Rules for
"Pennies From Heaven"

by Steven & Myra Vagts
Hendersonville, NC 28792


Rules for "Pennies From Heaven"


Players and Cards

There are four to six players with two players to a team sitting opposite each other. A pack of cards is used per player; 4 for four players, 6 for six players, including the two jokers in each deck. All twos and joker are wild. Red and black threes have special properties. The values of the individual cards are:

   Joker  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50 points each
   Two & Ace  . . . . . . . . . . 20 points each
   8, 9, 10, J, Q, K . . . . . . . 10 points each
   4, 5, 6, 7  . . . . . . . . . . .  5 points each
   3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100 points each


The Dealer deals the cards to 4 (or 6) stacks, 15 cards per stack, then gives a stack to each player beginning with the first stack to the player at the dealer's left.

While the Dealer is dealing the playing cards, the dealer's partner is dealing the "Pennies" in a similar manner, but with 11 cards to each stack. The Dealers should make every effort to only pick up the number of cards that they feel that they need to deal their respective stacks. If they are able to deal out the cards perfectly - that is, without picking up any additional cards or replacing any extras - the team gets a bonus of 50 points for each dealer who is successful! The remaining cards from the dealer and his partner are placed together, face down, in one pile (the Draw Pile) at the center of the table. The top card from the Draw Pile is then placed, face up, to begin a "Discard Pile". The "Pennies" stacks are then placed, face down, at the center of the table around the Draw and Discard Piles, again with the first stack being placed in front of the player to the Dealer's left.


Play begins with the Player to the Dealer's left and each turn consists of the following stages:

   1. Drawing the two cards from the Draw pile OR taking the entire Discard pile.
   2. Possibly starting a new meld or adding one or more cards to your own team's melds.
   3. Discarding one card from your hand face up on the discard pile.

Melds and Canastas

A canasta is a meld of seven cards. There are three types of canasta:

"Natural (red)" consists of seven cards of the same rank with no wild cards. It is worth 500 points at the end of the game.
"Unnatural (black)" consists of seven cards, but contains one, two, or three wild cards. The remaining cards are all of the same rank. It is worth 300 points at the end of the game.
"Special" consists of seven cards of Aces, Sevens, or Wild (Twos and Jokers).
At the end of the game each Special canasta is worth:

   Wild: . . . . . . . . . . . 2500 points
   Aces:  . . . . . . . . . . 1500 points
   Sevens: . . . . . . . . . 1000 points

A meld can be started with three or more cards of the same demonination (rank) and built up to a canasta by adding cards on later turns. No meld may ever contain more than seven cards of the same rank. If you have completed a canasta, your team may start another separate meld of cards of the same rank, again needing three to begin.

A mixed meld must must always have one more natural (non-wild) card than wild cards. For example, you can meld two 5's with one 2 (wild), or three Queens with two Jokers (wild).

Each team can have only one meld at a time that contains wild cards. In other words, a player cannot begin an unnatural meld if their team already has a wild card meld, or any other unnatural meld, on the table. Likewise, a player cannot begin a wild card meld until any unnatural meld on the table for their team is finished into a canasta.

The first meld by any team member must meet "Opening Meld" point minimums. The Opening Meld point minimums are determined by the Team's Cumulative Score as follows:

Team's Cumulative Score Minimum Opening Meld
0 points 50 points
9,000 90 points
12,000 120 points
15,000 150 points

Bonuses for red threes or canastas do not count towards this Opening Meld requirement - it must be achieved only from the value of the individual cards in the meld.

Discarding, Freezing, and Taking the Pile

Any card can be discarded, though it may not be wise to discard special cards, such as Sevens and Aces, because of their value in completed canastas. Black Threes, a Red Three (as a result of being the first card turned over at the start of the hand), and Wild Cards freeze the discard pile. So you can never pick up the discard pile if the top card is a Three or a Wild Card.

If the top card of the Discard Pile is a natural card and you have two matching natural cards in your hand, you may always take the pile, provided that:

   1. You immediately meld the top card together with the two cards from your hand; and
   2. If your team has not melded before, you must at the same time put down sufficient
      cards from your hand, in this and possibly other melds, to satisfy the minimum
      Opening Meld requirement. Only after meeting this requirement are you allowed to
      take the rest of the pile.

If a Red Three had been at the bottom of the Discard Pile (as the initial turn-over card), it must now be placed on the table and a replacement card is picked from the Draw Pile.

If a Wild Card or Black Three is discarded, the next player can not pick up the pile, but must draw from the Draw Pile. The next discard covers the frozen Discard Pile and play continues normally.

The Playing Table

Let's take a moment to interrupt a hand in progress to see one possible layout of the table. There is no set way to set out the meld or canastas, or even where to place the "Pennies". This is just how we generally do it. The meld and finished canastas are maintained by one partner of each team. Here, some canastas are already finished and one team has already picked up their "Pennies".


The Playing Hand

While we are at it, let's also look at one way to maintain your playing hand. Again, you can hold the cards any way that you like, but the scattered approach won't be very organized and you can lose track of what's in your hand when you have picked up the pile a few times. Here's one recommended scheme:

    High value cards together at the left end.
    Pairs, possible melds, and important single cards in the center.
    Discards at the front.


The Pennies!

