Canasta is my favorite playing card game. I won’t bore you with a recital of the rules, for they are many and complicated. But I do want to share a house rule that we’ve adopted which we feel makes the game more fun.

In Canasta, picking up the discard pile is very central to gameplay. Occasionally, the pile will be frozen which makes it harder to pick up. When that happens, the usually correct thing to do is to play really conservatively, hoarding cards to increase your chance of picking it up. Whoever picks up such a bloated discard pile will earn a bunch of points, so everyone is really nervous about discarding the wrong card.

This creates some of the most tense gameplay and is why I like the game. However, it can become abusive if the player that eventually does win the discard pile just turns around and immediately freezes the pile again, keeping all the cards drawn in his or her hand.

To avoid such situations, we play with a rule that no player can freeze the pile more than once a hand. It has so far had the desired effect of avoiding abusive freezes but keeping freezes relevant.

Bonus Fact: Canasta has one of my favorite rules of all time. When dealing out cards to everyone, the dealer picks up a chunk of the deck from which to deal. If the dealer picked exactly the right number of cards (i.e. had none left over after dealing), his or her team gets 100 points. It adds a nice little physical challenge to an otherwise mental game. And it’s something at which you can become surprisingly good.

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