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Understanding Melds in Canasta

The object of Canasta is to pick up cards and fit them into groupings. You score points for the groupings, or melds, so the more melds, the merrier. The first team to score 5,000 points wins, and if both teams hit 5 grand on the same hand, the team with the higher score wins.

Making melds

Melds are combinations of three to seven or more cards of the same rank. For a meld to be valid, all the cards in it must have the same rank, such as a meld of queens, but they don’t have to be of the same suit.

A meld of seven cards, such as seven 9s or seven kings, is called a Canasta. Making a Canasta is especially valuable for a number of reasons: You need to make a Canasta to go out, and it also helps your score mount quickly.

Getting wild and forsaking suits

The 2s and jokers in the deck are wild cards, meaning that they can represent any value you want them to. Each meld can include one wild card, but a meld must have at least two non-wild cards in it and no more than three wild cards. For example, a meld of three can contain one wild card, and a meld of four can have two wild cards. A meld that includes no wild cards is known as a natural, or clean meld. A meld with one or more wild cards in it is a mixed, or dirty meld.

Suits don’t play a role in Canasta (except when it comes to choosing partners); a meld of three queens can consist of the Queen of Clubs, Queen of diamonds, and a wild card. The only real significance to the suits lies in the distinction between red and black 3s.

Looking at some legal melds

Melds can take on many different guises, including the ones shown in this figure.

Legal melds follow the wild card and ranking rules.
Legal melds follow the wild card and ranking rules.

If you try to put down a meld like the 7 of Spades, 2 of Clubs, and 2 of Diamonds, you won’t get too far; this meld is illegal, because it contains too few natural cards; at least two natural cards are the minimum requirement. Similarly, 7 of Spades, 8 of Spades, and 9 of Spades isn’t a legal meld. The only legal melds are groups of the same rank, not runs of the same suit.

Calculating the value of your cards and melds

Each card has a scoring value, and these values are important, especially when it comes to laying down the first meld for a partnership. Fortunately, the card values aren’t too complicated:

  • Jokers: 50 points each

  • 2s and aces: 20 points each

  • Kings through 8s: 10 points each

  • 7s through the 3 of Spades and 3 of Clubs: 5 points each

You can’t use red 3s in melds.

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