Last updated
Origin Uruguay
Skills requiredTactics and strategy
Age range12 and up
Cards108 cards
Deck French
Card rank (highest first)Red-3 Joker 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 Black-3
Playing time60 min
Random chanceMedium
Related games
Buraco Biriba

Canasta ( /kəˈnæstə/ ; Spanish for "basket") is a card game of the rummy family of games believed to be a variant of 500 Rum. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] Although many variations exist for two, three, five or six players, it is most commonly played by four in two partnerships with two standard decks of cards. Players attempt to make melds of seven cards of the same rank and "go out" by playing all cards in their hand. It is "the most recent card game to have achieved worldwide status as a classic". [6]


The game of Canasta was devised by Segundo Santos and Alberto Serrato in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1939. [7] In the 1940s the game quickly spread in myriad variations to Chile, Peru, Brazil and Argentina, [7] where its rules were further refined [8] before being introduced to the United States in 1949 by Josefina Artayeta de Viel (New York), where it was then referred to as the Argentine Rummy game by Ottilie H. Reilly in 1949 and Michael Scully of Coronet magazine in 1953. [9] In 1949/51 the New York Regency Club [10] wrote the Official Canasta Laws, which were published together with game experts from South America by the National Canasta Laws Commissions of the USA and Argentina. [11]

Canasta became rapidly popular in the United States in the 1950s [12] with many card sets, card trays and books being produced. [13] Interest in the game began to wane there during the 1960s, but the game still enjoys some popularity today, with Canasta leagues and clubs still existing in several parts of the United States.

Rules for classic Canasta

Cards and deal

The classic game is for four players in two partnerships. Variations exist for two and three player games wherein each plays alone, and also for a six player game in two partnerships of three. If partners are chosen, they must sit opposite each other. Canasta usually uses two complete decks of 52 playing cards (French Deck) with two Jokers per deck, making a total of 108 cards.

Card functions
4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A Natural melding cards
2, Joker Wild melding cards
Red 3Bonus points
Black 3Safe discard (may be melded when going out)

The initial dealer is chosen by any common method, although in Canasta there is no privilege or advantage to being the dealer. The deal then rotates clockwise after every hand. The dealer shuffles the pack, the player to the dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals out a hand of 11 cards to each player. The remaining cards are left in a stack in the center of the table. One card is taken from the top of the stack and placed face up to start the discard pile. If that card is wild or a red three, another card is turned and placed on top of it. That continues until a natural card or a black three is turned up.

If a player was dealt red threes, they must instantly play them face up in front of them and draw the same number of replacement cards.


The player to the dealer's left has the first turn, and then play proceeds clockwise. A turn begins either by drawing the first card from the stock into the player's hand or by picking up the entire discard pile. However, there are restrictions on when one can pick up the discard pile. (See Picking up the discard pile, below). If the card drawn from the stock is a red three, the player must table it immediately, as one would if melding, and draw another card.

The player may then make as many legal melds as they wish from the cards in their hand. A turn ends when the player discards one card from their hand to the top of the discard pile. No player may "undo" a meld or laid card, or change their mind after drawing a card from the deck.

Melds and canastas

Each player/team keeps separate melds of the various ranks of cards. A player may never play to an opponent's meld. A legal meld consists of at least three cards of the same rank, and there is no limit on how large it can grow. Suits are irrelevant except that black threes are treated differently from red threes. Wild cards can be used as any rank except for threes. Threes may never be melded in ordinary play, although three or more black threes may be melded in the final turn of a player going out.

A meld must consist of at least two natural cards, and can never have more than three wild cards. Examples: 5 5 2 and 9 9 2 2 Jkr are legal melds. 5 2 2 is not a legal meld as it contains only one natural card. 9 9 9 2 2 2 Jkr is not legal as it contains more than three wild cards. One team/player cannot have two separate melds of the same rank. If more cards of the same rank are melded, they are automatically merged into the preexisting meld.

A canasta is a meld of at least seven cards, whether natural or mixed. A natural canasta is one that comprises only cards of the same rank. A mixed canasta (or dirty canasta) is one that comprises both natural and wild cards. Once a canasta is assembled, the cards are squared up, and one of the natural cards forming it is placed on top - a red one to indicate a natural canasta or a black one to indicate a mixed canasta.

