Solitaire – The World’s Most Popular Single-Player Card Game
You’ve got a standard deck of 52 cards and a bit of time on your hands. What to do, what to do?
Before the invention of smartphones and computers, a game (or several) of Solitaire was a typical fall-back activity. Solitaire is a card game most commonly played solo, and each newly-dealt hand presents the player with new opportunities to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Solitaire is the name of the game in the United States, but in most European locations, it has been and still is called Patience.
It’s been around for a few centuries and has been reworked over 100 times, providing different ways to play. But factor in some minor rule changes, and you’re looking at over a thousand different games of Solitaire.
While Solitaire is a card game, you may have played it without ever holding a pack in your hand, thanks to Microsoft. The technology giant launched its first electronic Solitaire game back in 1990 in conjunction with its Windows 3.0 release.
We’ll get more into Microsoft Solitaire shortly, but if you’re wondering if you’re alone in your affinity for the game, you might be interested in knowing that 55 million Microsoft Solitaire Collection games are played daily!
With a game that’s been around for a few centuries and is embraced in 1,000 plus varieties, we have a lot to share. So read on and find out the why’s, where’s, and how’s of the game of Solitaire.
The History of Solitaire
Playing cards have been around since the 9th century and began to more closely resemble today’s deck as far back as 1480 AD in France when the cards were divided into four suits.
Solitaire relies heavily on those four suits, as the objective of the game is to play the cards in a way that you can then move them into four individual and dedicated piles of suits, called foundations. You also need to accomplish a consecutively increasing rank going from Ace (low) to King (high).
The Name of the Game
Solitaire is the name of the game that’s used in the US and Canada, but Patience is the original and most common designation everywhere else.
The creator and origin details are a bit unclear, but most agree that it likely got its start in Germany in the mid-18th century. A 1788 German book of games mentions Patience and the familiar rules.
The Game’s Momentum
Patience made its way to France in the early 19th century, where it’s known as Réussite, meaning “success.”
In 1826, the oldest known book dedicated to a collection of Patience games was published in Moscow.
England eventually caught on to the game in the mid-1800s, and it was said to be a favorite of Prince Albert. It also then spread to North America, with a logical name change to Solitaire, as it’s more often than not played by just one person.
In the latter half of the 20th century, modern forms of Solitaire were developed and documented within the hundreds of books published, all dedicated to the challenging but straightforward card strategy.
Ties to Fortune Telling
Playing cards, in general, have had a long history of use for fortune telling purposes. With symbolism in both the numbers and the suits, the luck of the draw could result in a positive foretelling (or maybe not).
Some historians say that the earliest game of Solitaire was played with a tarot card deck. But a regular deck of ranks and suits could unlock your fate based on the results at the end of the game.
While the objective is to clear the board and have four piles of the different suits with 13 cards all in consecutive order from Ace to King, that doesn’t happen all of the time. So, the four-pile result is the indicator of the four cards to be read.
The Online Solitaire Explosion
On May 22nd of 1990, Microsoft introduced a familiar game in an unfamiliar format. Microsoft Solitaire was part of the Windows 3.0 rollout. Its purpose was to get users comfortable using a computer, even down to the basics like the repetitive mouse and keyboard interaction.
It also seems amusing these days, doesn’t it?! Two-years-olds are proficient at pulling up websites and take to a mouse better than their parents and grandparents.
Even though there are incredible technologically-advanced games now available, many with realistic 3D effects or attention-grabbing video components, 38,194 games of Solitaire are played on the Microsoft platform alone every single minute. That’s 20 billion games a year just through the Windows operating system.
The initial 1990 release started the trend of lower work productivity. Owners and managers were picking up significant changes as Solitaire popped up on every work screen. These days, there are other distractions like Facebook and Twitter, but it certainly hasn’t halted interaction with the familiar one-player game.
Terms Used in Solitaire
Any unique Solitaire terminology is used to reference the placement of the cards on the board and not any specific moves or game strategy. Without even knowing what descriptive terms are available, you could still play Solitaire effortlessly.
We’re going to get into the “how to play” information in the next section, though, and will be using these terms. So, it’s helpful to have a general understanding of the game board.
