Canasta Rules

Winning Isn't Everything ---- But It Is Fun


So Learn The Rules and Become Your Best


Modern Canasta Rules


  • To make 2 Canastas and go out before the other team 
  • To keep the other team from making a natural “7” or “Ace” canasta or picking the pack
  • Win the game with 8500 points

What You Need

  •  2 decks of cards including the 4 Jokers (108 cards in all). Always have additional decks shuffled & ready to use in different colors
  • Hands-free cardholders, revolving card tray, score sheets and pencils

How to Set Up

  • Group decides who is the Scorekeeper (SK) 
  • Player left of the SK is Dealer
  • Player right of Dealer (SK) cuts the deck by placing 7 cards from the bottom of the deck in the card tray; turning the 8th card at a right angle to the remaining pile, and placing the rest of cards back on the draw pile 
  • Dealer makes four stacks of 13 cards, then distributes them to each player starting with the player to her left 

How to Start

  • Arrange your cards from left to right: 3’s, 7,’s, A’s, Jokers (big & small), four, three, two of a kind, then singles from high to low on the end
  • Player to the left of the dealer begins (picks a card) and play continues clockwise
  • Put down any 3’s immediately, replace them and discard a card

Rules During Play

  • If your team starts a meld of jokers, you cannot add any jokers to any other melds until your joker canasta is complete. 
  • No canasta can have more than 2 Jokers
  •  Jokers may NEVER be thrown unless they are the only cards left in your hand — other players may ask to see your hand. Try not to let this happen
  • All 3’s in your hand or 3’s you pick from the deck must come out of your hand and be placed face-up among the team’s melds & immediately replace card from the deck. They may never be discarded except as your final discard, when going out, or when going for a Special Hand
  • If a team melds at the turn card,  they can only pick one card as part of their Talon. No Talon at all if melding occurs after the turn card
  • Mis-Meld: 10 pt (penalty) added to required meld pts if you try to meld without required pts 
  • If your team has a meld of 5 or more cards matching the top discard on the pack, you cannot pick the pack because this would create a meld of more than 7 cards. (When picking the pack you must always lay down the 2 cards from your hand, pick the pack, and take the top card and put on meld)
  • (So, it is better to keep your meld in 4th position for as long as possible) 

Rules During Play

  • Must announce when you have 3 cards, 2 cards or 1 card left in your hand.  Even when a player picks the last card and discards it, the next player can pick the pack if she has two of the same cards in her hand. The next player may also pick the pack.  It does not happen often, but it is possible
  • Empty tray: May NEVER throw an Ace or a 7 or a DEAD card on an empty tray 
  • ACES may only be used with Jokers during the initial meld. Otherwise, ACE canastas must be natural 
  • If one team completes a canasta (ex: with 5’s) the other team cannot lay down 5’s during the game  
  • The Seven Rule:  If you throw a “7” your partner will know you are “signaling” that you have at least two in your hand and she can throw her 7’s 
  •  “7” canastas must ALWAYS be a natural
  • You can “go back three cards” to see what was discarded

How to Go Out/End the Gam

  • Your team must have 2 canastas, be able to meld all cards and discard your last card 
  • Player must ask permission of partner to go out – may only ask once and then figure out what to do on her own (partner could have three 7’s or Aces)
  • Each team counts all pts when 2 canastas are made, when no more cards are left in the tray or someone “goes out” first.  Last discard goes face down.  Game Over!

How to Score

  • The team that goes out first earns an extra 100 pts  
  • No canastas: If a team has not completed any canastas the value of all melded cards is subtracted from their score along w/ the value of the cards remaining in their hands
  • Completed Canastas: Mixed = 300 pts (black card on top); Natural = 500 pts (red card on top) 
  •  Aces: natural = 2,500 pts
  •  7’s: always natural = 2,500 pts
  •  Completed Joker Canasta: any combination = 2500 pts
  •  Uncompleted Natural Canastas:  Aces, 7’s  & Jokers =2500 pts deducted
  •  3’s: are counted with 2 canastas, are not counted with 1 canasta and are deducted with 0 canastas:
  • 1 of a color  =100pts
  • 2 of same color  =300pts
  • 3 of same color  =500pts
  • 4 of same color  =1000pts
  •  Point Value of Cards: Cards 4–7 = 5 pts; Cards 8–K = 10 pts; Aces = 20 pts; Small Jokers(2’s) = 20 pts; Big Jokers = 50 pts 
  • Winning the game: 8500 pts


