The rules for Canasta were standardized in North America around 1950, and it was this version of the game, which will be called Classic Canasta on this page, that gained worldwide popularity. In many countries, Classic Canasta is still played in more or less its original form, sometimes alongside a number of variations. In North America, however, some players have continued to develop the game, and one of these variations is called Ponytail Canasta, and will be described in this document. There are several variations of Ponytail Canasta, but no OFFICIAL version has ever been sanctioned. This is not Hand and Foot Canasta (that's another variation) but there are similarities.

Canasta is generally agreed to be best for four players, playing in partnerships. However, there are playable versions for two, three, or four partnerships. These additional player partnerships call for additional decks of cards

General Rules and Terminology

The Cards

Canasta is normally played with standard 52 card decks plus two jokers.

Standardized point values:


- - - - 

50 points each

A, 2

- - - -

20 points each

K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8

- - - -

10 points each

7, 6, 5, 4

- - - -

5 points each

The cards A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 are called natural cards. All of the deuces (twos) and jokers are wild cards. With some restrictions, wild cards can be used during the game as substitutes for a natural card of any rank.

The threes have special functions and values; Black threes are used as discards as they cannot be picked up, Black three's held in a player's hand at the end of the game count minus 100 points (subtracted from your score). Red threes are not to be used to meld a Canasta, but are set into the meld area and have a value of 100 points each

Game Play

Number of player teams and decks of card

Basic Ponytail Canasta is played with two team pairs and SIX decks of card.

An additional player team adds two decks of card for EIGHT decks.

The Deal

Determine in any fashion, who will be the dealer of the first game.

Shuffle all of the decks of card into a single large deck ( a battery powered automatic card shuffler is recommended for this purpose). The player to the right of the dealer cuts the decks after the shuffle.

The dealer then takes a group of card from the top of the deck and deals 15 cards, in a rotational manner, for each player. He passes each player the HAND for that player.

The player to the left of the dealer takes a stack of card from the large deck and deals out 13 cards for each player. He places these 13 card PONY HANDS in front of each player. The remaining cards from each dealer's pile are returned to the deck. The top 40-50 cards from the deck are placed in the card distribution caddy in the center of the table. The remaining cards are set aside, to be used to replenish the distribution stack as it gets low.

The top card from the distribution stack is turned over and placed in the discard tray. If this first face-up card is wild or a red three, another card is turned and places on top of it, continuing until a card which is not a wild card or red three is turned up; the wild card or red three should be stacked at right angles to the rest of the pile, to indicate that the discard pile is frozen (see Frozen Discard Pile below)

The next and consecutive games, the dealer and Ponytail dealer tasks shift one person to the left. This shift continues until the game ends.

The Play

The player to the left of the dealer plays first, and then the turn to play passes clockwise. A basic turn consists of drawing two cards from the top of the distribution stack, adding them to your hand without showing it to the other players.

After drawing, but before discarding, you may sometimes be able to play some cards from your hand face up on the table. To play cards to the table in this way is known as melding, and the sets of three cards or more, so played, are melds. These melded cards remain face up on the table until the end of the play. Melding to make Canastas is the object of the game, making as many Canastas as possible. More complete information on Melds and Initial Meld Requirements is found later in this document

Discarding one card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile completes each player's turn. .

Taking the Discard Pile:

Under certain conditions, instead of drawing from the distribution stack, you are permitted to take the whole discard pile. In order to do this, you must be able to meld the top discard. The top card and only the top card with at least two cards from your hand, must be used to make the meld. Or, if your team already has a meld of cards of the same type as the discard, except wild cards, you may pick up the discard pile and use the top card.
After the meld any of the other cards from the discard pile may be used in current melds or to make new melds. You can pick up the discard pile if you have a natural card of the same value as the top card and one wild card (unless the discard pile is frozen), melding the top card with the natural card and wild card form your hand.

The procedure in this case is:

1.      Place the necessary cards from your hand face up on the table, and add the top card of the discard pile to them to form a valid meld or melds.

2.      Take all the remaining cards of the discard pile and add them to your hand.

3.      If you wish, make further melds from the cards you now have in your hand

Frozen Discard Pile

There are three ways that the discard pile can be frozen.

1.      The discard pile is frozen against all players if it contains a wild card. To show that it is frozen, the wild card is placed at right angles in the pile, so that it is still visible after other cards are discarded on top of it.

2.      In the unusual case where a red three is turned up to start the discard pile after the deal, the discard pile is frozen against all players, and the red three is placed at a right angle to show this.

3.      If your partnership has not yet melded, the discard pile is frozen against you.

When the discard pile is frozen, you can only take it if you hold in your hand two natural cards of the same rank as the top card of the discard pile, and you use these with the top discard to make a meld. This meld can either be a new one, or could be the same rank as an existing meld belonging to your partnership, in which case the melds are then merged.

For example, suppose the pile is frozen and our team already has a meld of four Jacks on the table. If the player before me discards a Jack, I cannot pick up the discard pile unless I have two Jacks concealed in my hand. If I do have two Jacks in my hand, I can add them and the discarded Jack to our meld (making a Canasta), and take the rest of the discard pile.


