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Canasta is a variation of rummy that was developed in South America as an independent game.  It may be played by any number of players from two to six, but is at its most skillful when played by four.  If two or three play each plays for himself; if four they play as two partners against the other two, the partners sitting facing each other; if five they play two against three, but of the three only two play at a time and rotate so that at a time and rotate so that at each deal a different player sits out; if six play they play as three, the partners sitting alternately around the table.
            The game is played with two 52-card packs and two Jokers to each pack.  The four Jokers and the eight 2s are wild cards: they may be named as any other card.

            The dealer deals eleven cards to each player and the rest of the pack (the stock) is placed face downwards in the centre of the table.  The top card is turned face upwards and placed alongside it.  It is known as the up-card, and is the start of the discard pile.  If it is a wild card or a red 3 it is covered with the next card of the stock, and if this also is a wild card or a red 3 it is covered with the next card of the stock, and so on.
            The red 3s are bonus cards that count for or against the side to which they fall.  They do not form part of a player’s hand, and at his turn to play he who holds a red 3 must place it face upwards on the table in front of him and refill his hand by drawing the top card of the stock.  If a red 3 is taken in the discard pile, it is similarly faced, but the player does not refill his hand from the stock.
            The object of the game is to form melds of three or more cards of the same rank, with or without the help of wild cards.  Sequences are not recognized as melds.
            The player on the left of the dealer plays first.  Thereafter play continues clockwise round the table.  A play consists of a player drawing a card, melding (optional), discarding.  A game in progress is shown in Plate 14.

            The Draw The player takes either the top card of the stock or the up-card of the discard pile provided he can meld with it.  In the latter case, however, he must take with it the whole of the discard pile subject to its not being frozen.  At the beginning of the game the discard pile is frozen until a side has made its first meld; it is then unfrozen for that side only.  Even for a side that has melded the discard pile is frozen at any time that a red 3 or a wild card is the up-card.  It remains frozen until it is taken by a player, because the fresh discard pile is not frozen unless the player starts the fresh pile with a wild card.  If a player plays a black 3 to the discard pile it is frozen for the next player only.
            The meld A meld is valid if it contains at least two ‘natural’ (i.e. not wild) cards of the same rank, and not more than three wild cards.  Black 3s, however, may not be melded unless the player melds out in the same turn.  Wild cards may not be melded separately from natural cards.  A meld must be placed face upwards on the table, and the melds of the two partners are placed in front of only one of them.  A player may add one or more cards of the same rank, or wild cards, to a meld previously faced by his side.  A player may make as many melds as he chooses, including the addition of cards to melds made by his side; also he may not add cards to the melds of his opponents.  Wild cards, once melded, cannot be replaced

            with natural cards. A canasta is a meld of seven or more cards, and may be built up from an initial meld of three or more cards.  If a canasta contains No-Trump wild cards it is a natural canasta; if it is formed with one, two or three wild cards it is a mixed canasta.  Wild cards may be added in any number to a canasta, but other melds are limited to three (see illustration).
Every card melded has the following point value:
Jokers -50 points each.
Aces and 2s -20 points each.
Kings, Queens , Jacks, 10s, 9s and 8s -10 points each.
7s, 6s, 5s, 4s, and black 3s -5 points each.
            These points count to the credit of a side if the cards are melded when a deal ends, and to its debit if they are not melded.
            The red 3s have a value of 100 points each, unless a side holds all four of them, when each has a value of 200 points.  At the end of the deal a side that has made any meld scores all its red 3s as a plus bonus: a side that has made No-Trump meld deducts the value of its red 3s from its score.
            The first meld is governed by a strict rule.  If the score of a side is under 1500 points the first meld must total at least 50 points; if the score is between 1500 and 2995 points it must total at least 90 points; and if the score is 3000 points or more it must total at least 120 points.  There is No-Trump minimum total for a side that has a minus score.

            The Discard.  After a player has made a draw and melded if he has chosen to, he must play a card to the discard pile.  The card must be played from hand and not from a meld on the table.  The discard, however, is optional when the player melds every card in his hand (called melding out).  It sometimes happens that a player is able to meld all his cards in one turn, he not having melded previously.  It is known as melding out blind, and the bonus is doubled.  Either way, however, a player must have , or be able to complete, a canasta, and as melding out may not suit partner he should first always ask him: ‘May I go out?’ Partner’s replay to the question must be simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No-Trump’, and, whichever it is, is binding on the partnership.  Indeed, if he partner says ‘Yes’ and the player cannot, after all, meld out he suffers a penalty of 100 points.
            The side that goes out totals the point values of the cards in its melds; adds a bonus of 100 points for melding out (200 points if it has melded out blind); 100 for each red 3 (800 points if the partnership holds all four red 3s); 500 points for each natural canasta and 300 points for each mixed canasta.  From this is subtracted the total point value of the cards left in the hand of the partner.

            The score of the side that did not meld out is determined in the same way, and it is deducted from that of the side that melded out.  If it has not made a meld the value of its red 3s are deducted from, instead of added to, its total.
            The game is won by the side that first reaches a total of 5,000 points, or the higher total if both sides pass 5,000 in the same deal.
            The chief aim of a player must be to make canastas.  If there is a choice, it is best to begin as many melds as possible, because each is a start towards a canasta.  One should take advantage of the fact that, to fulfill the minimum count, a player may take two or more different melds at the same turn.  At the same time, it is unwise to meld every moldable card as soon as you can.  It depletes the hand and leaves  you at the mercy of the opponents until you are able to go out.  A good general rule is that it is unwise to make a first meld if it reduces the hand to less than six cards.  A first meld should always be made if it can with the minimum number of cards.
            A player should always try to retain at least one wild card in his hand, and, except to help complete a canasta, he should not add unnecessarily to a meld when there is the risk that the opponents will go out.

            Nearly always it is unwise to discard Aces; they pull more weight when melded.
            Since black 3s have No-Trump constructive value there is a tendency to discard them at the first opportunity.  It is not bad play to do so, and it has the advantage of freezing the pack for one’s left-hand opponent.  In general, however, it is better to retain a black 3 until one is faced with the problem of finding a safe discard.
            As the two partners hold between them only eleven cards, it stands out that at best they are unlikely to make more than one canasta out of them.  There are, however, sixty-four cards that have not been dealt to the four players.  Clearly, therefore, taking the pack must be to player’s advantage, because he can make so many more canastas out of it.
            If your side wins the first pack, do not reduce your hand unnecessarily.  Do not be frightened to discard from your longest holdings.  By contrast, if your side loses the first pack your only defense is to play to go out.  There is a very important difference between attacking and defending play.

            When the pack is frozen, try to build up a hand in pairs.  Pairs are very valuable, because every meld contain at least two cards of the same suit-a pair that is.
THREE-PACK CANASTA, or Samba, may be played by any number of players from two to six, but is a satisfactory game only for six playing in three partnerships of two each.  One player sits between two opponents, one of each of the other partnerships.
            Three 52-card packs with two Jokers each are used.  Thirteen cards are dealt to each player.  Game is 10,000 points, and when a side reaches 7,000 its minimum count for its first meld is 150 points.  Five red 3s have a value of 1,000 points; six 1,200 points.  A side must have two canastas to meld out.


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