Modern Canasta Rules

Canasta is 4 person card game using two decks of cards (including Jokers). Thus there are 8 cards of each rank plus 4 Jokers, for a total of 108 cards. There is also a 2 player version.

The goal is to meld three or more cards of the same rank in order to create canastas (sets of 7). To do so, the players draw and discard cards. All melds reward a certain amount of points.

The game ends when a team reaches 8500 points.

Below, you have an excerpt of Modern Canasta rules, in accordance with the  Canasta League of America®’s rules and regulations.

To quickly learn all Modern Canasta rules and play techniques, we strongly recommend the CLA’s  Ultimate Guide to Modern Canasta. And lots of practice on Canasta Junction, of course!

Dealing and Start of Play

The players are divided into two teams which compete against each other. At the start of the game, 13 cards are dealt to each player. The remaining cards are put face-down in the middle of the table to form the draw pile.

The player to the left of the dealer goes first and play proceeds clockwise. A player’s turn starts by drawing the top card from the draw pile.

Subsequent players may also pick the pack when specific criteria and rules are met.

How to play Canasta

When playing Canasta, players create melds to score points. Each player must draw and discard cards during their turn. The hand ends when the draw pile is empty or a player goes out by melding all their cards and has at least two completed Canastas and a discard.

How 3s affect the scoring

3s add or subtract various points depending on the number of exposed 3s on the board. They are scored based on the number of 3s of the same color (red or black) and number of canastas on the board as follows:

One 3 of any color = 100 points

Two 3s of the same color = 300 points

Three 3s of the same color = 500 points

Four 3s of the same color = 1000 points

Example: Two Red 3s and four Black

3s = 1300 points

If you end the hand without a canasta, the 3s points are subtracted from your score. Having a single canasta prevents a 3s penalty: zero points are added or subtracted. Two or more canastas result in applicable 3s points calculated as above being added to your score.

If the final Draw Card is a 3, it must remain in the players hand and there is a 5 point penalty.

There is not a replacement, player is in the middle of their turn and NOTHING can be played.

Picking the pack

Unlike in person games, CJ requires you to pick the pack by FIRST taking the top card and placing it in the meld area. When you add your matching pair, the pack will “Pop” into your hand. If this is your initial meld, remember the rules! If you don’t have sufficient points, the move will fail and you will be penalized an additional 10 points. 

Special hands

Special Hands are special sets of cards that can be collected before the Initial Meld, or the first turn ONLY after a partner melds. It consists of 14 cards. No discarding when declaring a special hand.

The following Special Hands are allowed:

  • 2500pts – Pairs without wild cards 44 55 66 88 99 JJ QQ
  • 2000pts – Wilds Pairs 22 AA 77 44 881010 QQ (Aces and 7s are required with either matching pair of wilds)
  • 2500pts – Miami Pairs JoJo 22 77 AA 44 88 1010 (Aces and 7s are required)
  • 3000pts – Garbage (2 4 of a kind, 2 3 of a kind no wilds 4-4-3-3) 5555 6666 888 KKK
  • 2500pts – ZipCode (2 2 of a kind, 2 3 of a kind, 1 4 of a kind 4-3-3-2-2) JoJo 66 888 101010 KKKK
  • 3000pts – Blast Off (1 5 of a kind, 1 4 of a kind, 1 3 of a kind 1 pair 5-4-3-2) 44444 8888 999 KK
  • 3500pts – Triples (4 3 of A kind, 2 Matching Wilds 3-3-3-3-2) 444 666 999 JJJ 22
  • 3500pts – Quads (3 4 of a kind, 2 Matching Wilds 4-4-4-2) 5555 8888 10101010 JoJo
  • 8500pts – Dream + 4 (2 5 of a kind, 4 Matching Wilds 5-5-4) 88888 1010101010 2222
  • 8500nts – Dream + 5 (1 5 of a kind. 1 4 of a kind, 5 Wilds 5-4-5) 44444 9999 JoJo 222

Special cards

The following cards have special rules: Ace, 2, 3, 7, Joker.

2s and Jokers are wild cards and can be used with any meld except 7s.

A natural Ace canasta (seven Aces, no wild cards) is worth 2500 points, but failing to finish it subtracts 2500 points.

A 7s canasta is worth 2500 points, but failing to finish it is -2500.

If caught 3 or more Aces and/or 7’s in hand at the end of the hand, the penalty is -1500 points.

A wild card canasta is allowed. It is worth between 2000 and 3000 points. If not completed, there is a penalty of -2000 points.

3s are special cards that have complex scoring rules. See the 3s panel for more information.


Discarding ends your turn. You may discard onto the top of the discard pile any card in your hand except wild cards (unless you only have wild cards in your hand after drawing).

Remember that you are not allowed to discard a “SWAD“ card (Seven, Wild, Ace, Dead) on an empty discard pile.

Cards are dead when there is a completed canasta of the same rank.

Canasta Scoring

At the end of each hand, each card in melds exposed on the board adds points to your score, and each card in your hand removes points, based on the following card values:

  • 4, 5, 6, 7 = 5 points
  • 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K = 10 points
  • Ace, 2 = 20 points
  • Joker = 50 points

In addition, having three or more 7s or Aces in your hand (not on your board) at the end of a round results in a penalty of minus 1500 points per triple.

Complete Natural canastas are worth 500 points each.

Complete Unnatural (using wild cards) canastas are worth 300 points each.

A game of Canasta generally consists of multiple hands being played to accumulate 8500 or more points to win. Each team’s points are totaled after each hand, with a cumulative score being maintained.

Canasta with 2 players

Canasta Junction also features a way to play Canasta with only 2 players. Here are a few bullet points on how to play two-player canasta card game:

  • 13 cards are dealt to each player.
  • Players should avoid melding until taking the pack, and avoid taking the pack until at least 10 cards have been played.
  • A player with 4 wild cards should meld as soon as possible to be able to pick the first talon.
  • Though players don’t signal for Aces and 7s, they must try to block their opponent from making a natural Ace or 7s canasta.

Other rules are the same as the canasta rules for 4 players. When one or more players reach 8500 points, the player with the highest score wins.

Getting started with Canasta Junction Canasta Junction allows you to play on your own, with friends or with others online. Before you start, you might find it helpful to read through this tutorial to familiarize yourself with the app. How to create an account As soon […]