Canastone

Introduction

Canastone (meaning 'Large Canasta') is a three-pack version of Canasta played in Italy, and sometimes known in English as Italian Canasta. It differs from classic Canasta in several ways. For example in each turn a player draws either two cards from the stock or the whole discard pile plus one card from the stock. At the start of the game the discard pile contains a number of extra cards determined by the turned up card. There are special bonuses for completing canastas of wild cards and canastas of Aces.

Players and Cards

There are four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. Deal and play are clockwise.

A pack of 162 cards is used, made up of three standard 52-card packs plus six Jokers. Because it is only the colours of the cards, red or black, that are significant and not the actual suits, it is sometimes played with special cards that show red discs instead of hearts and diamonds and black discs instead of spades and clubs.

  • All Jokers (known as mattoni) and Twos (known as pinelle) are wild cards.
  • Threes have special functions - see below.
  • The other cards A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 are natural cards.

The individual cards have values as follows:

Joker 50
Two, Ace 20
K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 10
7, 6, 5, 4 5
Black 3 5
Red 3 see scoring

Melds

As in all forms of Canasta, the aim of each team is to score points by putting down 'melds' consisting of sets of 3 or more cards of equal rank, laid out face up on the table. The melds, also known as columns since the cards of each meld are normally stored in an overlapping column, are the property of a team, not an individual player. Once a meld has been begun, either partner can add further cards of the same rank to it, but a player can never add cards to a meld belonging to the opposing team.

In meld of natural cards, wild cards can be included as substitutes for the required rank. However there must always be more natural cards than wild cards, and a meld of a natural rank can never contain more than two wild cards. So a 3-card or 4-card meld natural meld can include one wild card (for example 7-7-2) and a natural meld of 5 or more cards can include one or two wild cards (for example K-K-K-2-Joker). A meld without wild cards is known as pure or clean (pulito), while a meld containing natural and wild cards is impure, mixed or dirty (sporco).

A meld of seven (or more) cards is known as a canasta and scores a bonus for the team. The cards are squared up with a red card on top of the pile if it is clean or a (natural) black card if it is dirty. The owners of the canasta can add further natural cards of the same rank by placing them under the pile, but wild cards cannot be added to a canasta.

It is also possible to put down a meld consisting entirely of wild cards (Twos and Jokers), but this commits the team to try to complete a canasta of (at least) seven wild cards. A team that has a meld of fewer than 7 wild cards on the table is not allowed to go out, and cannot use wild cards for any other purpose except to add to this meld. They cannot add a wild card to any other meld or discard a wild card to freeze the pile (see below). A wild card canasta that either consists entirely of Twos or all contains all six Jokers (with one Two) is considered clean. A wild card canasta that contains from 1 to 5 Jokers is considered dirty. A smaller meld of wild cards is clean only if it can be extended to a make a clean canasta. So a wild card meld is dirty if it contains two or more Twos and one or more Jokers.

A team cannot have more than one meld of the same rank. Once a meld of a particular rank has been started, any further cards of that rank laid down by that team must be added to that same meld. (So for example a team that has a dirty meld of 9-9-2 cannot subsequently begin a separate clean meld of Nines in the hope of completing a clean canasta - the two Nines melds would be combined into a single dirty meld).

A card, whether natural or wild, that has been placed in a meld can never be moved to a different meld or taken back into a player's hand.

Threes cannot be melded in sets in the usual way. Individual red Threes are laid out alongside a team's melds and affect the score. Black Threes can never be melded: they can only be disposed of by discarding them.

