New Canasta

This page is based on a contribution from Justin Eagle.

Introduction

This is a version of Hand and Foot Canasta played in parts of the USA: Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas. In some parts of Oklahoma the game is simply called Canasta, though traditionally Canasta (whether classic or modern) is a partnership game in which each player has just one hand. There are no partnerships in New Canasta, the "Hand" is called your "looking" and the "Foot" is called your "down". Many of the scoring conventions of classic Canasta apply to this version. The game is played in several rounds until a player reaches or exceeds 10,000 points.

Players

Any number can play. The game is best played with 5 to 7 players.

Cards

Several standard 54 card decks (52 cards plus 2 jokers) are used. You will need one deck of cards per player and an additional deck as well. All the cards are mixed together and divided into 4 face down piles to draw from for the deal.

Deal

There are two dealers. One person deals all the "looking" hands and the person to the left of him deals all the "down" hands. The turn to deal passes clockwise around the table, but skips the Score Keeper who plays, but never deals. In other words, the dealer who dealt the "down" hands in a certain round will deal the "looking" hands in the next round, while there will be a new dealer for the new "down" hands.

The deal for both "looking" and "down" hands is 11 cards each. The dealers attempt to draw from the 4 piles of cards the precise number of cards needed to deal the hands - for example 66 if there are six players. A dealer who is successful in this receives a 100 point bonus. If a dealer draws too many cards, the remaining cards are returned to the 4 piles; if too few, extra cards are taken from the piles to complete the deal.

The dealers deal the cards in front of them one at a time to form a stack for each player. Then the stacks of cards are passed, one at a time, clockwise to each player. Both dealers tell each player whether this is their "looking" hand or their "down" hand. After the hands have been distributed, the dealer of the "looking" hand turns over a card from one of the 4 face down draw piles and places it face up on the table to start the discard pile. Typically, the discard pile is placed with 2 draw piles on each side of it. If the turned up card is a wild card, Black 3, or Red 3, a second card is turned face up and placed on top of it.

Play

When all players have received both "looking" and "down" hands, they place the "down" hand to their right face down out of play, without looking at it, and look at their "looking" hand, sorting it into sets and melds. When the player to the left of the person who dealt the "down" hands is ready, he or she draws two cards from the 4 draw piles and discards 1 card face up on top of the discard pile in the middle (or he has the option, as in later turns, to pick up the discard pile and to put down meld if able to). When the player to the right of the Score Keeper deals the "down" hand, the player to the left of the Score Keeper will begin play for that round. The Score Keeper never deals or begins play.

The turn to play passes clockwise around the table. When it is a player’s turn, he can simply draw 2 cards from the draw piles and discard one card to the discard pile. Alternatively, he may be able to meld before discarding, to pick up the discard pile instead of drawing from the draw piles, to make Canastas, or to play the remaining cards in his "looking" hand and continue playing through to the cards in his "down" hand, according to the rules set out below.

If a player draws two cards from the piles, that player may not pick up the discard pile (Deck) in that turn. Once a player has discarded a card to the discard pile, his/her turn is over and the player may not make any further plays until his or her next turn begins. (Exception - a player who has taken the discard pile may be "frozen in time" - see below.)

Melds

A meld is a set of 3 or more cards of the same denomination, regardless of suit, that a player lays down face up in front of him to score points. The cards of a meld are laid down in a column so that all players can see and count the number of cards in that particular meld. A player’s current score as at the end of the previous hand determines the number of points needed for an initial meld.

The values of the various cards for melding are as follows:

  • 4's through 7's = 5 points each
  • 8's through Kings = 10 points each
  • Aces and 2's = 20 points each
  • Jokers = 50 points each

Threes cannot be melded in the ordinary way. Black threes can only be melded as a canasta when going out and red threes can only be added to complete red canastas - see below.

The following are the minimum meld values needed to make an initial meld or "lay down" based on a player’s score:

  • Below 0 = 15
  • 0 to 1500 = 50
  • 1,501 to 3,000 = 90
  • 3,001 to 5,000 = 120
  • 5,001 to 7,000 = 150
  • 7,001 to 10,000 = 210

When melding, initially or otherwise, a player lays down one or more sets of three or more cards of the same denomination, regardless of suit. These sets can be consist entirely of natural cards or can contain a limited number of wild cards - Jokers and 2's are wild. For example, a player may lay down three Kings and four 5's for an initial meld of 50. It is also possible to meld with 2 Kings and a Joker. Each meld must contain more "natural" cards than wild cards. You cannot meld a set consisting entirely of wild cards, and you cannot meld black 3's or red 3's. The only other restriction in melding is that you cannot meld a Canasta (a set of seven cards of the same denomination) for an initial meld. However, two melds of the same denomination are allowed.