There are over 100 different games with 1,000+ variations, so they will have some game-specific terms. But a general understanding of the original game is all you need to get your Solitaire game in play.
A tableau describes your interactive playing area. In the primary game of Solitaire, it consists of seven columns of “piles.”
The foundation is the area above the tableau that you’re attempting to fill. The foundation starts out blank, but for a successful game, it will have four piles. Each pile represents the four suits, with 13 cards in each, thereby accommodating the entire deck.
The pile is the individual stack of cards that can be in the tableau or the foundation.
The stockpile consists of the excess cards (24) that aren’t placed on your starting tableau. You’ll use the stockpile throughout the game to add to both the tableau and foundation.
Space is an empty column in the tableau. In traditional Solitaire, space can be filled with a King.
A suit represents either Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, or Spades in a deck of cards.
A pip is the card value. It can be 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.
In Solitaire, the lowest card is the Ace.
Ace is not high in Solitaire. King is the highest-ranking card in each suit.
A cascade is a sequence of face-up alternating red and black-colored cards in one single column in a tableau.
Klondike, like Patience, is another name for Solitaire.
Setting up a New Game
When you set up a new game of Solitaire, you’re setting up the tableau. The foundation area is left blank, as you’ll need to fill it using strategic moves during gameplay.
The tableau consists of seven piles that increase in increments of one, going from left to right. Wow, that sounded confusing, didn’t it?
Here’s how you would deal out a new game, as well as an easy-to-understand diagram that will clear things up for you.
- Shuffle the 52-card deck, and then you’ll deal out the cards in front of you, starting from the left.
- The first card is dealt face-up; the next six cards are placed face-down. All cards go horizontally (from left to right) in a nice neat row.
- As soon as a card is face-up, you ignore that column and start with the face-down card to the right.
- Starting with position two (the first face-down pile on the left), deal one card face-up and then a card on each of the following five piles face-down.
- Continue in the same manner, starting with the face-down pile on the left and covering it with a face-up card and then continuing with face-down cards for the rest of the row.
- You’ll deal the cards out the same way for seven total go-rounds until you have seven face-up cards on the tableau.
A proper deal looks like this.
An area above the tableau needs to be reserved for the four foundations. You’ll also need room to turn some fresh cards over from the stockpile.
How to Play Solitaire
Once you have your game board all set up, it’s time to start filling in your foundation.
Going for the Win
To win the game, you need to have moved every card in the tableau and your stockpile into the foundation in the proper order.
Each of the four piles in the foundation starts with an Ace and then progressively increases by one until the King completes the stack of 13 cards in each of the four suits.
For example, one of the piles would start with an Ace of Hearts. The next card on top of the Ace will be the 2 of Hearts, then the 3 of Hearts, and so forth. After the 10 of Hearts is played, the next card is the Jack of Hearts, then the Queen of Hearts, and, finally, the King of Hearts completes the sequence.
Using the Tableau
The use of the tableau coupled with the stockpile is the key to building the foundation. You want to have access to as many cards as possible so that you’re successful in building up each of the four suit foundations, starting with an Ace in each one.
From Tableau to Foundation
The first thing you’ll do when you evaluate your game is to move any Aces that are revealed up to the foundation area.
The foundation will eventually consist of four piles – one for each suit being Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades (in any order).
Ace plays first, as the foundation is built from the lowest card to the highest. For example, once you have an Ace of Clubs in place, the 2 is next and must be the same suit. A 2 of Clubs will be placed on top of the Ace of Clubs in the foundation. Then, the 3 of Clubs would be next in line.
Your priority throughout the game is moving the cards up to the foundation. A win is a full four-pile foundation of all 52 cards played correctly.
So, move up Aces, and then always look for any playable tableau cards that can also be transferred to the foundation.
Moving Cards Around Within the Tableau
The tableau can be manipulated to shift cards around and give you access to new ones that may be next in line for the foundation.
Card sequences, or cascades, within the tableau are in reverse order (lower cards play on the higher ones) and alternate between black and red (regardless of suit). You don’t put the same suit on the same suit in the tableau, as you do in the foundation.
