A brief history
My own history with this classic game dates back to the end of the 1960s where my grandparents on my father’s side played it. For many years I teamed up with my dad’s aunt against grandma and grandad. Would have love to see a photo of this odd constellation – a 7/8 year old kid with 3 Port Wine sipping grannies LOL.
I always wondered why Canasta. Now get then reasons. The game origins from Montevideo in Uruguay and spread fast to Argentina a short boat ride away.
Many card games’ histories were passed down fragmentary. They developed over several centuries, going through many changes, branching into separate games. Often, little to nothing is known about the inventor. In contrast, the history of Canasta is young and well documented.
Canasta was developed only in 1939 in Montevideo, Uruguay. Back then, Segundo Santos, a lawyer, and Alberto Serrato, an architect, were Bridge partners. They wanted to develop a card game less time consuming than Bridge, which was popular at the time, and less dependent on chance than Rummy. They began pondering how to combine the exciting elements of the games Bridge, Rummy, and Conquan (or Coo Can) in one new game.
They considered the elements teamplay, forming melds, adding to melds, and the possibility to buy the whole discard pile to be the most interesting. For weeks, they tried different variations of these elements. The result was Canasta, a game played with alliances of two players and thus a more strategic and interesting variety of Rummy.
Following their own tests, they introduced friends to the game. Right away, they were enthusiastic and wanted to know the name of this new game. The two inventors were not at that point yet and improvised. They often held their test games at a restaurant and borrowed a basket, Canastillo in Spanish, for their cards from the waiter. After a bit of wordplay, the bulky Canastillo turned into Canasta – well sounding and easy to remember.
The Rapid Global Expansion
Canasta thrilled Uruguay first, then Argentina, Chile, Peru, and soon all South America. The leap to the USA, however, did not follow immediately. The cause was, presumably, World War Two as a result of which air traffic between South and North America was severely limited. With some delay, Josephine Artayeta de Viel finally brought the game from South America to New York in the USA.
The initial success picked up again, and soon Canasta was being played all over the Americas. Soon after, the game came to Europe via Great Britain. In the mid-fifties, Canasta ranked among the most famous card games in the world. The broad global expansion caused the development of different variations of Canasta. The best-known variation is called Samba Canasta.