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How to Play 2-Player Canasta

Updated on October 14, 2011

Get to know more about Canasta and the strategies involved.

I have been playing Canasta for about 12 years. The first person who taught me how to play was my sister. We play it all the time whenever we are around each other and my mom and I now play it as well. It's a really fun game and it's not just about "playing cards", it's kind of like poker. It involves a lot of bluffing, strategy, and knowing what cards have been played and which ones are still in the deck, leaving you to narrow down what the other person might have in their hand.This game is mostly played with 4 people, but I think it's more fun playing with only 2 people.

You and your game partner start out with 15 cards in each hand, the game is played until one person reaches 5,000 points which can take anywhere from 20 minutes up to an hour based on the way the game is being played and if the players are just taking their time (hangin out, watching a movie while playing, talking, ect) or if they are in a rush. I for one, do NOT recommend rushing through this game. I consider it to be a relaxing way to spend quality time with the person you are playing with and also a friendly competition that goes back and forth as you play more and more. A lot of people consider this game to be more for the elderly folk, like Bridge, Backgammon, and Gin Rummy, but it isn't! Young people have been getting into this game more and more over the last few years and have even started playing in the tournaments online getting crushed by the competition of the older and wiser players who have been playing for decades. Practice makes perfect! The more you play, the more you win. This game is one of the more complicated games to learn, but once you get the hang of it, it's highly addictive!

So, how do you play this game?

Learning the basics

You start with 2 decks of playing cards. Decide who will cut and who will deal the cards.

***Cutting the cards - This means that after the cards have been THOUROUGHLY shuffled then one player tries to "cut" 31 cards from the top of the deck. If this person cuts exactly 31 cards, they get 100 points added to their score! Now, it the 31rst card happens to be a wild card(we'll talk about what those are in a little bit) then the dealer must draw another card until a regular card shows. At the end of the deal, both players should have 15 cards each. The cutter goes first.

**After each round the 2 players take turns dealing and cutting, which should be obvious but I felt the need to tell you anyway.:)

Game Play:

You take turns drawing 1 card and then discarding 1 card until one or both of you have enough points to "meld" something down and be able to "pick up" the deck.

**Melding**- You accumulate points in your hand to be able to put cards down on your board. For the first 1500 points, you have to "meld" 50 points before you can pick up the deck that consists of discarded cards that by picking up will help you to accumulate more points/cards in order to aid in building/making your Canastas. Now, after you get to 1500 points and before you have 3000 points, you have to "meld" down 90 points in order to pick up. After you get to 3000 points you have to meld down 120 points in order to be able to pick up. Now, the strategy here is to get ahead in the early stages and STAY ahead and then when you have to meld the 120 points, you don't have to worry about it as much and it will be harder for your partner to catch up to you. Now, we'll go over the points system.

***2's and A's are worth 20 points

***Jokers are worth 50 points ***JOKERS AND DUCES (2's) ARE WILD CARDS AND CAN BE ANYTHING!***

***4s through 7's are worth 5 points

***8's through King's are worth 10 points.

***Black 3's are worth 5 points but cannot be used in a canasta, they are just free discards and cannot be used as a "pick up"

***Red 3's are worth 100 points each and counted as such at the end of each round. They cannot be used as discards, additives to a canasta or anything else. Just put them on your board. *If you get these make sure to meld some points down ASAP because if the other person goes out and you don't have anything down on your board, the red 3's count against your score plus whatever is left in your hand and we don't want that!

How do I get a Canasta and what does that mean?

Getting a Canasta is your main objective in each round and is what gives you the most points.

***Mixed Canasta- Consists of 4 or more cards of the same value mixed with wild cards. For ex. KKKKK+J+2 = Mixed Canasta worth 300 points.

***Natural Canasta- Consists of all 7 cards of the same value with no wild cards. For ex. KKKKKKK= Natural Canasta worth 500 points.

Getting a natural canasta is a lot harder than getting a mixed canasta and this is where the strategy comes in.

If the discard pile is starting to pile up and nobody has picked it up yet, it's time to start thinking about what the other person has in their hand and what has been discarded by them recently. If you have 5 A's in your hand and are waiting for the other 2 to make your natural canasta, and if the other person hasn't put down any but there is one in the discard pile, then the other 2 A's might be in the deck still. You should wait another 3-4 draws before you decide whether or not to make a mixed canasta or wait for the natural. My advice is to go ahead and make the mixed one at this point because naturals usually come very quickly or when you pick up a hefty discard pile. Go ahead and get your 300 points and try again for a natural. Now this strategy works only for a few draws, you never know when the other person is going to go out.

***Going out***- This happens when one person has made at least one canasta and melds down the rest of their cards and then discards their very last cards. Whatever the other person has in their hand at this time counts against them.

Then you both count your "base count", which is your red 3's and Canasta total, then you count your card count, you add each and every card including the ones in the canastas, based on their worth and then add it to your total.

I know, it sounds kind of complicated, but believe me once you start playing and practicing, you will get the hang of it in no time and it will get easier and easier resulting in a very fun, competitive, addictive game that you can play with your loved ones or in tournaments with complete strangers.Your comments, suggestions, and questions are greatly encouraged! Thanks and have fun playing this awesome game!

Amazon Spotlight Personal Review - Start Playing Canasta

This is a great product to have if you play Canasta a lot or if you are just starting out!

Great Stuff on Amazon - Card decks made just for playing Canasta

What did you think of this article on Canasta? - Interested in playing?

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    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image

      JoyfulPamela2 6 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I've never tried the game before, but it sounds fun!