Deal

If not arranged in advance the partnerships are decided by drawing cards from the shuffled deck - the two players drawing highest cards playing against the two who draw the lowest. The player who draws the highest card will play first, and the player to this player's right is the first dealer. Subsequently, the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer shuffles the deck, gives the cards to the right-hand opponent to cut, and then deals the cards one at a time, giving each player a hand of 15 cards. The dealer places the next card face up on the table to begin the discard pile (pozzo). If it is a Three or wild card, a second and if necessary a third card is placed face up on top of it until a natural card is found. If the first three cards are all wild cards or Threes, the deal is annulled: the cards are gathered up, shuffled, cut and dealt again by the same dealer. The dealer then deals a packet of extra cards face down and adds them to the discard pile, sliding them underneath the face up card(s). The number of cards in this face down packet is determined by the rank of the natural face up card: 14 cards for an Ace, 13 for a King, 12 for a Queen, 11 for a Jack, 10 for a Ten, and so on down to 4 cards for a Four. These unknown extra cards will be acquired by the first player who takes the discard pile. If any of the face up cards dealt to the initial discard pile is a Two or Joker, it is turned sideways, protruding from the pile, to indicate that the pile is frozen.

The remainder of the pack is stacked face down beside the discard pile. This is the stock pile (tallone), from which cards will be drawn during the play.

Before the play begins, any players who have been dealt any red Threes must place them face up in their teams' meld area, and the dealer gives them an equal number of replacement cards so that everyone begins with a hand of 15 cards without red Threes. This is done in clockwise order around the table, beginning with the player to dealer's left.

Play

The players take turns to play in clockwise order, beginning with the player to dealer's left.

A player whose team has not yet put down its opening meld has two possibilities.

  1. A player who has the necessary cards in hand to form an opening meld may open for the team by putting down this meld and then continue by taking a normal turn.
  2. A player who cannot or does not wish to open must draw the top two cards from the stock, add them to hand, put down any red Threes drawn and replace them with new cards from the stock, and finally end their turn by discarding any one card from hand face up on top of the discard pile.

Note that in this version of Canasta, a team's opening meld can only put down as the first action of a player's turn, before any cards are taken from the stock or discard pile. If it is only after drawing from the stock that the player is able to satisfy the opening meld requirements, the player must wait until their next turn to put down the meld.

Once a team has meld on the table then further options are available. The opening meld could have been put down by the current player at the start of this turn or on a previous turn, or by the player's partner. Note that red Threes do not count as meld for this purpose. The turn of a player whose team has opened consists of the following steps.

  1. Either
    1. draw the top two cards from the stock, or
    2. lay down two natural cards that match the rank of the top card of the discard pile (three natural cards are required if the discard pile is frozen - see below), add this top discard to these matching cards to form a new meld or add these cards to an existing meld of the same rank, take the whole of the rest of the discard pile into hand, and in addition draw one card from the top of the stock. (If this card is a red Three it must be laid out and replaced by another card drawn from stock.)
  2. Optionally, put down new melds for the team or add cards to the team's existing melds, in accordance with the melding rules above.
  3. Discard one card face up on top of the discard pile.

The first player who takes the discard pile will acquire as part of it the packet of 4 to 14 face down cards that was placed there during the deal. Any red Threes in this packed must immediately be laid out alongside the team's meld, but in this case only the red Threes are not replaced with cards from the talon.

Opening Meld

A team's first meld must be put down by one member of the team as the first action of their turn, before drawing any cards. It will consist of one or more valid melds of three or more cards, and the total value of the cards in these melds must meet a minimum point requirement which depends on the team's cumulative score at the start of play as follows.

Team score Minimum Opening
Meld Value
less than 3000 50
3000-4995 90
5000-6995 120
7000-9995 160
10000-11995 180
12000 or more * 200

* The last row of the table is of course relevant only if the game is played to a target of more than 12000 points.

When the minimum is 50 there is an additional requirement that opening meld must consist only of pure melds - for example Q-Q-Q, 5-5-5-5 gives a value of 50 points. When the requirement is 90 or higher, dirty melds can be included - for example A-A-Joker for an opening meld of 90.

It is only the values of the individual cards in the opening meld that are added to satisfy the opening meld requirement. Canasta bonuses do not count towards the requirement even if the opening meld includes a complete canasta: neither do the values of red Threes that the team may already have laid out.