The object of the game is to score points by melding cards. A valid meld consists of three or more cards of the same rank (any rank from four up to ace), such as three kings, six fives, etc. Melds belong to the team partnership, not to an individual player. They are kept face up in front of one of the partners. Typically, a partnership will have several melds, each of a different rank. You can add further cards of the appropriate rank to any of your side's melds, whether begun by yourself or by your partner, but you can never add cards to an opponent's meld.

Wild cards (jokers and twos) can normally be used in melds as substitutes for cards of the appropriate rank. For example Q-Q-Q-2 or 8-8-8-8-2-joker would be valid (dirty) melds. There must always be more natural cards than wild cards in the meld at any time with a maximum of three wild cards in any one meld. For example, a meld of 6-6-2-2 would not be allowed.

Threes cannot be melded at any time.

For each partnership, during a hand when they put down one or more melds, is called their initial meld. When making the initial meld for your partnership, you must meet a certain minimum count requirement, in terms of the total value of cards that you put down. You are allowed to count several separate melds laid down at the same time in order to meet this requirement. The initial meld must be made entirely from your hand after your draw, or from your hand plus the top card of the discard pile to satisfy the minimum count, before picking up the remainder of the pile. Remember, before you have made your initial meld, the discard pile is frozen to you, you must have two naturals of the same value in your hand to pick it up.

The initial meld requirement applies to a partnership, not to an individual player. Therefore, after either you or your partner have made a meld that meets the requirement, both of you can meld freely or add cards to an existing meld for the rest of that hand. Each team must make it's own initial meld, meeting the required point value for that team. That is to say each team can have a different minimum point value for their initial meld, based on the teams accumulated score from previous hands.

    Initial Meld Requirement

If your partnership has not yet melded, then in order to meld, the total value of the cards you lay down must meet a minimum count requirement. This requirement depends on your partnership's cumulative score from previous hands as follows:

Teams Cumulative score


Minimum count of initial meld

0 - 14,995

  . . . . .  

50 points

15,000 - 29,995

  . . . . .  

90 points

30,000 - 49,995

  . . . . .  

120 points

To achieve this count, you can create several melds at once, and the melds can be of more than the minimum size of three cards. The standard values of the cards you play are added together to reach the requirement. It is the card value that counts, so if you were to lay down seven 4's making a Canasta, the point value toward your minimum requirement would only be 35 (seven times 5 points) not 500 points for the Canasta. Once the minimum point value is reached, then the Canasta is made and counts 500 points at the end of the hand.


A Canasta is a meld of seven cards. If all of the cards in it are natural, it is called a natural or red Canasta; the cards are squared up and a red card is placed on top. The Canastas are all grouped together in front of the team player that is not holding the melds.

If the Canasta includes one or more wild cards it is called a dirty or black Canasta; it is squared up with a natural black card on top.

In Ponytail Canasta, melds of more than seven cards are not allowed. You cannot add cards to a previously formed Canasta, as in some other variations of Canasta.

    Acquiring the Ponytail

After you have made your melds and have successfully created your first Canasta, you may pick up your 13-card ponytail that has been sitting in front of you since the original deal. You can continue your play by melding or adding to existing melds, with cards from the Ponytail. Cards from the ponytail not melded are added to your hand and a discard completes your turn.

If your team partner was the player to make the first Canasta, and it is now your turn to play, after you draw your two cards from the distribution deck, you may pick up your Ponytail. No player from any team is allowed to make any suggestive motion or comment to alert you to pick up your Ponytail. If a player alerts you to pick up your Ponytail, you must leave it on the table until your next turn.

    The End Game

The game ends when a player goes out. To go out, and be awarded the 200-point bonus, a player disposes of all the cards in his or her hand. You are only allowed to go out after your team has fulfilled the minimum required conditions as described below. You can go out by melding all but one of the cards in your hand and discarding this last card or you can also go out by melding your whole hand, leaving no discard. The game can also end if the distribution deck runs out of cards.

    Minimum requirements to go out, the team must have all of the following Canastas:

Scoring Ponytail Canasta

When the play has ended the hand is scored. Each partnership's score for the hand consists of:

BONUS SCORES:_____________Points

Bonus For going out


Required - natural (red) Canasta


Required - Dirty (black) Canasta


Required - Natural 7's


Required - Wild card Canasta


Each additional red Canasta 500
Each additional black Canasta 300
Each additional wild card Canasta 2500
Each additional Natural 7's 5000
Red 3's 100

After the bonuses have been calculated, the cards used in the Canastas and the melds for each team are counted using the standard card values.

The cards remaining in the hands of the players are also counted using the same standard values, but these points count against the team and are subtracted from their score.

A cumulative total score is kept for each partnership. It is possible to have a negative score. When one or both partnerships have a total of 50,000 or more points at the end of a hand, the game ends and the side with the higher total score wins. The margin of victory is the difference between the scores of the two sides.