– In most variations of canasta, playing cards hold the following values:

Jolly – jolly da 50 punti
Deuces – (2 of all suits) are wild cards that are worth 20 points
Red threes (3s of diamonds and hearts) are special cards kept and played to the side when dealt or drawn. They are worth extra points.
Black threes, 4 – 7 all suits – 5 points
8 – 10, J, Q, K all suits – 10 points
Aces – 20 points

Meld – Canasta requires individuals or partners to build an initial meld equal to or greater than a certain number of points. The initial meld value is based on the players current score. As their score increases, so does the required value of the initial meld.

How to Play – Once players have matched the required value, they can start building sets or canastas. A canasta is a set of seven of the same cards. Canastas can be made with any card except jokers and threes. The set can consist entirely of the natural cards or it can be a combination of four or more natural cards with wild cards. Each natural canasta is worth 500 points while each canasta mixed with jokers is worth 300 points.
Play proceeds clockwise around the table. On each player’s turn they draw, play matched cards to form canastas, and discard. Players can also pick up the discard pile if they have a matching pair in hand or melded in front of them. Canasta is played in hands, or rounds, and each hand ends when a player has played all of his cards and goes out. Subsequent hands are played until an individual or partner score reaches or exceeds 5000 points.

While there are additional rules that come into play during canasta and some rules and point values ​​vary, the overall game play remains the same in all versions. Much like Bridge, Canasta is a popular card game played in group tournaments. The four player version is the most popular version played in a group setting. Canasta, like many other card games, can also be played virtually online.

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