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Manzana Canasta

Contributed by Paul Edwards (pceiii@earthlink.net)

The Cards

Manzana Canasta is played with one standard 52 card deck plus two jokers. They have the following point values: Jokers are 50 points each; aces and deuces are 20 points each; kings down through eights are 10 points each; sevens down through fours are 5 points each. Black threes are 5 points each.

The cards ace, king through four are called natural cards. The deuces and jokers are called wild cards. Wild cards can be used during the game as substitutes for a natural card of any rank. Threes have special functions.

The Deal and Play

The game is usually played by two.

Each player is dealt a hand of seven cards and the rest of the deck is placed face down as a stock in the center of the table. The player who is not the dealer plays first. Thereafter the turn to deal alternates.

A turn starts with either drawing the top card of the stock or of picking up the discard pile. In the case of drawing the top card, you add it to your hand without showing it to the other player, make any other card plays and discard one card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile. In the case of picking up the discard pile, you must make a meld using the top card and any other card plays and then discard one card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile or go out.

After drawing, but before discarding, you might be able to play some cards from your hand face up on the table. To play cards to the table in this way is called melding, and the sets of cards so played are melds. These melds remain face up on the table until the end of the play.

The play ends when a player goes out, i.e. disposes of all the cards in hand. You are only allowed to go out after you have completed at least one four-card meld called a canasta. Having done this, you can go out by melding all but one of the cards in your hand and discarding this last card or by melding your whole hand, leaving no discard. The game can also end if the stock pile runs out of cards, so a player who wishes to draw from the stock is unable to do so, because there are no cards left, then play ends immediately and the hand is scored.

Under certain conditions, instead of drawing from the stock, you are permitted to take the whole of the discard pile. In order to do this, you must be able to meld the top discard, without needing any of the other cards in the discard pile to make your meld valid. The procedure in this case is:

  1. Place the necessary cards from your hand face up on the table, and add the top card of the discard pile to them to form a valid meld or melds.
  2. Take all the remaining cards of the discard pile and add them to your hand.
  3. If you wish, make further melds from the cards you now have in your hand.
  4. Discard one card face up on the discard pile to end your turn.


The object of the game is to score points by melding cards. A valid meld consists of three or more cards. The meld must have at least two cards of the same natural rank (any rank from four up to ace), such as two nines, three kings, four fives, etc. Wild cards (jokers and twos) can normally be used in melds as substititutes for natural cards of the appropriate rank. For example Q-Q-Q-2 or 8-8-joker would be valid melds.

A meld containing two natural cards can have at most one wild card. A meld containing three natural cards can have any number of wild cards added to it, since the first wild card added makes the meld a canasta. Melds consisting entirely of wild cards are not allowed.

Red threes are used only as bonus cards, so they are not melded.

Black threes, called "stop" cards, are used only to temporarily freeze the discard pile, so they are not melded.


A meld of four cards is called a canasta. If all of the cards in it are natural, it is called a natural or red canasta; the cards are squared up and a natural red card is placed on top. If it includes one or more wild cards, it is called a mixed or black canasta; it is squared up with a natural black card on top. A canasta must have at least three natural cards. Once a canasta has been made, any number of wild cards or another natural card of the same rank can be added to it.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen at random, and thereafter the turn to deal alternates, after each hand. The dealer shuffles and the other player cuts. Each player is dealt 7 cards, and the rest of the cards are placed in a face-down stock pile in the center of the table. The top card of the stock is taken off and placed face up next to the stock pile, to start the discard pile. If this first face-up card is wild or a red three, another card is turned and places on top of it, continuing until a card which is not a wild card or red three is turned up; the wild card or red three should be stacked at right angles to the rest of the pile, to indicate that the discard pile is frozen (see below).

Each player must immediately place face-up in front of them any red threes they are dealt, and then must draw an equal number of cards from the top of the stock pile to replace the red threes.

The Play

As usual, each turn is begun by either drawing the top card from the face-down stock or taking the whole of the discard pile. The player may meld some cards (and must do so if taking the discard pile). Each turn must be ended by discarding one card face-up on top of the discard pile, unless going out.

A player may always opt to draw the top card of the stock pile, but can only take the discard pile if a meld can be made with its top card, combined with cards from the hand if necessary.

If the discard pile is not frozen against you and if the top card of the pile is a natural card (from four up to ace), you can take the pile by playing two cards from your hand that make a valid meld with the top discard. These must be two natural cards of the same rank as the top card if you are melding for the first time or the discard pile is frozen, otherwise they can be one such natural card and one wild card.

You must show that you can use the top card in a valid meld before you are allowed to pick up the rest of the pile. After picking up the pile, you can then make further melds. For example, if there is a five on top of the pile and another five buried, you cannot use a single five in your hand to take the pile and meld the three fives. But if you have two fives in your hand you can meld these with the five on top of the pile, take the pile, and then add the other five to this meld. Note that you can never take the discard pile if its top card is a wild card or a black three. Note also that it is not necessary to take the discard pile in order to meld. If you wish, you can meld after drawing from the stock.

