following essay was produced as part of my 2013 effort for the
November National Novel Writing Month effort. As such, please
understand that while I did give it a quick review, it has not
gone through the same proofreading and editing I normally try
to give all of the material posted on this site.
always make some mistakes. There are errors to be found throughout
this web site, and many exist despite dozens of attempts to correct
problems. That said, ask that you approach this material in the
spirit intended – a basic thought, slightly worked out and very
informally researched, delivered in the hopes of writing more
than 50,000 words by the end of November.
~ ~ ~
few years ago, Ellen got in touch with us. She had this idea about
her, Richard, Terry and I starting to play cards occasionally.
And she had just the game…
getting too much into it… or the history of the game… suffice
to say this was a great idea. Originally played by the group of
four, we grew to regularly play in larger numbers. (Mike, Louise
and Kris have joined as parts of the gang whenever we can meet.
And we have incorporated visits from Kerri and Nick, along with
several other people into the games.)
times, when we schedule our assemblies, the host provides dinner
and such… often creating simply fabulous meals. We even expanded
our efforts to include playing versions we created or developed
of three-player individual, four-player teams, and now hand and
foot contests. (One such modified game is called Dirty Hand and
Foot, and features the “Stinky Foot” element.)
some of our group members have moved across the country, there
are always hopes for us to get together soon to play a few hands,
share some great food, and create some fantastic memories.
we even have a mascot… the Canasta Masta. He joined us during
one of our first Canasta Road Trips, and now actually travels
on many journeys with us. Check out this shot of him from California…
even have shots from New Hampshire and a customized Canasta logo
course, none of this is why I’m writing to you now. Instead, I
was thinking about some of the basic things I’ve learned while
playing Canasta. And I’ve come to realize that most of them are
really good lessons for life.
I thought I’d share them.
of them what you will.)
I’ve learned about cards… and life… from the Canasta Masta…
can win clean, and you can win dirty… there’s more points in winning
cannot argue the theory. Sure, I understand -- and even humorously
endorse -- the motto “Win when you can, lose if you must, but
always, always cheat!”
reality is simple… when you can play your best against your opponent’s
best, in a fair contest, that scenario produces the sweetest of
our card game, a dirty canasta is only worth about 60% of the
points that a clean Canasta offers.
always better when you have more cards in play
Canasta, you play your cards in ranks. Ranks are a way of describing
the breakdown of the cards… King is a rank, Queen is a rank, 8
is a rank, and so on. Canastas are made and points awarded by
fulfilling requirements of playing a rank of cards. When you play
a group in a rank, the entire group is referred to as a meld.
you have a bunch of cards in your hands that don’t match… and
you only have one or two ranks in play… and your opponent has
nine or ten ranks in play… you are in trouble.
this particular concept, I’m not completely referring to the idea
that the cards have to be played and visible to your opponent.
Instead I’m talking about the opportunities created by having
multiple options in front of you, and also to the idea that generally
during a hand the more cards you have the better off you are.
more options you have, the better your chances.
more cards you play, the more points you might score.
it skill, call it luck, you can only play the cards you’re dealt
going to step away from Canasta for a moment, and into the world
of Scrabble. (Simply because if you haven’t played Canasta, it
will make the idea a bit more clearly by using Scrabble.)
you ever been playing a game of Scrabble, selected your tiles,
and then looked down at your rack only to see seven vowels?
can be awesome at playing Scrabble. But when all you have are
the low value tiles… and the words aren’t lining up for parallel-tandem-double
word plays… and the bonus squares aren’t close enough when you
do have higher-point tiles… and your opponent keeps drawing “S”
after “S” after blank tiles… well… being awesome isn’t always
easier to control the game when you have less opponents involved
black three… a club or a spade… can freeze the discard pile in
this game for one turn. And it just so happens that you have three
or four black threes in your hand. Now…
you’re playing one-on-one, you effectively control that discard
pile for multiple turns. Unless it’s frozen… unless your opponent
has some black threes… you can pass on a discard, using a three
to block the pile from your opponent’s grasp, and possibly pick
it up after the next round.
you play with three or more people, that black three is cancelled
out as soon as the next person discards. So sure, you can block
the next player… but you have little control over the players
in chairs three or four.
fewer things you have to worry about, along with presenting the
ability to narrow your focus, always allows for better control.
can be a method to your madness -- or a madness to your method
-- but you’d better understand where you put your cards
is very easy to pass up opportunities for hundreds of points because
of how you use a wild card. Dirtying clean canastas… not taking
advantage of using wild cards to make multiple canastas… and so
attention… have an idea out there… think.
sense and risk may be the tortoise and the hare, but with limited
exception it is always better to open early and go out when you
good EVER happens when you have a chance to go out and
pass on it.
good at all.
good, never ever, happens when you can go out and don’t.
things happen. An opponent realizes you could have gone out and
begins dumping their cards to increase point totals… or, simply
because they are drawing cards, they get opportunities to make
canastas or draw red threes. In short, they are earning points.
since you have likely played most of your playable cards, chances
are good that you won’t be drawing much that you could use to
significantly increase point totals for yourself.
good, never ever, happens when you can go out and don’t.
when you have an unreal stranglehold on the hand. Such as might
develop around cards in your hand and all possible ranks in melds
on the table in front of you.
overall, nothing good ever happens by not taking advantage of
opportunity when it knocks.
more frustrating, it’s slower, and it completely changes the game
to play as part of a team, and it’s also a lot more fun
for this one I’ll point to the dinners and amazing evenings all
of us have shared. It is absolutely wonderful to do things on
your own. But, time and time again, we see that it is more fun
to accomplish things with others.