You are not permitted to look at your face down "Pennies" of 11 cards until you have personally completed a canasta - that is, contributed the seventh and last card to a canasta for your team. When you first complete a canasta in this way, after discarding at the end of that turn, you pick up your "Pennies", review them for Red Threes, then add the cards to your hand. If any Red Threes were found in your "Pennies", you must immediately place it on the table and pick a replacement card.

Red and Black Threes

Anyone who is dealt or draws a Red Three must immediately place it face up with their team's melds and draw a replacement card from the Draw Pile. Red Threes do not count towards a team's minimum Opening Meld. If a Red Three is turned up as the first card of the pile after the deal, it freezes the pile, and the first player to take the pile must immediately lay out the red three and pick a replacement card from the Draw Pile.

At the end of the hand, each Red Three counts for 100 bonus points. As an option (we don't use it), a team which has all eight Red Threes counts 1000 points instead of 800.

If a player has not yet completed a canasta and picked up their "Pennies" by the time the hand ends (there are no cards left in the Draw Pile), any Red Threes found in the "Pennies" cost 100 points!

Black Threes cannot be melded - only discarded. If a Black Three is discarded, it freezes the pile and the next player in turn is not allowed to pick up the pile. As soon as the Black Three is covered by another discard, it no longer has any affect. Black Threes stuck in a player's hand at the end of the hand cost 100 points.

Burying Extra Cards

As the play progresses and the last Red Three is expected at any time, extra cards will be collected that just won't fit in any kind of meldable situation and they are too numerous to discard. These can be "Buried" during your normal turn, provided that a canasta (natural or unnatural) of that rank card has already been completed by the team.

For example, you hold a ten in your hand and the team already has a canasta of tens completed. You may "Bury" that Ten by simply announcing that you are "Burying a Ten" and placing the card face down on the table.

You may not "Bury" and go out in the same turn! Buried cards do not count in the scoring.

Going Out and Scoring

You can only go out when all eight Red Threes have been exposed and placed on the table AND when your team has completed a minimum of both a regular Natural or Unnatural Canasta AND a Special Canasta (Wilds, Aces, or Sevens).

You may (but need not) ask permission to go out from your partner, but if you choose to ask, you must do as the partner says. To go out, you meld all of your cards and/or discard your last remaining card.

After a player goes out, or if the last card is drawn from the Draw Pile, each player totals what remains in their hands (including any "Pennies" not picked up) - per the card values given earlier. This total is subtracted from the meld and/or canastas on the table.

The team then totals remaining meld on the table at the card values given earlier, the Red Threes (100 points each), the value of each canasta, and 200 bonus points if they had gone out.

The Game ends when any team reaches 25,000 points.

Game Strategy

"Picking up the Pile" is critical for several reasons - it provides you much more to meld, gives greater flexibility in discarding, and deprives the other team(s) of the cards. So, don't meld everything in your hand as soon as you can. If you partner already has their "Pennies", hold onto your cards until you have five of a kind, then meld three, reserving two to pick up the pile. On the other hand, you also lose the ability to "pick" the special cards from the Draw Pile if you pick up the pile too often.

"Exceeding Four Cards" on the table in any meld hampers your ability to pick up the Discard Pile. This is because you cannot exceed seven cards in a canasta and must finish the canasta before starting another of the same denomination. For example, if you have five 6's on the table, you need to finish your 6's before you can pick up the 6 on the top of the Discard Pile. That means that you must hold four 6's in your hand to pick up the pile! On the other hand, if the opposing team has five cards on the table, you can generally safely discard a card of that denomination - for the same reason!

"Unnatural Canastas" are NOT required in this version of "Pennies". So minimize wasting Wild Cards on these less important canastas. Save the Wild Cards for their own Canasta - and 2500 big ones. However, don't forget that you can increase your Opening Meld by adding the Two or Joker to a pair of other cards. Then finish that "Unnatural Canasta" as soon as possible to get your "Pennies" and be allowed to start your "Wild Canasta" as soon as possible.

"Count the Wilds" to know how many Wild Cards are left. You have enough "Wilds" to finish three canastas and have three Wild Cards left. If the opposing team has already melded four "Wilds" and a total of two "Wild Canastas" have already been completed, don't begin to start another that you can never finish. Save them for finishing some "Unnatural Canastas" towards the end of the game - they'll count more than just face value.

"Count the Cards" to know how many are left of a particular denomination. For anything other than the Wild Cards, you have enough to finish two canastas and have two left. If the opposing team has already melded three of a particular denomination and one canasta of them has already been completed, don't wait around for another that will never appear. Finish them with the extra "Wilds" that you've been keeping track of - again, they'll count more than just face value.

"Remember Your Opponent's Discard" to know what you can safely discard. Odds are pretty good that what they discarded isn't what they are saving in their hand, but also be watchful of the sucker play. Throwing the third card and hoping to entice your opponent into discarding the same often works, too!

"Save the Black Threes" at least for awhile in the early stages of the hand. Few people will pick up the Discard Pile when it only contains a few cards. So hold off discarding these little gems until the pile is big enough that you want to start getting it yourself! Of course, don't save them so long or with so many that you get stuck with them either.

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Copyright © 2007, Steven W. Vagts
Revised -- September 07, 2007
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