It is possible to pick up the discard pile if it is not frozen and you have a meld or canasta in the same rank as the top card of the pile.

Frozen Discard Pile

There are three ways that the discard pile can be frozen against you.

  1. The discard pile is frozen against all players if it contains a wild card. To show that it is frozen, the wild card is placed at right angles in the pile, so that it is still visible after other cards are discarded on top of it.
  2. In the unusual case where a red three is turned up to start the discard pile after the deal, the discard is frozen against all players, and the red three is placed at a right angle to show this.
  3. If you have not yet melded, the discard pile is frozen against you.

When the discard pile is frozen against you, you can only take it if you hold in your hand two natural cards of the same rank as the top card of the discard pile, and you use these with the top discard to make a meld.

Additionally, a black three discarded by your opponent freezes the discard pile for your current play.

Meld Requirement

If you have not yet melded, then in order to meld, the total value of the cards you lay down must meet the minimum count of 30. To achieve this count, you can put several melds at once, and the melds can be of more than the minimum size of three cards. The standard values of the cards you play are added to check whether the requirement has been met.

If you have not yet melded, the discard pile is frozen against you. Therefore, in order to achieve the minimum count, you must either meld entirely from your hand after drawing from the stock, or you must use two natural cards from your hand which match the top card of the discard pile. In this second case, you can count the value of the top discard, along with the cards you play from your hand in this and any other melds, towards the minimum count. You cannot count any other cards in the pile which you may intend to add in the same turn. Bonuses for red threes, canastas and so on cannot be counted towards meeting the minimum.


If you draw a red three, you must immediately place it face-up on the table with your melds (or where your melds will be, if you have not melded yet). You then draw a replacement card from the face-down stock. Although red threes score bonus points they do not count as meld, and do not help you to satisfy the minimum count requirement for your initial meld. Occasionally it happens that a red three is turned up at the end of the deal as a start card for the discard pile. This freezes the discard pile (see below). If you take the discard pile, you put the red three face-up with your melds, but do not draw a replacement card.

If you draw a black three, you may play it to freeze the discard pile for as long as it is the top card. Black threes cannot be melded, even when you want to go out.

Going Out

The play ends as soon as a player goes out. You can only go out if you have melded at least one canasta. Once you have a canasta, you may go out if you can and wish to, by melding all of your cards, or by melding all but one and discarding your last card. It is legal to complete the required canasta and go out on the same turn.

If you do not yet have a canasta, you are not allowed to leave yourself without any cards at the end of your turn: you must play in such a way as to keep at least one card after discarding. It is against the rules in this case to meld all your cards except one. You would then be forced to discard this last card, which would constitute going out illegally.

Another way that play can end is when there are no more cards left in the face-down stock. Play can continue with no stock as long as each player takes the previous player's discard and melds it. In this situation a player must take the discard if the pile is not frozen and if the discard matches any of that player's melds. As soon as a player is entitled to draw from the stock and chooses to do so, but there is no playable card in the stock, the play ends.

If a player draws a red three as the last card of the stock, the red three is placed face up as usual and then, since there is no replacement card that can be drawn from the stock, the play immediately ends. The player who drew the red three is not allowed to meld nor discard.


When the play has ended the hand is scored. Each player's score for the hand consists of:

  • the total value of any bonuses they are entitled to,
  • plus the total value of all the cards they have melded,
  • minus the total value of any cards remaining in their hands.

The bonus scores are as follows:

  100 points for going out
  200 points for going out with your whole hand melded, with at least one canasta, in one turn, called going out "concealed"
  500 points for each natural (red) canasta
  300 points for each mixed (black) canasta
  100 points for each red three laid down, if the player has at least one meld
  400 points for two red threes laid down, if the player has at least one meld
Note that if a player does not manage to meld at all, then one red three counts minus 100 points and two red threes counts minus 400 points.

After the bonuses have been calculated, the cards melded by each player are counted using the standard values. Black threes are worth 5 points each. For ease of counting and checking, the usual method is to group the cards into piles worth 100 points each. A cumulative total score is kept for each player. It is possible to have a negative score.

When one or both players have a total of 10,000 or more points at the end of a hand, the game ends and the player with the higher total score wins. The margin of victory is the difference between the scores.


The pace of this game is a very quick, somewhat like gin or gin rummy. It is not unusual for a hand to last no more than 2 minutes. Scores seem to range between 130 and 4500 points (in the case one player dominates the discard pile) per game.

It's a good idea to watch the level of the stock pile and play accordingly. There is enough variation in the fall of cards to keep one interested. Successful play depends on good use of the limited number of wild cards.


Variations to these rules are enthusiastically invited - contact Paul Edwards (pceiii@earthlink.net). Scoring is one area to investigate and progressively higher first meld point count is another. Also, the black threes could be melded on going out by adding a wild card to make a three card meld.

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Last updated: 15th August 2003