Home » Blog » Learn How Hand and Foot Card Games Are Played

Learn How Hand and Foot Card Games Are Played

The Hand and Foot card game is a variation of Canasta. It originated in North America and is played with two piles of cards called a “hand” and a “foot,” hence the name. This differs from traditional Canasta, which uses just a hand pile. The game uses between four and seven full decks of cards and is designed to be played in teams.

Each team is normally made up of two players with only two teams playing at a time. That said, the game can still work with up to three or four teams. In some versions, the number of decks used is one more than the number of players. Other variations call for equal numbers of players and decks. So, for example, if you have six players, use six to seven decks of cards.

The large number of playing cards makes forming piles much easier in the Hand and Foot card game than with the standard version of Canasta. For that reason, most people feel the Hand and Foot card game is suitable for beginning players. This article is designed to teach you how to play this fun and challenging speed card game.

Hand and Foot Card Game: Setting Up

To set up a Hand and Foot card game, the dealer will give each player two sets of cards. One set is used as the “hand” and the other as the “foot.” You may encounter people who play in different ways since there is no set of “standard” rules as there are for some other card games like TriPeaksSolitaire. As mentioned before, playing in teams is most common, but there are single player variations too. Also, although teams of two are the status quo, teams of three are acceptable. There are advantages and disadvantages to every option. Still, it is best to sort out the player layout everyone prefers early on.

The instructions below will deal specifically with playing with four people paired into teams of two with an equal deck to player ratio.

You will need:

  • Four full decks of playing cards for a ratio of one deck per player. (The jokers should be included.)
  • Pen and paper to keep score

In the Hand and Foot card game, there are two dealing options the dealer/s can pick from, but once a method is chosen it should be kept the same throughout the game. Here is a rundown of how the game is played:

1) Choose which team will deal cards first. That team will shuffle all the cards thoroughly and then one of the members will act as the dealer. The dealer will take half of the available cards and deal them 11 cards per player face down. The first stack will be each player’s “hand” stack.

The other player on the team will then act as the dealer, taking the second half of the cards and dealing them 11 cards per player face down. The second stack will be each player’s “foot” stack.

The two shuffled piles that were dealt from should be placed in the center of the table, face down. All following deals will rotate clockwise to spread the deal.

2) Decide which player will have the first turn. That player will select a stack of cards from one of the center piles while trying to get as close to 22 cards as possible without going over. That player then counts the cards they chose, separating them into two stacks of 11. One stack for the “hand” and another for the “foot”.

If they have too many cards, they have to replace or pull stacks from the center decks until they have a total of 22 cards (two piles of 11). Going clockwise, each player does the same.

*Note: In the event that a player actually pulls exactly 22 cards, that player gets 300 points.

The Object of the Game

The object of the Hand and Foot card game is to get rid of all 11 cards from your hand and all 11 of your foot cards as well. This is accomplished through “melding”. Melding happens when you place a set of three to seven cards face up on the game table. The cards must all be of equal rank. Melding is where working with your team members is essential.

There are two types of melds:

1) A clean or natural meld is one that contains no wild cards.

2) A dirty or wild meld has wild cards and becomes a black pile.

Although melds are played fanned out and face up for all players to see, once a meld is completed (thus becoming a pile) it is stacked up, and the card placed on the top of the pile identifies its type. A red card marks a red pile, and a black card marks a black pile.

The rules of melding are:

  • ​A meld must be no less than three cards.
  • A meld can have no more than seven cards.
  • Melds are a team activity, not one of an individual player.
  • Once a meld has started, all partners can build on it until the meld reaches its maximum of seven cards.
  • Once a meld is completed, another of the same rank can be started.
  • Melds can include any rank of cards between aces and 4’s.
  • Threes of any suit cannot be used in melds.
  • You can only play on melds that belong to members of your team.
  • A completed meld is called a pile.

The rules for playing on a pile are:

  • ​Wild cards cannot be played on piles.
  • Cards of equal ranks can be played on piles.

Wild Cards

Deuces and jokers are considered wild cards and can be used in all meld ranks. The only stipulations are:

  • There need to be at least twice as many genuine cards as wild cards in the rank when a wild card is used.
  • There is a max of two wild cards per meld.
  • Wild cards can not be melded alone.
  • ​Wild Cards cannot be played on completed piles.  

What an Actual Play Looks Like

Now that we have covered the basic structure of the game, we will run through how an actual play of a Hand and Foot card game would look. As mentioned before, after the initial deal, the remainder of the cards are placed in two piles, face down, in the center of the table. These piles are the game’s “stock” cards. The play begins with the person to the left of the original or first “dealer” and continues clockwise until a player goes out.

