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Canasta is a classic card game of the rummy family with many variations existing of two, three, five or six players. Most often, the game is played by four with two partnerships. I enjoy single canasta, because it is easier to get a game going, if you have less or more than 4 players. Also, the rules of the two games are different; partnership canasta has more rules and special hands, while individual canasta lends itself to more chatter and laughter while you are playing. That is a huge benefit of this card game, which is not always the case when playing mahjong or bridge.

Canasta began in Uruguay in 1939 and quickly spread through South America, then introduced in the U.S. in 1949. There are many Canasta leagues and clubs in several parts of the U.S., and in 2013 the Canasta League of America (CLA) was established for the purpose of standardizing the rules for playing modern Canasta.

My group of 6+ ladies try to gather and play once every two weeks. During covid, it was a safe thing to do outside, sitting at a picnic table at the beach or at our club. We had so many laughs during difficult times and we have had as many laughs each week we meet. Conversation goes from Canasta kidding, to children, to food talk, travel, relationship stories and everything in between. We try not to bring food to share, as sitting for 3 hours lends itself to a snacking fixation which translates to unnecessary calories. No matter what age, women are almost always calorie conscious. Skinny Pop, grapes and other healthy snacks have been sneaked in from time to time.

Here is a basic summary of the individual (single player) game of Canasta. Playing is the best way to learn.

· At least two complete decks of 52 playing cards with two Jokers per deck. We use 4 decks for 4, 5 or 6 players.

· Deal 11 – 13 cards per player, depending on how many players you have.

· Red 3’s are special, are instantly placed face up in front of the player who then draws another card.

· The idea is to meld, at least 3 cards of the same rank. 7 cards of the same rank is a Canasta. A natural is worth more points, which is 7 cards without any wild cards. A mixed (dirty, unnatural) Canasta contains wild cards, 3 wilds in a canasta (single play.)

· If you can use the top card of the discard pile, you may pick up the whole pile, sometimes giving you many opportunities for further melds and an accumulation of points. Getting several canastas and lots of cards melded gives you more points, which is the object.

· Discarding a black 3 prevents the next player from picking up the pile. (single canasta)

· Discarding a wild card freezes the deck and a player can only pick up the pile if he has at least 2 of that card rank to meld. (single canasta)

· A player can go out by using all the cards in hand and has at least two canastas.

· Scoring is important; true canasta cards have the point value on the top of each card. The player who goes out gets an extra 100 pts. A canasta is worth 500 points for a natural and 300 points for a dirty canasta. Red 3’s are worth 100 points; if you get 4 of them, it’s 800 points.

Rules vary between partnership and single playing canasta. Look up the rules for the game you are playing and the proper scoring. You can also practice by playing online; Canasta Junction is one app for partnership canasta. Your local library often offers classes to learn to play Canasta. I promise, you'll love it!

My group plays for a $1.00 per hand, the player who goes out gets the “pot.” We try to play till someone reaches 5,000 pts., which could take 4-5 hands and 3 hours. At the end, the player who has the most points receives an additional dollar from every player. It just adds to the fun, laughter and friendly competition.

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janet vitiello
janet vitiello
Feb 17
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Always fun!

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