The very basis of playing Canasta is the meld, or playing of a group of several cards of the same value. Without melds of seven or more (a canasta), one cannot win the game, so understanding the rules of melding is absolutely crucial to a strong performance. Some melds are worth more than others, although lower value melds can save the day-- and your score-- if played correctly. You won't be able to open play in the game without a starting meld; this is very common in all variations of Rummy 500, from which Canasta is derived. Because many players of Canasta may be familiar with the other kinds of Rummy, it's essential to understand the differences in melding practices in this particular game, as Canasta has a set of rules all its own. This individuality has made Canasta a classic that anyone with a little patience and a good grasp of strategy can enjoy.
Have the right score
When laying down your first meld of the hand, you must have a certain value in points before you can put down a meld. The value that you need is dependent on your total score in the game (for a negative score, you need 15; for 0-1495, you need 50; for 1500-2995, you need 90; and for 3000 and above, you need 120). This is where knowing the point values of the cards comes in handy: black threes and 4s-7s are worth 5 points each, 8-K are worth 10 points each, 2s and As are worth 20 points each, and jokers are worth 50 points each. Melds may contain wild cards (twos and jokers), but they can never have more wild cards than natural cards.
In order to meld out (place all of one's cards into melds), a player must have at least one canasta. Canastas are scored differently, so it pays to have as many of them as possible. Natural canastas (a canasta without any wild cards) are worth more than mixed canastas (also called dirty canastas), but they're much harder to get because they require that you have at least seven of the eight available cards of that value in the deck. Careful play can make this happen, but natural canastas are generally not something that you can rely upon. To meld out, you will need to be able to play all of the cards in your hand, save for one card, which you may discard. Discarding is not necessary while melding out, and many players will include all the cards in their hands in their melds so as to obtain extra points when going out.
Once cards are melded, other players cannot play upon them. Therefore, if you have a meld with six of a certain value of card, your opponent will be unable to use the remaining two without using a wild card (and even then will never be able to get a meld of more than four). Many players, however, hold on to their cards until just the right moment (often when they meld out or unfreeze the deck) so that the other players cannot anticipate their actions. In Canasta, knowing how to make melds is one thing, but the real key to winning is knowing exactly when to make them.