Canastas

Canastas are sets of 7 cards of the same denomination, regardless of suit, melded face up in front of a player. When a Canasta is made, the player stacks all 7 cards together and places either a black (spades or clubs) card or a red (hearts or diamonds) card on top to indicate the nature of that Canasta.

  • Canastas are said to be "red" when they contain no wild cards. A red Canasta is worth 500 points. When a natural Canasta is complete, a single Red Three may be added to it (but not more than one per Canasta). A natural Canasta topped with a Red 3 is worth 1,000 points.
  • Canastas are said to be "black" when they contain wild cards. These Canastas are worth 300 points. Even one wild card turns a Canasta "black" or "dirty". A black Canasta may only contain three or fewer wild cards.

When Canastas are made, they are set to the player’s left, out of play, and are scored at the end of the round.

When a player is trying to "Go Out", he may exceptionally meld 7 black 3's to make a Canasta. The Canasta of black 3's must not contain any wild cards and must be the last 7 cards in the player's hand. This Canasta is not worth any points, and is only useful for "Going Out". If a player is caught with Black 3's in his hand, the 3's do not count against him.

Red threes can never be made into a Canasta.

Once a Canasta has been made, no further cards may be added to it. Furthermore, once a Canasta has been made, natural cards may not be exchanged for wild cards already in the Canasta. The only time a Canasta 's value can be changed is when it is "red" and a Red 3 is placed upon it for a bonus. There are no bonuses possible for a black Canasta.

Picking up the Discard Pile

After a player has made his initial meld or "laid down", he may choose to pick up the discard pile or "Deck" to get more cards and score more points. When a player picks up the "Deck", he does not draw two cards from the 4 piles. A player must hold a pair of natural cards of the same denomination as the top card of the discard pile when it is his turn. For example a pair of 6’s could pick up the "Deck" when a 6 is the top card of the discard pile. However, a 6 and a wild card could not. Unlike other versions of Canasta, a player may not pick up the discard pile on the basis cards he has already melded to the table. However, if a player has melded 6's and still holds a pair of 6's, he may still pick up the "Deck".

Note that when picking up the deck, the player must show the two cards from his hand that entitle him to take the deck, but does not have to meld these cards in this turn (unlike most forms of Canasta). New Canasta is unusual in that a player who picks up the pile is free to keep some or all of the three cards in his hand for later use. This is most likely to happen when a player has a meld of 5 or 6 cards and a matching pair which he uses to pick up the pile. He can then complete the Canasta and keep the excess one or two cards of this rank in hand for future use, or discard them in future turns if unwanted.

There is also no "freezing of the Deck". The only time a player is prevented from picking up the Deck is when the previous player discards a wild card, a Black 3, or a Red 3.

In theory, a player who picks up the Deck continues his turn by melding cards as desired and ends it by discarding a card in the usual way. In practice, to save time, when a player picks up the Deck, he will typically discard a card and continue to play. This player is said to be "frozen in time" because he is playing his previous turn and continuing to meld cards while the other players are allowed to move on with the round. When the turn comes back to the player that picked up the Deck, play stops until the player draws 2 cards, finishes playing, and officially discards a card to the Discard Pile. A player is not allowed to pick up the Deck on 2 consecutive turns. Once the player officially discards a card, the round continues as normal.

When making an initial meld, the player wishing to pick up the discard pile may only use the top card from the pile and a natural pair in his hand as a meld. The rest of the initial meld must come from the player's hand. In this case, the player shows his pair of natural cards to the other players and lays it down while taking only the top card of the discard pile for a meld. If he has sufficient cards in his hand to complete the initial meld, he lays them down and then takes the discard pile into his hand. If he cannot make his initial meld, he takes the pair back into his hand and returns the third card of the same denomination back to the discard pile. The player has not officially discarded, but must draw 2 cards from the 4 piles and officially discard.

Going to the Down Hand

Once a player has melded all of the cards in his "looking" hand, that player can pick up his "down" hand and play them as well. If a player discards the last card in his "looking" hand, he may pick up, look at and sort his "down" hand, but may not play anything from it until his nest turn, because he has already discarded. However, if a player is still melding cards and gets to the "down" hand by melding the last of the cards from his "looking" hand, he may continue playing from his "down" hand until he is ready to discard a card or even Go Out. If a player has picked up the Deck before reaching his "down" hand, he must play through all of the cards he currently holds before looking at or playing his "down" hand.