The face-up card at the top of each pile can be moved to other piles if a play is available. It’s red-black or black-red and then the one pip (or one rank) lower card on the higher one.
In the following game, for example, the Jack of Hearts could be moved to the Queen of Spades. The column with the Ten of Spades could then be moved across to the Jack of Hearts.
However, you can only play (or move) the top exposed card in each of the seven columns. You can’t grab a card that’s situated within the sequence. At any given time, you have access to a maximum of seven tableau cards.
After Moving a Tableau Card
When you move a card in the tableau, whether it’s up to the foundation or within the tableau itself, you then either have a face-down card or a space remaining.
If you move a face-up card elsewhere and are left with a new card that’s yet to be revealed, you turn it over. Now, you have a brand-new card in play that can help you to fill in the foundation or can open up other opportunities.
If your tableau move resulted in a blank space instead of a face-down card, you can fill it with any of the four Kings if one is available. What that will do is help you move additional cards around. After all, you want to have access to every card so that you can transfer the entire collection to the foundation one by one. So, starting a space with a King may allow you to reveal a new face-down card and expose more cards, as you can then move over a Queen, then a Jack, etc.
Out of Moves – It’s Time for the Stockpile
Once you’ve moved around as many cards as you can, and you’re at a temporary standstill, it’s time to start using the stockpile.
You may find that stockpile use varies depending on the game rules you’re referencing. Some games designate that you turn over one card at a time in the stockpile, and then, once you’ve gone through all of the cards, the game is over.
Another and more common version directs players to use the stockpile to turn over new cards in threes. What that means is that you’ll hold the deck, and you’ll count out three cards from the top and turn them over, thereby revealing just the third card. You can then play that card if you have an open space in the tableau or foundation.
If you play the revealed card, you then have access to the next card that was hidden beneath it.
If you don’t play the revealed card, you’ll flip over another mini-pack of three (revealing the sixth card in) and have the option to play that card or flip another three over.
Once you get through the stockpile in sets of three, you can start again. As long as you’ve played at least one card in the midst of turning them over the first time, you should have access to brand-new cards the next time through.
As you turn over your cards from the stockpile, they’re being placed in the waste pile face-up but only revealing the uppermost card. Any time you play the top card in the stockpile, you then have access to the next card in the stockpile.
You can switch back and forth from the stockpile to the waste pile as opportunities open up for you. You can also integrate moves within the tableau with your stockpile play.
Reveal as Much as You Can
As you can see, winning the game depends on having access to all of the cards you need to fill in the foundation. So, you want to evaluate your moves as you go and make it a point to have access to as many cards as possible.
Paying attention to the ever-changing tableau is important. As you’re moving things around, you’re opening up cards that you may need for the foundation.
Your four areas of focus are as follows.
- The cards in the foundation (first and foremost)
- The tableau
- The stockpile
- The waste pile
Ending the Game
A game of Solitaire ends in one of two ways.
- A win
- You are successful, having moved all 52 cards into the foundation area based on suit and sequence.
- A loss
- You are entirely out of moves. You have been able to play a card from the stockpile to reveal more cards. You can’t play the top card in the waste pile. You have no moves either within the tableau or from the tableau to the foundation.
Solitaire Strategy and Tips
Different variations of Solitaire will each come with game-specific tactics that will help you be as successful as possible.
As we’re primarily discussing the fundamental game of Solitaire (Klondike or Patience), we’re going to stick with a few tips that apply to this version. These are just some general guidelines. The best strategy you could employ is to consider your future moves and continuously re-evaluate your plays based on new cards being revealed.
Keep All Seven Columns Occupied at All Times
Keeping seven columns occupied means that, if you don’t have a King to move into a space, you keep the space filled until one becomes available. The reason being is that you will have seven available cards from which to select instead of six as a result of space.
Don’t Rush to Play Every Card
Keeping track of future moves in Solitaire is key to being successful in your gameplay. Sometimes holding off on playing every possible card is a better decision. If you wait a turn or two to move something to the foundation, you may have opened up new cards that can also be played at the same time.
It’s a balancing act. You do want to rotate cards around, but your primary objective is to get as many cards as possible into the foundation.