Initial melds

Each card has a specific value which determines both the score and the minimum points a player needs before laying down their first melds:

Point values towards minimum meld
4, 5, 6, 75
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K10
2, A20

During each hand the first time a team lays cards on the table, the cards of the combined melds must equal a minimum meld requirement based on the values of each of the cards. At the beginning of a game, both teams have an initial meld requirement of 50 points. The count towards the requirement cannot include the value of the cards a player could possibly pick up from the discard pile, but must come only from the cards in their hand and the top discarded card in case of picking up the discard pile. If the combined value does not meet the minimum requirement, they cannot play the cards on the table nor pick up the discard pile. After the first hand, the minimum meld requirement is based on a team's score before the hand starts.

Team scoreMinimum initial meld
3000 and above120

Example: If a player/team has a score of 1,600 and has not yet made any melds in a hand, an initial meld of 7 7 7, Q Q Q 2 cannot be made as it scores only 65 points and the requirement is 90. A meld of 7 7 7, A A A 2 would score 95 points and can be played. Note that both initial melds can be played if the team's total score is below 1500, and that neither can be played if the team's total score is 3000 or higher. The minimum meld requirement for a team which has a negative score is 15. As any three cards are always worth at least 15 points it effectively means any meld is sufficient for laying down the first meld(s). Once a teammate has laid down cards on the table, their partner is free to meld whatever cards are legally allowed meaning they do not have to meet the minimum meld requirement.

Picking up the discard pile

The discard pile should be kept squared up, so only the top card is visible. A player cannot look through the discard pile.

At the beginning of their turn, a player may pick up the entire discard pile instead of drawing a card from the stock. They may only pick up the discard pile if they can use the top card, either in an existing meld or by making a new meld along with at least two other cards from their hand (which can include wild cards). Only the top card is relevant for the player/team to pick up the rest of the discard pile. In addition, if the player/team has not yet melded, they must meet the initial meld requirement using the top card of the discard pile in order to pick up the pile. In this case the points of the top card are included to meet the initial meld requirement.

Discarding a wild card freezes the pile. The card should be placed at right angles to the pile, so that it is still visible to indicate a frozen pile after more cards have been discarded. A frozen pile may only be picked up (unfrozen) if a player can meld the top card with two natural cards of the same rank from the player's hand.

If a wild card or a black three is on top of the discard pile, it may not be picked up. Playing a black three does not freeze the pile; it just acts as a stop card, preventing the other player from picking up the pile. The card discarded after a black three allows the pile to be picked up again (unless it is a wild card or another black three).

The discard pile is also frozen against a player/team that has not yet melded at all this hand, though at the same time it will not be frozen for another player/team that has melded.

Going out and ending a hand

A player may go out by using all the cards in their hand only if that player/team has made at least one canasta. The player goes out by melding all his cards and may discard a single final card if necessary. It is not required to discard a card in the process of legally going out. If the player/team has not yet made any canastas, players in that team may not make a play which would leave them with no cards in their hand at the end of their turn. If a player can legally go out, but has three or more black threes in his hand, these may be melded at this time only. The hand ends immediately when any player goes out. Going out earns a bonus of 100 points.

When considering going out, a player may ask their partner for permission to go out. It is not required to ask partner's permission, but if done the player must abide by the partner's answer. If the partner refuses permission, the player may not go out this turn. If the partner responds "yes", the player must go out this turn.

If a player melds their whole hand in one turn (including at least one canasta) without previously melding, they earn an extra 100 points for going out concealed, making it 200 points. To earn the bonus, a player cannot add cards to their partner's melds. It is allowed to go out concealed while picking up the discard pile. The relevant initial meld requirement must be met.

A hand can also be ended by exhausting the stock. Play can continue with no stock as long as players are able take the previous player's discard and meld it. In such a situation a player must take the discard if able to do so. As soon as a player cannot legally take the card, the hand ends. If a player draws a red three as the last card from the stock, it is counted towards his score, but the hand ends immediately since there is no replacement card to be taken. The player is not allowed to meld nor discard after picking up the red three in this case.