Going Out

To end the current round, a player must "Go Out". To Go Out, a player must use up all of the cards in both hands as well as any cards he might hold from picking up the Deck. When a player Goes Out, all the other players get "Caught". That is, the remaining cards in their hands count against them and the values of these cards are subtracted from their scores. This negative count is said to be "To the Bad". A player needs two canastas to Go Out. The Canastas can be either Red or Black. However, if a player does not have two Canastas, that player must hold at least one card in his hand and continue to play. So if you do not have two canastas, you are not allowed to meld in a way that leaves you with only one card and then discard that, leaving nothing. At the end of your melding, you must have at least two cards, one to discard and one to keep for your next turn. A player may Go Out either by melding all his cards, or by melding all but one card and discarding his last card to Go Out.

If a player Goes Out while "frozen in time", all the other players are allowed to complete their turns, drawing, melding and discarding as usual, and the play ends when the turn reachs the player who went out.

If all the cards from all 4 draw piles are exhausted, every player has a final opportunity to make any plays they can. This includes picking up the Deck or discarding a card. A player who cannot or does not wish to take the Deck can just meld and discard without drawing; if a player does not take the Deck or meld, their turn just consists of discarding one card - a good opportunity to get rid of a Red Three. There is no Going Out bonus after the piles have been used up. Play continues until the round reaches the person who took the last card. This player has one more chance to play and then the round is over. It is very likely that all players will have cards that count against them.

Scoring

After a player Goes Out, play for that round ends and each player's score is tallied.

The Score Keeper will first ask for each player's "Top Count" which is the value of any Canastas that player has made. If a Red Canasta has a Red 3 placed on top of it, it is worth 1,000 points. If a Red Canasta has no Red 3 on it, it is worth 500 points. A Black Canasta is worth 300 points. After scoring the Canastas, any Red 3’s are discarded from all Red Canastas and are not counted for points. A player's "Top Count" is added to his current score. The Score Keeper must record all Top Counts before moving on to the next phase.

Next, each player counts the cards that remain in his hand and the Score Keeper scores this count. This is said to be "To the Bad". The value of the cards remaining in a player’s hand is subtracted from the player's current score. If a player is holding a Red 3, it counts minus 500 points. The Score Keeper must record all these scores before moving on to the next phase.

Finally, the players count the cards that they have melded. This includes the cards that make up a player's Canastas. This count is said to be "To the Good". The card values of the cards melded are added to the players' scores.

After tallying the total score for each player, the Score Keeper will go around the table, telling each player his final score for the round and the value of the initial meld he will need in the next round. In other words, what the player needs to "lay down".

Scoring Values:

  • Red (natural) Canasta = 500 points
  • Red (natural) Canasta with a Red 3 on top = 1,000 points
  • Black Canasta = 300 points
  • Going Out = 100 points
  • Precise Dealer Draw = 100 points

The following can count either to the Good or Bad:

  • Black 3's = 0 points each
  • 4's through 7's = 5 points each
  • 8's through Kings = 10 points each
  • Aces and 2's = 20 points each
  • Jokers = 50 points each

If a player is "caught" with Red 3's, (that is, they have not been placed on any "Natural" Canasta, but are still in a player's hand) they are always 500 points each "To the Bad".

End of the Game

The game is over when a player reaches or exceeds 10,000 pointsas his final score for the round. Note that if a player's Top Count puts him over 10,000, but his points To the Bad take him back below 10,000 points, the player is still under the score needed to win the game. If more than one player exceeds 10,000 points at the end of a round, the player with the highest total score wins.

Notes on the game

This game takes a considerable amount of time to play. For a good game, set aside an entire afternoon or evening.

There are those who play "Cut-Throat" Canasta, which means that they simply make 2 Black Canastas and then Go Out as quickly as possible. This can lead to a much longer game. However, if one is significantly behind, this is a good way to catch the leaders with lots of points To the Bad.

Many players who pick up the Deck discard a Black 3 and continue to play. This is done so that this player can save his Red 3’s for Red (natural) Canastas he hopes to make.

Some players pull a "Lester". This happens when a player melds as many cards as possible. He cannot "Go Out" because he doesn’t have 2 Canastas. This person inevitably ends up merely drawing 2 cards and discarding 1, adding a card to one of his melds from time to time, and usually holding 1 or 2 cards in his hand for multiple turns.

The game is often livened up by shouting out the point values of a player’s initial meld, especially when that person is trying to pick up the Deck. For example, shouting, "5, 10, 15!", when three 6's are melded. This can also prove to be quite intimidating to some players.

The only real way to win at this game is to pick up the Deck as often as possible. Although there is a risk of getting caught with red 3's, the number of possible Canastas makes the risk worth taking.

This is a great family game that all ages can play, but sometimes the younger players make it slow to a crawl. Some impose age limits for this reason.