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Canasta is a fine game, though fairly complex in play.

Two decks are shuffled together - including all four jokers. (large paws are required)

Jokers and twos are wild, threes are special.  Black threes and red threes are different, otherwise suit is totally unimportant.

Canasta doesn't do sequences (or runs) - you just want pairs (and three of a kind, four of a kind right up to seven of a kind).

Each player is dealt 11 cards.

At ny time a player holds a red three, they place it on the table in front of them, and draw a new card.  This isn't an action, it's special.
Red threes are worth 100 points each at the end of the game, negative 100 if you don't win the game.

Don't you mean -100 if you haven't put any melds down? -- Senji

As in gin rummy, on their turn a player may either draw from the stack, or take up the discard pile.  The circumstances in which they can and cannot take up the discard pile are somewhat special and give the game most of its strategy.  At the end of their turn they discard a card.

The game ends when a player holds no cards in their hand.  They may either discard down to zero, or not need to.  As in most card games, it is polite to announce 'last card' when appropriate.
Note:  You may ONLY end the game if you have a canasta on the table.

How do you get cards out of your hand?  By melding.

A meld is three (or more) of a kind.  Played from your hand onto the table.

However - you may only meld when the total score (between you and your partner, if playing partnership) is greater than a certain number.
AlexChurchill proposes rephrasal/clarification of the above to:
However - the first set of melds that you play in each game must score a minimum of a certain number.  If you or your partner haven't "opened" like this, you can't make any melds.
This number starts at fifty, goes up to 90 when your score reaches 1500 and then 120 once you are at 3000.  5000 wins the match.
MikeJeggo seems to remember that it decreases to 0 if you have a negative score

Oh, this score includes the cards you are going to play.  Otherwise no-one would ever be able to play anything.

Points score:
Joker = 50, Two = 20, Ace = 15 (my book says 20, but I'm sure we always played 15)  King down to eight = 10 and everything else is 5.

Always been 20 for an Ace AFAIK -- Senji
Me2 --AC

Once you have a meld on the table, you (or your partner) may add to it at any time.

A canasta is a special meld - one of length seven or more.  A mixed canasta is one containing some wild cards - and scores 300 points.  A natural canasta scores 500.

I'm assuming you can't take up cards from a meld to make a mixed canasta into a natural one? - Kazuhiko
That's right.  You can't remove cards from melds -- Senji
That's correct.  Once a card is melded, nothing's getting it out of that meld (for the duration of that game).  This sometimes makes it a tough decision whether or not to add a wildcard to a meld.  (Or, for that matter, whether to add a card from your hand to a meld, or leave it in your hand to give you more chance of picking up the pack.) --AlexChurchill

Ok.  When can you take the discard?
To clarify - in all the above cases, you must immediately use the top card in the specified way. --CH

If anyone discards a wildcard into the discard pile, it becomes frozen.  It only unfreezes once someone picks it up.  (Which is harder to do since it is frozen). The wild card is usually discarded sideways to make it easy to see that the pack is frozen --CH

Note that in general, you do want to pick up, and want to score as many points as posisble before ending the game.  Only if you are badly behind, and in fear of becoming more behind should you end the game quickly.

I'm a little confused...  Once you've reached a certain score you have won, so why wouldn't you end the game? - Kazuhiko
The score required to win the game (set-of-hands) is much greater than the score attainable in one game (hand). -- Senji
I propose avoiding the ambiguous word "game" in these rules, and using these synonyms: Reaching 5000 ends the match.  Each hand will score between -100 and about 1500.  You might not want to end the hand if, say, you suspect you're much more likely to collect the large juicy discard pile than your opponents, and collecting it would add several hundred to your partnership's score.  --AlexChurchill

You may ask your partner "Should I end the game?" - but only if you can actually do so that turn.  If your partner says yes, then you must do so, and if no, then you must not.

I'm more used to 'May I ...', which is only binding if partner says 'no'. -- Senji

When the round end - cards in hand count their score AGAINST you.

Um.  Like most card games, it's not as complicated as I make it sound.  Really.  It's a good game.

It also plays well cutthroat. -- Senji.
And 2-player, although my sources suggest a starting hand of 15 for 2, and 13 for 3. --CH

Suggested variants include requiring 2 canastas to go out, and drawing 2 cards from the pack instead of 1. --CH
Requiring two canastas to finish is a condition in the two-player variant, MikeJeggo seems to recall

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