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CANASTA

CANASTA card game was invented in South America during the early part of this century, and spread rapidly round the world soon after the Second World War.  Recently it has declined somewhat in popularity, but it remains an entertaining game, and is easy to learn.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS

Canasta is best for four players, but can be played by two or three, though No-Trumps so satisfactorily.

CARDS

Two standard packs are used, together with four Jokers, making 108 cards in all.  If there are four players, each receives 11 cards. With three poker players each gets 13 cards, and two players get 15 cards each. Cards are dealt one at a time, clockwise round the table starting on dealer’s left.

The top card of the remaining pack is then turned over to start the discard pile, and the player on dealer’s left plays first.  Before that, however, all the players holding red 3s put them down and draw replacement cards.  The deal moves round to the left in subsequent hands.

If the card turned over by the dealer is a Joker, a 2 or a red 3, then he turns another card to cover it, and the pack is frozen (so that wild cards and cards on the table may not be used to capture it).

THE PLAY

Canasta is a ‘draw and discard’ game, like Gin Rummy and Mah Jong – each player in turn draws a new card from the pack, and then discards one card, trying to form his hand into matching sets while doing so. 

It is sometimes possible, instead of drawing a new card from the pack, to capture the entire discard pile, and much of the skill in the game goes towards maneuvering so as to be able to do this.

If a player is able to form a legal combination including the top card (that most recently discarded) of the discard pile, then he may do so instead of drawing a new card from the pack, and having done so he takes the remainder of the discard pile into his hand. 

The combination may involve the last discard, cards in the player’s hand and combinations previously played on the table by him, but may No-Trumps involve any of the previous discards. 

Having made his capture, and picked up the discard pile, the player may put down any further cards he wishes these may include some of the poker cards he just picked up and then discards to complete his turn.  There is no restriction on discarding captured cards immediately.

It is illegal to make a capture using a wild card on the table before the start of his turn otherwise the last discard must be matched with at least two plain cards of the same rank.If a black 3 is discarded, it is always illegal for the next player to capture the pile the main function of black 3s in the game is to act as safe discards.

If a wild card is discarded, then the pi8le is said to be ‘frozen’. It is illegal for the next player to capture the pile, as with black 3s, but there are two additional restrictions which continue to apply until the pile is next capture: it becomes illegal to combine the top discard with cards already played on the table – the combination must be with cards from the hand; and it becomes illegal to capture the pile using a wild card, even if a wild card has already been used.

It is normally illegal to put down a set of black 3s, but this may be done by a player on the turn in which he goes out.  A set of black 3s may never contain any wild cards.If the last card in the pack is a red 3, then the player drawing it does not discard on that turn.

Wild cards may be added to completed canastas, provided that they do No-Trumps break the law that no more than three wild cards should appear in one combination.  If wild cards are added to a natural canasta, though, it becomes a mixed canasta and only scores 300points (it may be necessary to do this in order to go out).

In the early part of the game, the main objective is to be the first to capture the discard pile.  Having done this, a player can often continue capturing the pile for the rest of the hand each time he picks up the recycles the safe discards he has already used.

When a player has succeeded in making the first capture, and has the chance to go out, it is often good No-Trumps to do so, but to keep going and make a really huge score.

If, on the other poker hand, his opponent has made the first capture, he will often be stuck simply feeding him cards, and it is usually best to try to go out as soon as possible.  Going out is a defensive tactic.

Black 3s should not be discarded too early.  Capturing a pile of three of four cards is No-Trumps very devastating, and it is usually better to hand on to black 3s until the pile gets bigger and a safe discard is really needed.

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