San Mateo Cnasta

Contributed by

John Bejarano
1919 Alameda de las Pulgas #161
San Mateo, CA 94403 USA

Several years ago, I inadvertantly created a new variation on the classic card game Canasta. I'd always seen my grandmother and her friends play it, and I wanted to learn it and teach my friends. As it turned out, I initially misinterpreted some of the rules, and didn't find out until much later. Now, like it or not, a group of a few dozen of us here in Northern California play this variation. I'm not sure if that's enough to classify this as an official variation, but some other card enthusiasts may want to try these rules.

Major rule differences in the San Mateo Variation of Canasta:

- The most major difference is that the discard pile is NEVER frozen. Assuming a player has already satisfied his/her initial meld, or does so before drawing from the face-down stock, and the top card is not a wild-card or "stopper", (black three), that player may ALWAYS pick up the discard pile with only one natural card and one wild-card, or by adding the top card of the discard pile to an existing meld if they choose to. Wild-cards behave similarly to black threes, (only they're more costly, and potentially more dangerous if another player finally claims the pile). They do not, however, freeze the pile.

- When a player draws from the face-down stock, they draw TWO cards instead of one.

- Cards of the same rank as an existing canasta are also stoppers like black threes, regardless of who owns the canasta. For instance, if I form a canasta of sevens, any further sevens that are discarded by ANY player, prevent the next player from taking the discard pile in the same way that black threes and wild cards do. This is true even if I have a meld of a particular rank, but another player has a canasta of that rank.

- The game can be played with 2, 3, or 4 players. (In fact, we most often play with only 2 players.) If there are only 2 players, deal each 15 cards. If there are 3 players, deal each 13 cards. 4-player games are dealt with 11 cards, as normal. There are no partnerships in 2 or 3 player games. Each player plays for him/herself. NOTE: 3-player games tend to be far more low-scoring on each hand, and can thus be very long.

- At the beginning of the deal, red threes that were initially dealt cannot be played until that player's first turn of that hand. (This, as opposed to all red threes being played immediately, before the hand begins.) If one player goes out concealed before a player holding a red three takes their first turn, that player is not penalized for failing to play the red three. However, they don't get credited for it, either.

- When melding black threes in the process of going out, it is permissible to meld two black threes and a wild card.

- Red threes that are placed at the bottom of the discard pile before the hand begins ARE replaced when the pile is claimed. The player draws one card from the stock for each red three they obtain in this way, just as if they'd drawn the red three itself from the stock.

I'm sure that to inveterate Canasta players, some of the above variations may seem absurd, or even blasphemous. However, the game that results is a fairly fast-paced fun game. Even when I realized my errors in interpreting the rules originally and I pointed this out to my fellow card-players, they seemed to be content with our version.


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Last updated 21st November 1997