Pennies from Heaven

This page is partly based on contributions from Barbara Bain and from Gorgon.

Introduction

The games described on this page belong to a distinctive North American variety of Canasta or Hand and Foot with the following special features:

  1. As in Hand and Foot, each player is dealt a second hand of cards, which can be picked up only when when the player has completed a canasta.
  2. There are four types of canasta: natural (red), mixed (black), wild (twos and jokers only) and sevens. A team needs one of each type to go out.
In the card game literature this type of game is generally known as Pennies from Heaven. Gorgon has contributed a version called Railroad Canasta, and Barbara Bain's version of Hand and Foot is another game of this type.

Pennies from Heaven

Almost identical descriptions of this game appears in the US Playing Card Company's publication "Official Rules of Card Games" and in John Scarne's "Encyclopedia of Games". The rules of ordinary Canasta apply, except for the differences explained below.

Players and Cards

There are 6 players in two teams, sitting alternately. 4 packs of cards are used, including 2 jokers for each pack - a total of 216 cards. All twos and jokers are wild. Red and black threes have special properties as in regular canasta. The values of the individual cards, as in Canasta, are:

Joker ..... 50 points each
Two, Ace ..... 20 points each
K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 ..... 10 points each
7, 6, 5, 4, black 3 ..... 5 points each

Deal

The dealer deals 13 cards to each player, one at a time, which the players may look at, followed by a further 11 cards to each, which must not be looked at and are kept in a face-down pile until the player has completed a canasta. The remaining stock of 72 cards is placed face down and its top card is turned face up beside it to start the discard pile.

Play

A turn consists of the following stages:

  1. Drawing the top two cards from the stock or taking the entire discard pile.
  2. Possibly starting a new meld or adding one or more cards to your own side's melds.
  3. Discarding one card from your hand face up on the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas

A canasta is a meld of seven cards. Four types of canasta are possible.

TypeDescriptionBonus
Natural (red) canastaSeven cards of the same rank with no wild cards.500 points
Mixed (black) canastaContains one, two or three wild cards. The remaining cards are all of the same rank (not threes or sevens).300 points
Wild canastaAny seven wild cards.1000 points
Sevens canastaSeven sevens (no wild cards)1500 points

A meld can be started with three or more cards and built up to a canasta by adding cards on later turns. No meld may ever contain more than seven cards. If you have completed a canasta, it is permissible for your team to start another separate meld of the same rank.

A mixed meld in course of construction must contain at least two natural (non-wild) cards and cannot contain more than three wild cards. A natural meld can be turned into a mixed meld by adding wild cards to it.

The minimum requirements for a team's initial meld are as follows:

Team's cumulative scoreMinimum initial meld
Any minus score ..... 15 points
0 - 4995 ..... 50 points
5000 - 9995 ..... 90 points
10000 - 14995 ..... 120 points
15000 or more ..... 150 points
Bonuses for red threes and canastas do not count towards this minimum - it must be achieved from the value of the cards in the meld.

NOTE: Few books include this game. Two that do are Scarne's Encyclopedia of Games (1973) and the Bicycle Official Rules of Card Games (1994, 1999). Both give the score ranges for the different initial meld requirements as 0 - 495; 500 - 995; 1000 - 1495; 1500+. Comparing these with the typical amount that can be scored in a hand and the target score for the game, it seems certain that this must be a misprint, and the ranges should be increased by a factor of 10, as in the table above. My thanks to Jonny Groves for pointing out this error.

Discarding, freezing and taking the pile

Sevens cannot be discarded unless both teams have completed a canasta of sevens. Any other card, including a wild card, can be discarded.

You can never take the pile if the top card is a wild card or a three.

If the top card of the pile is a natural card and you have two matching natural cards in your hand, you can always take the pile, provided that:

  1. You immediately meld its top card together with the two cards from your hand;
  2. If your side has not melded before, you must at the same time put down sufficient cards from your hand, in this and possibly other melds, to satisfy the minimum meld requirement. Only after meeting this requirement are you allowed to take the rest of the pile.

If a wild card is discarded, it is placed sideways in the pile, which is then frozen. If the pile is not frozen (i.e. does not contain a wild card buried in it), you can also take the pile if its top card matches one of your team's existing (pure or mixed) melds of fewer than 7 cards, and you must then add the card to the meld. However, if a card is discarded that matches one of your completed 7-card canastas, you cannot take the pile unless you have two matching natural cards of that rank in your hand, and you use these three cards to start a new meld of that rank.

