Tallying Your Scores at Canasta
Understanding Melds in Canasta
Dealing with the Discard Pile in Canasta

Finishing a Game of Canasta

Canasta has some unique rules, but it's still a fun, competitive card game. Just like other aspects of the game, there are special rules that pertain to winning (or finishing) a Canasta game. Here's what you need to know to end a game.

Going out

You can’t get rid of all your cards and go out until your team makes a Canasta. To go out, you can either make your whole hand into melds, or you can make a discard as you go out — the choice is up to you. The hand stops as soon as one player goes out.

Going out without first making a Canasta carries a penalty of 100 points. After picking up your card from the stock, and before you put down your hand to go out, you can, if you want, ask your partner, “May I go out?” You have to abide by your partner’s decision, but you don’t have to ask the question at all. If you don’t abide by the decision, or you ask the question after putting down your cards, you’re fined 100 points, and your opponents can stop you from going out if they want. Similarly, if your partner gives you permission to go out and you can’t, that costs you 100 points.

Asking your partner if you can go out gives her the chance to tell you “No” and then put down the melds in her hand on her next turn so she won’t be caught with too many unnecessary points when you go out on your next turn. During play, you can ask the other players how many cards they have left. The answer can help you decide whether to go for a big pick-up of the discard pile; you may not want to be left holding a massive hand if a player from the other team is about to go out.

End-game strategy

In Canasta, you try to kick your opponents when they’re down; go for the biggest possible hand when you’ve made melds and they haven’t. Conversely, cut your losses if it seems that your opponents have all the cards by terminating the game as quickly as possible.

If you use up the whole stock, the game essentially comes to a stop. But it may continue for a short while longer, because the player who takes the last card of the stock throws away a card, and if the next player can take this card and add it to one of his existing melds, he must do so — and take the discard pile, too. He then discards a card, and the same rule applies to the next player. As soon as the next player can’t use the discard, the game ends, and the usual scoring takes place. If the last card of the stock is a red 3, the game ends at that point.

You make a force-play by forcing the next player to take the pile of cards by discarding something he must pick up. Create a force-play when you want to land the next player with a big pile of cards that he can’t get rid of. The play has an element of danger to it, but if the player has only a few cards left in his hand, you can be relatively confident that this strategy can succeed.

Conversely, if you think that the next player wants to pick up the pile, prevent him from doing so by discarding a black 3 or a wild card, which, as you know, he can’t pick up.

Do not always put down your melds as soon as you form them in your hand. You make put down melds easier for your opponents, maybe using up wild cards, if they can see you are close to going out. They may hold sets in their hands, trying to complete clean Canastas but put them down if they can see you are close to going out. Try to surprise them by going out when they are left holding melds in their hands.

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