It is possible within a single turn for a player to put down an opening meld and then in addition expose two or three natural cards which enable the player also to take the discard pile and draw a card from the stock. The player may then use these newly acquired cards to extend the opening melds and add new melds. However, in this case neither the cards laid down to claim the discard pile nor any of the extra cards thereby obtained can be counted towards the opening meld requirement. The minimum value must be reached using complete melds from the player's hand at the start of the turn.

Threes

Black Threes cannot be melded. When a black Three is on top of the discard pile the pile cannot be taken, and for this reason black Threes are sometimes called "stop cards". However, this stop effect only lasts for one turn. When the black Three is covered by the next player's discard, it no longer has any influence. Black Threes in players' hands at the end of the play count 5 points each against the team holding them.

Red Threes must be placed on the table in the team's meld area as soon as they are acquired. They give the team a bonus or a penalty, depending what canastas the team manages to complete before the end of the play. They are not regarded as meld, and do not count for or against the points required for a team's opening meld. Red Threes obtained in the deal or drawn from the stock pile are immediately replaced by drawing new cards from the stock. Red Threes obtained from the discard pile (only possible for the first player who takes the pile since they cannot be discarded) are laid out as usual but not replaced.

Frozen Discard Pile

If the discard pile contains a face up Two or Joker it is said to be frozen (gelato). This effect continues even after other cards are discarded on top of the wild card. Wild cards are placed sideways in the discard pile, so that players can see that the pile is frozen even when the wild card is buried within the pile.

When the pile is frozen, three (instead of two) natural cards matching the top card are needed to take it. As usual the player places the three cards face up, adds the top card of the discard pile to them to make a meld, and then takes the rest of the discard pile into hand (including the wild card(s) in it, and also draws the top card from the stock pile. The player may then meld further cards, and finally discards a card to end their turn.

If a player discards a wild card, this stops the next player from taking the pile (since the pile can only be taking by matching a natural card that is on top of the pile), and also freezes the pile for all subsequent players. The discard pile may also be frozen at the start of the game if when forming the discard pile the dealer turned up a wild card before finding a natural card. Obviously wild cards in the face down packet of cards placed under the discard pile at the start of the game do not freeze the pile, since no one knows what cards are in this packet until a player takes the pile.

End of the Play

The play ends when a player completes their turn by discarding the only remaining card from their hand, leaving them with no cards. This is known as closing (chiusura). A player is only allowed to close the play if the following conditions are met:

  1. The closing player's team must have completed at least one clean and one dirty canasta.
  2. The closing player's team cannot have a wild card meld with fewer than seven cards.
  3. The closing player's final discard cannot be a wild card or a Three.

A player who is able to close the play is permitted (but not required) to ask partner's permission before doing so. In this case, the partner's response is binding. If a player asks for permission to close and partner says yes the player must close, but if partner says no the player is not allowed to close on this turn. On a future turn the same player is free to ask again, or to close without asking.

A player who cannot satisfy the conditions above is not allowed to close, and must therefore keep at least two cards in hand after melding, one to discard and at least one to continue play.

Note that a discard is required at the end of every turn, including the turn on which a player closes. A player is not permitted to close by melding all their cards: they must always keep a card to discard, and when closing this final card must be a natural card.

The play also ends if the stock is exhausted - specifically if it contains only one card or no cards at all at the start of a player's turn, since the player would then be unable to draw two cards.

In the rare case where a player draws the last two cards of the stock and one of these cards is a red Three, 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.

Scoring

When the play ends, each team scores positive points for the cards they have melded and negative points for any cards remaining in their hands. The values were given above in the section Players and Cards. If a team has not made their opening meld before the play ends the values of the cards in their hands are doubled and scored as negative points.