Picking up the Foot

You are not allowed to look at your face down cand of 11 cards until you have personally completed a canasta - i.e. contributed the seventh and last card to a canasta for your team. When you first complete a canasta in this way, after discarding at the end of that turn, you pick up your 11 face down cards and add them to the cards in your hand.

Red and Black Threes

Anyone who is dealt or draws a red three must immediately place it face up with their team's melds and draw a replacement card from the stock. Red threes do not count towards a team's minimum meld. If a red three is turned up as the first card of the pile after the deal, it freezes the pile, and the first player to take the pile must immediately lay out the red three. At the end, if you have completed your canasta of sevens, each red three you have laid out counts for 100 points bonus. A team which has all eight red threes counts 1000 points instead of 800. If a player has not yet completed a cansta and picked up their 11 card packet (foot), any red threes in the 11 cards count minus 100. If a team has not completed a canasta of sevens by the time the game ends (either because the other team goes out or because the stock is exhausted), all their red threes count minus 100 each (minus 1000 if they have all eight).

Black threes cannot be melded except by a player going out, who can at that point put down three or more of them as a meld (no wild cards are allowed in a meld of black threes). If a black three is discarded, the next player in turn is not allowed to pick up the pile, but as soon as the black three is covered it ceases to have an effect.

Going out and winning

You can only go out when your team has completed all four types of canasta. You must have at least one example of each type - natural, mixed, wild and sevens - completed with 7 cards in each, and you may also have additional canastas or smaller melds of any types. If your team has not satisfied these conditions you are not allowed to play in such a way as to leave yourself with no cards. You may (but need not) ask permission to go out from one of your partners, and if you choose to ask you must do as the partner says. To go out you meld all of your cards, or all except one, which you discard. Your final discard cannot be a seven.

After a player goes out both teams score for all the cards in their melds, plus any bonuses for canastas, and the team that went out scores 100 bonus for this. They subtract the value of all the cards left in their hands, including the 11-card packets (feet) of any players who have not yet picked theirs up. Scores for red threes are added or subtracted as appropriate.

It can happen that no one succeeds in going out before the stock runs out. In that case the play ends at the moment someone wishes to draw cards from the stock, but there are no cards left there. However the game can continue without a stock as long as each player is able and willing to take the previous player's discard. If the game ends because the stock has run out, the hand is scored in the usual way, except that of course that neither team gets the 100-point bonus.

The play can also end if one player has a hand consisting entirely of sevens, but at least one team has not completed its sevens canasta. If possible, you must play to avoid this situation: you are not allowed to meld all your other cards, leaving yourself only with sevens; you must keep at least one legal discard. However, if you discarded your last non-seven on your previous turn, and you then draw two more sevens from the stock pile, you have no way to discard. In this situation you may meld all but one of your sevens (if legal) and then because you have no discard the play ends. Both teams score in the usual way and no one gets the 100-point bonus for going out.

When either team reaches 20,000 points or more at the end of a hand, the team with more points wins. In case of equality, another hand is played.

Railroad Canasta

This section is based on a contribution from Gorgon.

As in Pennies from Heaven, most of the basic rules of Canasta apply. The exceptions are as follows:

Players and Cards
Two or more people can play and two decks of cards are used per person, including the jokers, of which there may be two or more per deck.

Deal and Play

As in some versions of Hand and Foot, everyone deals their own cards. All the cards are put in a big pile on the table and each player counts out the nember of cards they need: 13 cards for their hand and 11 for their kitty.

For convenience, the stock is arranged into several piles. When you draw from the stock you take two cards. These can be taken from the top of any stock pile(s).

Canastas

Once a meld contains 7 cards, it is a closed canasta, and no more cards can be added to it. If you have three more cards of that rank, you can meld them as a new set.

There are four kinds of canasta:

  • red, consisting of 7 natural cards of the same rank;
  • black, consisting of at least 4 natural cards of the same rank and the remainder wild;
  • wild, consisting of 7 wild cards;
  • seven canasta, which is just that - a canasta of seven sevens.
A closed red or black canasta is indicated by squaring up the cards with a red or black natural card on top.
 