When You Have a Choice, Play from the Longest Cascade
The longest cascade refers to the exposed cards within the tableau. If you have a sequence of eight cards alternating between red and black and a sequence of two in a different column, experts advise to play the eight-card column first whenever possible.
Down-Cards Are Priority Number Two
Building your foundation is always the top priority. But second to that, you want to reveal any of the down-cards within your tableau area. So, whenever possible, move the face-up card out of position so you can expose a brand new one in its place.
Mid-Value Cards Are Less Important
Mid-value cards are 5s, 6s, 7s, and 8s, and they aren’t the most important cards to interact with unless they allow you to move cards up to the foundation or reveal a down-card. It’s not necessary to just move them from pile to pile unless they’re directly beneficial.
Disregard All Tips for Other Tactical Advantages
Every game will be different, and you’re looking at four separate pieces of the puzzle with every move you make. As long as you keep looking ahead and don’t immediately act on every card as it becomes available, you can disregard some or all of the above tips depending on your situation.
Solitaire helps you build your strategic muscles, as it requires you to plan and prepare throughout the game.
We’ve been discussing the primary game of Solitaire, which is the same as Patience and Klondike. If you’ve played before or you’ve read through our game rules, you can see how it’s a basic game of moves, but it can get monotonous if you play it often.
That’s why there are so many different versions of Solitaire that have been invented. Some switch things up from single player to competition play. Others will integrate an additional deck of cards or an alternative starting formation.
They’ve all branched off from standard Solitaire, so once you are comfortable with the process, you can easily change things up with any number of variations. The following are just a few of the thousands of options available to you.
Despite a different set-up, this game is nearly identical to traditional Solitaire. Instead of initially dealing out the cards in seven columns that include 21 down-cards and seven up-cards, the tableau is designed as a pyramid, and all 28 cards are face-up.
However, you don’t have access to all of them. You have to work through the pyramid starting with the bottom row of seven and working your way up to the top card.
Pyramid Solitaire uses the stockpile concept, and all 52 cards need to be moved to the foundation in proper order to capture a win.
FreeCell is a more modern version of Solitaire that has an interesting story involving its invention.
Paul Alfille is the creator and came up with the game in the late 1960s while he was only ten years old. He played traditionally with a physical deck of cards, but his aversion to shuffling led him to code a computerized version in 1979. His coding work was accomplished while he attended the University of Illinois, ironically as a medical student and not a coder.
Alfille’s game was one of the earliest and most used game-playing programs and also retained statistics and winning streaks for the users.
Again, it’s a one-player game that retains most of Solitaire’s rules and challenges with a few fun twists.
FreeCell is dealt eight columns across with all stacks revealing the entire 52-card deck of cards. There isn’t a stockpile used to add to the mix. Everything is right in front of you. In addition to the eight-column tableau, there’s the standard foundation area for four 13-card stacks, but there’s one more area added.
The third playing area is called the free cell area. The game starts with four open spaces in the free cell area and allows players to move up to four cards from the tableau to give them access to more moves on the board.
Individual and sequences of cascades can be moved from one column to another to expose a needed card.
The main premise is still to fill the foundation, but the differences are that players can see every card right in front of them and they have use of the four free cell areas to help them reorganize and redistribute the tableau.
Now we’re going to venture into a big twist on the game that we’ve been previously discussing. Tri-Peaks Solitaire not only looks different, but the concept also takes a significant detour from the “foundation building” games.
Tri-Peaks still offers a tableau of 28 cards, but it’s built up in three pyramids that overlap in the bottom two rows.
The game is a score-based game, and the object is to transfer all cards from the tableau into the discard pile. If you can move long sequences of cards, you rack up more points.
So, you’ve got a tableau, a discard pile, and a stockpile to work with during the game.
During the game set-up, the top card in the stockpile is turned over and placed on the discard pile face-up. That card determines the start of the play.
The tableau is worked through starting at the bottom. When cards are removed, other layers of the pyramid are unlocked. Based on the card in the discard pile, tableau cards are removed by playing either a card directly above or below the discard.
For example, if an 8 is on top of the discard pile, you can play a 7 or a 9 from the tableau. If an Ace is on top, you can play it high or low with a King or a 2. You want to get rid of as many cards in a row from the tableau as possible to earn the most points.
