The name Canasta means “basket” in Spanish, which probably derived from the basket
holding the draw and discard piles; the discard pile is of paramount importance in this game.
Canasta was originally invented in Uruguay in the late 1940s, and soon became
popular in Argentina and the rest of Latin America. In the late 1940s/early 1950s,
Canasta reached the United States, where it became even more popular than Bridge
for a few years; it was probably the most popular card game at any one time. It has
since greatly declined in popularity, except for some holdout enthusiasts.
How did Canasta get so popular? It may have been because it has elements of Mah
Jongg, another enormously successful game, and as a partnership game, it is easier
to learn than Bridge. (Canasta can be played with two, three, or five people, but the
most popular version worldwide is the partnership game.)
Derivations of Canasta include Bolivia, Samba, Cuban Canasta and Bolivian Canasta.
How the Game Is Played
Canasta uses two regular decks of cards, including the jokers (two from each deck). Each
player is dealt eleven cards. Players across from each other are partners and play cards to a
common area, so each partner can take advantage of the other’s play. Canasta is usually
played over several hands; the first team to reach 5000 points wins.
Jokers and 2s are wild cards and can be used to represent other cards. Black and red 3s
have special properties.
On your turn, you either draw a card from the draw pile or take the entire discard pile
(there are special rules for picking up the discard pile; see “Picking Up the Discard
Pile” later in this chapter). You can then play melds