How Canasta Scores Work

Canasta is a South American two-deck card game in which players, most commonly in two competing pairs, attempt to lay down sets or “melds” of cards of the same number, reaching a “canasta” of 7 cards. The game ends when one player or team has achieved the required canasta meld, and played or discarded all of the cards in his or hand. There are three sets of points awarded: bonus points (including points for achieving a canasta), plus the face-value points of all the cards played on the table, minus the value of the cards still left in one’s hand when the game ends.

The following explanation of scoring in canasta is based on the official game rule sets published by Bicycle Cards, Rummy.com, and Hoyle.

Card Points

The face-value points of the cards count as positive scores for the player or pair if they have been laid down on the table in a meld, or as negative points against the player or pair if they were still in the hand when the round ended. There are many card decks which have been specifically printed for canasta games, and have the point values of the cards printed on them. However, for those decks which are not so printed, the points are relatively easy to remember.

All “2” cards and the Jokers – which are included in the deck for canasta games – are wild cards, which, when played, can be added to a meld of any other card (but they can never be the majority of cards in that meld). Twos are worth twenty points, and Jokers are worth 50 points.

Black threes (red threes are covered by bonus points, below) and four, five, six, and seven cards are all worth 5 points each. As a general rule, back threes cannot be melded. The exception is that a player can meld black threes together on his last play, if he or she is also playing all of their other cards at the same time.

Eight, nine, ten, and the royal cards (jack, queen, and king) are all worth ten points each.

Aces are worth twenty points each.

Bonus Points

Bonus points are awarded in certain situations to the player who accomplishes certain required phases in each hand. First, all red threes laid on the table are worth 100 points; moreover, red threes do not have to be melded in order to lay them down. If a player or pair is able to acquire all four of the red threes, there is an additional 400-point bonus.

Second, players are awarded points for achieving canastas. A mixed canasta, one which contains one or more wild cards among the seven required cards, is worth 300 points. A “natural” canasta, which contains no wild cards, is worth 500 points.

Finally, the player or pair who run out of cards first are awarded 100 points. Players are not permitted to run out of cards until they or their partner have already completed a canasta. In some variations of the rules, if a player or pair has not already laid down any cards, but lays down a canasta and goes out all in the same turn, a second bonus of 100 points is also awarded.

Game Phases

Canasta is normally played to 5000 points. During the game, a player’s or pair’s points total are used to determine certain rules. Players are only allowed to lay down the first meld of a round if the face value of the cards they are laying down exceeds a certain level.

If the player’s total points is less than 1500, he or she must lay down a total of 50 points in cards in order to make the first meld. They can make multiple melds at once, provided that the total of all cards laid down is 50 points or greater. (If that player has had negative points in a previous round, and thus fallen below zero, this requirement is waived.) Players with total points between 1500 and 3000 must lay down 90 points, and players with total points between 3000 and 5000 points must lay down 120 points worth of cards. Strategizing about when and how to lay down thus plays an important role in the middle and later stages of a canasta game.