Understanding Melds in Canasta
The Basics of Canasta
Finishing a Game of Canasta

Playing Canasta: The Special Rules Regarding 3s

In Canasta, the 3s are treated differently from all other cards, and the red 3s are not treated the same as the black 3s. Read on for the special rules regarding 3s in a Canasta game.

Laying down the red 3s

The red 3s are like bonus cards — they play no major part in the strategy of the game, but they can score your side some extra points if you’re lucky enough to draw them. Every red 3 your team has is worth 100 points. If you have both pairs of red 3s, you get a 400-point bonus for 800 points in all. If your side hasn’t made a meld, you subtract the bonus values of the red 3s from your score.

As soon as you pick up a red 3, you must put it face-up in front of you and pick up another card from the stock. If you pick up the discard pile and it includes either the 3 of Hearts or 3 of Diamonds, you still put the card down in front of you, but you don’t need to take a replacement card from the stock.

If you pick up a red 3 and forget to put the card down at that time, you can do it during a later turn without penalty. If the game ends, however, and you have a red 3 in your hand, you incur a 500-point penalty.

Separating the black 3s

The black 3s require some special consideration. You have to keep the following things in mind when you come across one of the black 3s in play:

  • Like wild cards, the black 3s block the discard pile, but only for one turn. Do not put them down sideways onto the discard pile — as soon as they are covered the pile is no longer frozen.

  • You can only make black 3s into melds on the turn when you go out.

  • You can’t meld black 3s with wild cards.

The 3 of Spades and the 3 of Clubs really play no helpful part in the game for the player who picks them up, other than their tactical value to prevent the next player from having a chance to take the discard pile. The black 3s can be a bit of a drag, because they’re so tough to make into melds.

Don’t discard the black 3s prematurely. Save them for the last possible moment, when you think that the next player may take a large discard pile if you put down a helpful discard. As guaranteed stoppers, black 3s have significant strategic value.

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