At the end of each hand, the score for each team is calculated as follows:

The total value of all cards melded by that player/team, including cards in canastas minus the total value of all cards remaining in the player's/team's hands, plus any bonuses:

Red 3100
Black 3, 4, 5, 6, 75
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K10
2, A20
Bonus points
For going out100
For going out concealedan extra 100 (200 total for going out)
For each mixed canasta300
For each natural canasta500
For all four red threesan extra 400 (800 total for red threes)

If a player/team has collected red threes, but has not yet made the initial melds when the opposition goes out, then the bonus value of red threes counts against them (it is subtracted from the score along with the rest of the cards in their hands). If they collected all four red threes, 800 points are deducted from their score.

It is possible to have a negative total score. The game ends when a player/team's total score reaches 5000. If both players/teams reach 5000 at the end of hand, whoever has the higher score, wins the game. The margin of victory is the difference in points.

Canasta for two or three players

Canasta can be played with fewer than four players with some variations in the rules. The most significant changes are in the number of cards dealt at the beginning of the hand and the fact that each person plays individually. In a game with three players, each player receives 13 cards. In a two player game each player receives 15 cards and each player draws two cards on each of their turns and discards one. If each player draws two cards, there is usually the additional requirement that a player must have made two canastas in order to go out.

The Canasta League of America

The CLA was established in 2013 as a result of the growing popularity of Canasta. Utilizing the rules of Modern American Canasta, the CLA, has standardized the rules through their (currently) 9th Edition of the CLA Standard Rules and Instruction for Playing Modern Canasta. The Canasta League of America reports that they have endorsed Canasta Junction for online game play which plays according to the CLA Rules. Annual Membership in the CLA is open to anyone. The Standard Rules book is available on their website.

US American Canasta

This version of Canasta is widespread, especially in the United States, and it was the official tournament version used by the (possibly defunct) American Canasta Association. American Canasta can be found in few books. One notable exception is Scarne's Encyclopedia of Card Games, where the author claims to have invented a game which he calls International Canasta. Most of the elements of Modern American Canasta can be found in Scarne's International Canasta, although there are some differences.

Due to its relative complexity and unforgiving scoring rules, which give large penalties for many melds that would be acceptable and even good in other versions, this may not be the best version for beginning players; "classic" canasta or Hand & Foot may better serve this purpose. (On the other hand, these versions can teach habits that become major liabilities in American canasta). This version is only meant to be played by exactly four players, in two two-person partnerships. Important differences between this version and the "classic" version include:

Setup and play

Melding rules

Other scoring rules


Samba is a variant of Canasta, played with three decks, including jokers, for a total of 162 cards. 15 cards are dealt to each of four players, and an additional card is turned up. The game is to 10,000 points instead of 5,000. Samba allows sequence melds of three or more (for example, the 4, 5, and 6 of hearts or the Queen, King and Ace of Spades). If a player is able to make a sequence of seven (for example, the 5 through J of diamonds), this is a samba and is worth 1,500 points. Rather than four red threes being worth 800 points, six red threes are worth 1,000 points. Two wild cards is the maximum allowed for a meld. The minimum initial meld is 150 if a partnership has 7,000 or more.

Other "national" canastas

Bolivian Canasta

Bolivian Canasta is similar to Samba, as it uses three decks and sequence melds. [14] Play is to 15,000. Wild card canastas (bolivias) count 2,500. A side must have a samba (called escalera in this game) and at least one other canasta to go out. Red threes only count positive if two or more canastas have been melded. Black threes are negative 100 instead of negative 5 when left in hand.

Brazilian Canasta

Similar to Bolivia, but only to 10,000. The minimum meld requirements are 150 from 5,000 to 7,000; a canasta from 7,000 to 8,000; 200 from 8,000 to 9,000; and a natural canasta from 9,000 up. Wild card canastas count 2,000. Partnerships receive 1,000 for five red threes and 1,200 for all six. If a side has a sequence of five cards or less, it loses 1,000.

British Canasta

Similar to the original rules but with the important addition of 'Acaba' (Spanish for 'The End'). A player may say this at any point during their turn and will immediately forfeit the round awarding the opposing player or team 1,500 points and receiving 0 points, ending the very dull phase where one player or team has total control over the discard deck. When playing in teams a player may ask their teammate for permission to say acaba just as they may ask before going out and they will also be bound by the response in the same way. [15] [16]

Chilean Canasta

Allows both sambas and bolivias. Can be played with either three decks (162 cards) or four decks (216 cards).