In addition, bonus points are scored for complete canastas and by the team that closed the game. The bonus scores are as follows:

For the team that closed the play 300
For each dirty canasta (4 to King) 300
For each clean canasta (4 to King) 500
For a dirty canasta of Aces 500
For a clean canasta of Aces 1000
For a dirty wild canasta (1 to 5 Jokers with Twos) 2000
For a clean canasta of seven Twos 3000
For a clean canasta of 6 Jokers and 1 Two 5000
Extra bonus for completing 5 canastas (clean and dirty) 1000
Or: extra bonus for completing 5 clean + 1 dirty canasta 2000

Notes:

  • If the play ends because the stock is exhausted, neither team scores the 300 points for closing.
  • All canasta bonuses are in addition to the scores for the individual cards that make up the canasta.
  • The extra bonuses for 5 or more canastas are additional to the bonuses for the individual canastas. A team with at least 5 canastas including at least one clean and one dirty scores 1000 points. A team with at least 5 clean canastas plus at least one dirty canasta scores 2000 points instead of 1000.

Red Threes may score positive or negative points depending on the canastas completed by the team. The basic score for each red Three laid out is 100 points. This is affected by the number of red Threes that the team has, and their canastas as follows.

  • If the team has completed at least one clean and one dirty canasta their score for any red Threes is positive.
  • If the team has completed at least one clean canasta but no dirty canasta they do not score for red Threes.
  • If the team has completed at least one dirty canasta but no clean canasta their score for any red Threes is negative.
  • If the team has not completed any canastas at all, their score for any red Threes is negative and doubled.
  • If a team has laid out four or more red Threes, their score for them, positive or negative, is doubled.

So for example a team that has a clean and a dirty canasta scores +300 for three red Threes. For four red Threes they would score +800. A team with no canastas scores -600 for three red Threes. For four red Threes they would score -1600.

It is not possible to avoid a penalty score for red Threes by keeping them in hand - they must be laid out as soon as they are received. For any red Three found in a player's hand when the play ends, the team scores -500 points.

The total score for the deal is added to the team's cumulative score. In some cases a team's score for a deal can be negative, and this can result in a negative cumulative score.

The game ends when one or both teams have a cumulative score of 12000 or more. At that point the team with the higher score wins the game, and the margin of victory is the difference between the scores.

Variations

Canastone can be played by 6 people using the same rules as above. There are two teams of three players, each player sitting between two opponents.

The rules above are typical, so far as we know, but there are numerous variations. For example:

  • Some play that the opening meld must consist always entirely of clean melds, even when the requirement is higher than 50 points.
  • Some play that a team that has a negative cumulative score has no minimum opening meld requirement - or equivalently that the minimum is 15, since this is the lowest possible value of a meld.
  • Some play that an opening meld that includes a pure Joker meld (for example 2-Joker-Joker or Joker-Joker-Joker), called an apertura di mattoni, imposes a constraint on the opposing team. The sources are not completely clear, but it seems for one round (i.e. until the opener's next turn) the opponents are not allowed to open with a pure Joker meld and take the discard pile. Presumably they can take the discard pile if they open using other combinations, and they can open with a pure Joker meld provided that they do not take the pile.
  • Some allow the value of the top card of the discard pile and the cards used to take it to be counted towards a team's opening meld requirement.
  • Some play that you cannot take the discard pile if its top card matches the value of one of your team's canastas. So cards that match your opponents' canastas act essentially like black Threes if you discard them. Of course the opponents will be able to add them to their canastas if they eventually take the pile containing these cards.
  • Some play to a target score of 15000 instead of 12000.
  • Some allow players to hold red Threes in their hand, and to discard them instead of laying them out. A discarded red Three blocks the pile for one turn in the same way as a black Three. As mentioned above, any red Threes found in a player's hand when the play ends count -500 points for the team.
  • Some allow a player to close the play by melding all their cards, with no final discard.
  • Some play that a team must have two clean canastas in order to be allowed to close the play.
  • Some do not allow a player to consult partner about whether to close the play.
  • Some do not recognise the extra bonuses for having 5 canastas.

References

E. Fantini & C.E. Santelia: I Giochi di Carte (Rizzoli, Milano, 1997)

Benito Carobene: Il Grande Libro dei Giochi con le Carte (Da Vecche, Milano, 2006)

G. Farina & A. Lamberto: Enciclopedia delle Carte (Ulrico Hoepli, Milano, 2006)