The entire card game is four rounds long. Every round should have a meld point requirement that is raised in subsequent rounds. A team must put down enough melds to meet the minimum requirement before they are considered to be “in” the game. If a discard pile is used to meet the requirement of the card game, you can only count the meld made with the top card toward the minimum requirement, no matter how many total melds the discard pile gives you.

During his or her turn, a player must:

  • ​Draw the top two cards off of the stock pile OR take the top five cards off of the discard pile.
  • Meld any cards they can, or wish to, and/or add cards to their partner’s meld.
  •  To end their turn, discard one card into the discard pile.

Rules for picking cards from the discard pile:

  • ​If the discard pile is fewer than five cards, the player can take the whole pile.
  • No more than five cards can be taken.
  • You must hold two cards that are the same rank as the top card in the discard pile, and those cards must immediately be melded.

The other significant thing to mention about the discard pile is that it is risky to take cards from it. This is because red and black threes have no use in this ​card game and each player will be trying to discard them into the discard pile. There is also a point penalty for having threes in your hand or foot piles at the end of each round.

Things to remember about red and black threes:

  • Three red threes in your hand or foot at the end of a round will cause your team to be docked 300 points.
  • Black threes cost five points per three off your team’s total score at the end of a round.
  • There is no way to get rid of threes other than to discard them.

​You are allowed to pick up your foot pile once your hand is fully played. If a player completes their hand during a turn–without discarding the final card–they may continue with their foot until they discard. If a player’s hand is finished by discarding the final hand card, then they have to wait until their next turn to play their foot.

How To “Go Out” —The End Of A Play

The play is over when a member of a team goes out. That is accomplished by the team completing at least two red and two black piles as well as the following:

  • ​The second partner must have picked up AND played cards from their foot pile.
  • The team member going out must have consent from their partner before doing so.

If a player’s partner agrees to let them go out, the two team members must meld all of their cards and discard their final card. If all the cards can be melded, a discard is not required to go out.

Leftover cards belonging to the team that has not yet gone out count against their final score.

Scoring is as follows:

  • Jokers = 50 points (Wild Card)
  • Deuces = 20 points (Wild Card)
  • Aces = 20 points
  • Eight through King (8-K) = 10 points
  • Four through Seven (4-7) = 5 points
  • King (8-K) = 10 points
  • Red three = minus 300 points
  • Black three = minus 5 points
  • Red Piles 500 points
  • Black Piles 300 points
  •  Player going out gets 100 bonus points 

Hand and Foot Tips and Strategies

Playing this card game can be a lot of fun, but it can also be surprisingly challenging to master. Thankfully, there are a number of helpful tips and strategies that you can employ whenever you play Hand and Foot to beat the odds and best the other players. Here are a few useful ones to remember for your next game:

  • Keep your wild cards available until you reach your Foot pile. Wild cards can come in handy when you are in a pinch, so it is often best to save them for the last stages of your Hand pile and most of your Foot pile to help out as the game becomes progressively more difficult. If you still have a lot of cards left in your hand, hold onto your wild cards.
  • Organize your cards into potential melds as you go along. Forming melds on the fly can prove to be particularly challenging. With a number of options already laid out, you will always have a good idea of how you can proceed.
  • Always discard the lowest ranking cards quickly. The lowest ranking cards in the game can become troublesome to dispose of, especially if they are threes which lower your score. Get rid of them as soon as you can to stay ahead of the game.
  • You should aim to go out as quickly as you can, unless your opponents have a significant point lead on you. If your opponents have a much larger score in the game than you, then going out too soon could actually cost you the game. In this case, you’ll be better off sticking around for a little longer to make more melds and raise your score.

Playing Hand and Foot can be a lot of fun, and the game is especially well-suited to larger groups with even numbers. Now that you know how to play, practice scoring and going out as quickly as you can with friends and family.

6 thoughts on “Learn How Hand and Foot Card Games Are Played”

    • You discard all 3’s, quickly. Getting caught with 3’s in your hand costs you points off your score. We play with red being -100 and black is -50.

  1. Is it a penalty to look at your foot before you get in it. I have a habit of looking at my foot if opponent is about to go out. (even tho not in it)

  2. I would like to have someone go over hand and foot; either in person or zoom. I only played the game once and LOVED the game. My phone number is 561 350-1630. I went over the rules on my I-Pad and would like to go over the rules. A reply to this message would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


Leave a Comment