Cuban Canasta

A two-deck variant to 7,500. Requires 150 for an initial meld if a partnership is over 5,000. The deck is always frozen. Wild card canastas are worth between 2,000 and 4,000; depending on the number of deuces. Threes are scored only if canastas are made; they count 100 for one, 300 for two, 500 for three and 1,000 for four. Black threes are removed from play if a discard pile is taken; a partnership that removes all four black threes this way gets 100 points.

Italian Canasta

Italian canasta is a Samba variant. The number of cards in the discard pile at the beginning of the game varies with the initial card turned up. The discard pile is always frozen. Deuces may, but a partnership may not play deuces as wild cards if deuces have been melded and a canasta is incomplete. Game is to 15,000

Uruguayan Canasta

It is exactly like the original canasta, in its original version. [17]

Boat Canasta

This variation originates in Slovakia. Since the definition of Canasta rules differed from player to player a strong urge has risen for unified rules. This in turn was satisfied by the creation of Boat Canasta, which really is a mix of other known rules, but thoroughly optimized. Currently this variant of Canasta is steadily gaining popularity mainly in Slovakia, but also in countries such as France, Germany and England.

Hand and Foot Canasta

This version is a quad deck game that is played with a hand and a foot, unlike traditional canasta that just has a hand. Hand and Foot is a Canasta variant involving four to seven decks and is played by teams of two players (usually two teams, but it also works with three or four teams). The number of decks used is typically one more than the number of players, though this can vary. Due to the larger pool of available cards, it is much easier to form canastas in Hand and Foot than in standard Canasta, which changes the strategy considerably. Some players feel this version is more enjoyable for beginners. The variant was born in the 1970s; commercial decks to play Hand and Foot have been available since 1987. Important rule changes for this variant include:

Initial melds

At the beginning of a game, both teams have an initial meld requirement of 50. The requirement increases in value in subsequent hands.

HandMinimum initial meld
1st hand50
2nd hand90
3rd hand120
4th hand150

The scoring

At the end of each hand, the score for each team is calculated as follows:

The total value of all cards melded by that player/team, including cards in canastas minus the total value of all cards remaining in the team's hands, plus any bonuses:

Bonus scores
Going out100
Each mixed (black, dirty) canasta300
Each natural (red, clean) canasta500

Point values are:

Point values for cards in Canasta
4, 5, 6, 75
8, 9, 10, J, Q, K10
2 (Wild), A20
Joker (Wild)50

Miscellaneous variations for Classic Canasta and other types

The expression "as dead as Canasta" cites the transience of popular interest in the game within the United States.

In the J. D. Salinger novel The Catcher in the Rye , protagonist Holden Caulfield says of fellow student Ackley, "'Listen,' I said, 'do you feel like playing a little Canasta?' He was a Canasta fiend."

In the James Bond novel Goldfinger by Ian Fleming, Bond finds the titular villain, Auric Goldfinger, cheating at canasta with the help of a confederate who spies on the game from a hotel room balcony and feeds him information via radio.

David Bowie refers to this card game in his art rock song "Lady Grinning Soul": She'll drive a beetle car and beat you down at cool canasta.

Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance) play canasta (or are referenced as being regular players) in a few episodes of the classic U.S. sitcom I Love Lucy (1951-1957) such as "Job Switching" et. al.

See also

Related Research Articles

Gin rummy two-player card game

Gin rummy, or simply gin, is a two-player card game created in 1909 by Elwood T. Baker and his son C. Graham Baker. It is a variant of rummy. It has enjoyed widespread popularity as both a social and a gambling game, especially during the mid twentieth century, and remains today one of the most widely-played two-player card games.

500 rum

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Dummy rummy

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Mille (card game)

Mille is a two-player card game requiring two standard 52-card decks. Mille is a rummy game similar to canasta in the respects that if a player picks up cards from the discard pile, the player picks up the entire pile, and the only legal melds are three or more cards of a same rank.

Three thirteen is a variation of the card game Rummy. It is an eleven-round game played with two or more players. It requires two decks of cards with the jokers removed. Like other Rummy games, once the hands are dealt, the remainder of the cards are placed face down on the table. The top card from the deck is flipped face up and put beside the deck to start the discard pile.

