Canasta, the 1950s card game, is back.
Developed in 1939 in Uruguay, canasta (meaning “basket”) is the only game in the rummy family that includes a partnership. Using two card decks, the game comes in a variety of versions: Hand and Foot, Cuban, Boat, Italian, and, of course, U.S. American.
Jewish clubhouses, condos and country clubs are teaming with avid players. Many are also mah-jongg and bridge players.
Coming on the scene from Brooklyn, Boynton Beach and now Brookhaven is Helen Fine, a 95-year-old canasta instructor who has three burgeoning groups learning on different weekdays.
After 65 years of playing, Helen has mastered several rule changes.
“Some people learn in two weeks; others need six months,” she said. “I teach out of pleasure. I tell everyone that it’s critical to learn how to play your sevens and aces. I want to pass along my experience.”
Daughter Sandra said, “Mom has taught my circle of friends.”
Men play too. Herb Migdon, a tax accountant, played canasta as a child and picked it back up two years ago. He found it simple to catch on.
“I find canasta easier than bridge, which requires the extra complexity of bidding,” he said. “I like the canasta strategy of melding and the race for points. The challenge is to remember what cards have been played and not played. There is a variation in rules across the miles. … Florida vs. Pennsylvania may be different than Georgia. When we bought a canasta deck, the rules included were not the same rules we play.”
Harriet Berger, playing for less than two years, said: “Although I’m not a card player, I find canasta fun, social and stimulating. The players are extremely nice. Sure, I make boo-boos. Just last week, a player added a rule I had never heard of. Hmmm.”
Arlyne Delman’s canasta group has quarterly birthday potluck lunches to spice up the game.
“Although canasta is a good bit of luck, I enjoy thinking strategically,” she said. “How do I control the deck? Should I show early? Will my partner know when to help?”
Debbie Miller and husband Richard taught their adult children, whom they visit in Tasmania. “I feel like learning is an ongoing process,” she said. “You just have to jump in and play.”
Canasta is indeed the new old rage. But you’re not too old to learn the game’s new language.
Is it dirty? Clean? Do you want to go out?
Above all, know what to do with your sevens and aces.