  • For holding three or more 7’s or Aces in your hand at the end of the game (-1500pts)  
  • For melding Aces or 7’s as natural canastas and FAILING to complete the canasta (-2500)

Using the Score Sheet

  • Write name of dealer for each round in Dealer box
  • BASE = The face value of each canasta (mixed or natural); value of 3’s add extra 100pts for team going out first) Put total in BASE BOX
  • COUNT = The total of cards left in your hand and subtract from the total amount (includes all your cards w/o 3’s).  Put that amount in COUNT BOX
  • Next round do the same but you will be adding the last TOTAL + the new BASE & COUNT for a new TOTAL

Playing for Money

  • Subtract the losing team’s total count from the winning team 
  • Example: (Winning team score) 8500 minus (Losing team score 6500 points) 
  • There is a $2.00 minimum so the winning team gets $2.00 each from the losing team 
  • Special Money Give away: After every round of canasta, each player from each team gives $1.00 to each player on the other team who has made a Natural “7”, Ace, and/or Joker Canasta.  This is separate from the scoring

Special Hands

  • When a Special Hand is completed the game is over. All Special Hands are worth 3500 pts
  • Any seven pairs. Must not contain any 3’s or Big Jokers
  • Two types: no Jokers OR with 2’s,7’s & Aces 
  • If 2’s are used, the hand must contain both 7’s and Aces.
  • Ex: 44 55 KK 88 99 66 QQ; Ex: 22 77 AA 99 55 88 66
  • SPECIAL STRAIGHT HAND: One card of every rank using every number and face including 3’s. If you pick more than 1 small or big Joker, can’t do hand
  • Ex: A,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10, J,Q,K & 1 Big Joker = 14 cards  
  • DREAM HAND (8500 pts): Two sets of 5 of a kind + 4 Jokers
  • OTHER SPECIAL HANDS:  4 sets of three of a kind + 2 Jokers; three sets of 4 of a kind + 2 Jokers
  • GARBAGE HAND: Two sets of four of a kind PLUS two sets of three of a kind, NO Jokers or threes
  •  Ex: 444 6666  QQQQ AAA


  • Canasta = 7 cards
  • Natural Canasta = 7 like cards
  • Mixed Canasta = 5 or 6 like cards + 1 or 2 sm or big Jokers
  • Melding: Initial meld requires at least 3 matching natural cards but other melds may consist of mixed cards (2 or more ‘like cards’ & Jokers). Your team’s initial meld also requires 125 pts when the score is under 3,000 pts; 155 pts when score is over 3,000 pts but under 5,000 pts; 180 pts when score is over 5,000 pts.  A team with a negative score is still subject to the 125 pt minimum count to meld
  • Picking the pack” requires that your team has melded and you must have 2 cards in your hand matching the top card of the deck.  Must put down top card plus 2 matching cards before anything else. If you meld at the same time as “picking the pack” you must have required pts in hand w/o the top card from the deck.
  • Talon: If your team is the first to meld (after you discard) you get to pick 4 new cards from the deck for your next turn. The second team to meld gets to pick 3 new cards. If you picked the pack, you do not pick the Talon (4 or 3 cards)
  • Special Hand: Combination of 14 cards which entitles you to go out by exposing your entire hand after drawing, w/o discarding.  Allowed only if your partner has not yet melded 
  • In a Special Hand, your 3’s get counted as a positive toward score. Cards in your partner's hand get thrown away NOT DEDUCTED. See Special Hands
  • Dead card: a card either team has used to make a canasta 
  • Bating: when you have three of a kind in your hand and you throw one which leaves you with a pair in your hand.  This strategy can fool the other team into thinking it is safe to throw the same card 


  • Keep only two “7’s” or Aces in your hand – penalized if you have 3 or more at end of game (lose 1500 pts plus value pts)
  • When melding, just put enough cards down to reach your required pts 
  • Be careful what you throw to the person on your left, especially if the other team hasn’t melded yet
  • When the other team has a base of 5 in a meld—you know it’s a safe card to throw
  • If you throw a HIGH card as your first discard, your partner will ASSUME you are working on Special Hand. Most players throw out their lowest cards first
  • “Picking the Pack” is the great way to win the game and get a high score.  But, sometimes, if you are trying to complete a natural “joker”, “seven” or “ace” canasta and the deck is very small – it would be better to pick a new card. Do not “Pick the Pack” near the end of the game when it contains cards you’ll get stuck with in your hand and will not have time to get rid of them before the game  is over.