Bing rummy

Bing rummy is a variant of kalooki invented in the mining towns of Alaska. The game can be played with 2 to 8 players but works best with 3 to 6 players. It is unknown how the game came to be called “bing” although it may be because of the mining terms: unit of weight equal to 800 pounds, or a pile of rich lead ore. It is probably the second definition that gives the game its name referring to the pile of coins that accumulate throughout the game; especially as it is the Galena lead mines that popularized the term “bing ore”. These mines opened in 1919 about the time the game was developed.

Continental Rummy

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Ponytail Canasta

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Buraco is a Rummy-type card game in the Canasta family for four players in fixed partnerships in which the aim is to lay down combinations in groups of cards of equal rank and suit sequences, there being a bonus for combinations of seven cards or more. Buraco is a variation of Canasta which allows both standard melds as well as sequences. It originated from Uruguay and Argentina in the mid-1940s, with apparent characteristics of simplicity and implications that are often unforeseeable and absolutely involving. Its name derives from the Portuguese word "buraco" which means “hole”, applied to the minus score of any of the two partnerships. The game is also popular in the Arab world, specifically in the Persian Gulf; where it is known as 'Baraziliya' (Brazilian). Another popular variation of Buraco is Italian.

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Viennese Rummy

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  1. Carlisle, Rodney P. (2009). Encyclopedia of Play in Today's Society, Volume 1, p.615. SAGE. ISBN   9781412966702. "Canasta developed from 500 Rum."
  2. Morehead, Albert Hodges and Hoyle, Edmond; eds. (1991). The New Complete Hoyle, Revised: The Authoritative Guide to the Official Rules of All Popular Games of Skill and Chance, p.70. Doubleday. ISBN   9780385249621. "This [500 Rummy] is also called Pinochle Rummy, and its family includes the popular games of Canasta, Samba, Persian Rummy, Michigan Rum, and Oklahoma."
  3. Spadaccini, Stephanie (2005). The Big Book of Rules , unpaginated. Penguin. ISBN   9781440626883. "500 Rum: A direct descendant of basic rummy, and an ancestor of Canasta."
  4. Root, William S. (2016). Fun With Games of Rummy , unpaginated. Read. ISBN   9781473356696. "500 Rum: From this popular form of Rummy have developed the new games of Canasta and Oklahoma; also Persian Rummy."
  5. Morehead, Albert H.; Mott-Smith, Geoffrey; and Morehead, Philip D. (2001). Hoyle's Rules of Games , unpaginated. Penguin. ISBN   9781101100233. "Canasta is the culmination of many minor features tacked onto Five Hundred Rum." One direction of conquain variations, "emphasize melding, leading to Five Hundred Rum, Canasta, Samba, etc."
  6. Parlett 2008, p. 517.
  7. 1 2 American Heritage Dictionary Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come from Spanish, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2007), ISBN   0-618-91054-9
  8. John Scarne, Scarne on Card Games, pg. 127, Dover Publications (2004), ISBN   0-486-43603-9
  9. John Griswold, Ian Fleming's James Bond: Annotations And Chronologies for Ian Fleming's Bond Stories, pg. 228, AuthorHouse (2006), ISBN   1-4259-3100-6
  10. Website Regency Whist Club
  11. Official Canasta Laws, adopted by the Regency Club and the National Canasta Laws Commission as the official Canasta Laws. The John C. Winston Company Philadelphia. Toronto 1951 (third printing)
  12. Nikki Katz, The Everything Card Games Book, pg. 52, Adams Media (2004), ISBN   1-59337-130-6
  13. LIFE Magazine, Life, 19 December (1949)
  14. Giampiero Farina, Alessandro Lamberto, Enciclopedia delle carte. La teoria e la pratica di oltre 1000 giochi, pg. 82, Ulrico Hoepli Editore S.p.A. (2006), ISBN   88-203-3672-3 (in Italian)
  15. Ralph Michaels & Charles Henry Goren, Imperial Canasta: With the Full Text of the Official British Rules ... , pg. 92, Eyre & Spottiswoode (1950)
  16. The Palm Beach Post, May 6th 1951, pg 38
  17. "Como se juega la canasta" book by Tippeco,2nd Edition, Montevideo, September 1949.

Further reading