Picking up the Kitty
You are not allowed to look at your 11 card kitty until after you have discarded for the turn in which you complete your first non-black canasta. At that point you pick up your kitty and add it to your hand.

Red Threes
Red threes never count against a player, always in favour. There is no extra bonus for having all of them - they just count +100 each.

Black Threes

Black threes stop the next player from taking the pile as usual. When going out, and making a meld of black threes, you can have as many as you want - this is the only meld that is not limited to seven cards. You do not count a canasta bonus for a meld of black threes, however.

Going out

To go out, you must have completed at least one 7 card canasta of each of the four types.
You go out by melding all your cards except one, and discarding the last card. You are not allowed to meld everything and leave yourself with no discard. When a player goes out the play ends and the hand is scored.

Scoring

The bonuses are:
  • 100 for each red three
  • 100 for going out
  • 300 for each black canasta
  • 500 for each red canasta
  • 1000 for each wild canasta
  • 1500 for each 7 canasta
The cards you have melded also score their usual values (50, 20, 10, 5) and you subtract points for any cards left in your hand, or in your kitty if you have not picked it up.

Bain Hand and Foot

This version was contributed by Barbara Bain

This game is included here because it has more in common with Pennies from Heaven than with the games described on the Hand and Foot page. It is for 4 players in fixed partnerships using 4 decks of cards complete with two jokers per deck.

Each player is dealt a hand of 15 cards and a foot of 13 cards. Before play begins, you may take one look at your foot of 13 cards, and it must then be set aside face down for later use.

The game continues until one team wins by having a cumulative score of 20,000 or more points. The minimum initial meld requirement depends on your team's score:

Your scoreMinimum meld
negative......no minimum
0 to 4,999......50
5,000 to 9,999......90
10,000 to 14,999......120
15,000 to 20,000......150

In melds you must have more normal cards than wild cards - so there can be up to 3 wild cards in a dirty canasta, and up to two wild cards in a dirty meld of five or six cards.

[It is not stated, but probably, as in other versions of Hand and Foot, a player draws two cards from the stock pile on each turn. We may also assume that the discard pile can only be taken by a player who has two natural cards matching the top card of the pile.]

If a joker or deuce is discarded, it is placed crosswise on the discard pile so that it remains visible when other cards are discarded on top of it. When taking the discard, a player takes all the cards down to and including the next discarded joker or deuce. If there are none, the whole pile is taken.

If you make the initial meld for your team, you are not allowed to complete a canasta until your partner has completed a canasta. Having made a canasta, your partner immediately picks up her 13 foot cards and adds them to her hand cards. You may now complete a canasta and as soon as you have done so you may also pick up your 13 card 'foot' and add it to your hand. Once both partners have made canastas and picked up their foot, both are free to complete further canastas when they wish to, and to go out when they satisfy the conditions.

In order to go out you must have at least:

  • one canasta of seven sevens (no wild cards)
  • one canasta of seven wild cards
  • one 'black' canasta (that is one which contains 1-3 wild cards)
  • one 'red' canasta (that is a canasta without any wild cards)
In addition, you cannot go out until all eight red threes are face up on the table.

To go out, you must be able to meld all your cards except one and discard your last card. You may then (if you wish) ask your partner for permission to go out and must follow partner's decision, [or presumably if you wish to you can just go out without consulting partner].

The bonus scores are:

Canasta of sevens........1500
Canasta of Wild Cards........1000
Red Canasta........500
Black Canasta........300
Bonus for going out........200
Red Threes........100 each

In order for your red threes to count plus 100, you must have a complete canasta of sevens when the play is finished. If you do not, the red threes your side has put on the table will count 100 points each against you.

Once you have your canasta of seven sevens on the table, you may start a "garbage pile" on your side of the table. In the garbage pile you can meld any cards of ranks for which you already have a complete canasta. The values of the cards in your garbage pile will be included in your final score.

Sevens may never be discarded or placed in the garbage pile. If after completing your canasta of sevens you draw another one you must hold onto it, and it will prevent you from going out, even if you have met all the other requirements. However, if you manage to collect three sevens you may start a second meld of sevens and get rid of them that way. If you reduce your hand to just one seven and you then draw two sevens from the stock, the game automatically ends.

Other Pennies from Heaven Web Pages

Randy Rasa's Rummy-Games.com site includes pages on Pennies from Heaven and the similar game Mexicana.