The first card you move gets you one point. The second card in a row is worth two points. The third card is three, and so on, as long as you can keep pulling from the tableau.
When you run out of plays, you need to turn over a card from the stockpile to reset the discard. But once you do, you not only start at the one-point level again, but you also lose five points from your total.
You also get bonuses of 15 points for each of the first two pyramids you clear and 30 for the third one.
Tri-Peaks Solitaire is a more fast-paced game, and the point system allows for competition play or self-improvement challenges.
Unlike the Tri-Peaks game, Spider Solitaire does use the foundation-premised Ace to King sequences in the same suit.
However, Spider is a much more challenging game. It’s typically played with two decks of cards, but beginners could take four decks and eliminate two suits from each. You do need 104 cards, but playing with only two suits is an easier way to play if you’re not familiar with the game or want a faster game.
For the game of Spider, the cards are dealt in ten columns across. For complete rows of ten, each is dealt face-down, and then an extra fifth row that consists of just four face-down cards starting on the left is added.
From there, one more complete row with all cards face-up is then dealt and creates a starting point. Even though there are foundations, they’re not used as much as in traditional Solitaire. The foundations are built within the tableau first by moving cards around in descending order.
The object is to create same-suit descending cascades with all 13 cards used in each and move them one by one to the foundation area. You need to clear the board eventually, but you can only transfer cards after a complete 13-card same-suit set is in place.
Spider also includes a stockpile for the extra cards, but creating those foundations from within the tableau takes the game of Solitaire to a whole new level.
Canfield Solitaire is sometimes confused with Klondike, but it’s a different version using a four-card tableau instead of 28 cards.
The game was named after its inventor, Richard A. Canfield. Canfield owned a casino in Saratoga Springs, New York. His patrons were offered the opportunity to play this twist on Solitaire for the low, low price of just $50. Oh, and did we say that this was in the 1890s?
The gambler would then receive $5 for every card placed in the foundations and a $500 prize for successfully moving all 52 cards.
Canfield Solitaire is known to be one of the more challenging versions, though, so the $500 payouts were few and far between.
The deal consists of 13 cards first dealt into a reserve pile with the top card turned face-up for play.
Then, the next card is turned face-up and positioned in one of the four open foundation places. This card becomes the “foundation card.” In Canfield Solitaire, foundations don’t automatically start with an Ace. The foundation card determines the starting position.
So, if a 5 of Hearts became the foundation card, fives are the starter cards. The foundations would then go from 5 to King and continue from Ace to 4 to complete the suit of 13.
Next, the tableau is set up, and it’s a simple four-card (all face-up) tableau.
The reserve pile is used to fill in the tableau as needed.
The remaining pile is the stockpile, and it’s turned over, as in Solitaire, as needed, in groups of three cards at a time.
The object is the same as Solitaire and Patience. A player needs to get all 52 cards into the foundation to win.
When you read that the player would get $5 per card in the foundation, you may have done the math and thought that it would be a slam dunk. After all, the buy-in was $50, so all you need to break even is ten cards in the foundation.
However, Canfield is a challenging game, and the odds of winning are much less than with other variations. The average foundation card placement per game is only five or six. So, if you invested $50 and even placed six, the casino is still ahead by $20.
Other Solitaire Variations
We just outlined a few of the more commonly-played versions, but if you enjoy the basic premise, you certainly aren’t limited to one game. Many of the other options are based on four of the games we’ve outlined for you, including original Solitaire or Klondike, Canfield, Spider, and FreeCell, with a few others that can’t be categorized as easily.
- Russian Solitaire
- Single-Card Klondike
- Single-Card Canfield
- Double Scorpion
- Black Widow
- Baker’s Game
You’re probably familiar with the original Microsoft Solitaire with the bright green background. It was exciting to be able to use the computer for something fun instead of data and word processing.
Even though it’s been 28 years since its Solitaire launch, Microsoft is still meeting the demands of loyal players. A few years ago, it launched its Solitaire Collection with added support for Xbox Live.
If you doubt its popularity in translating to such a big gaming platform, it was a proven hit. Microsoft reported that, by 2016, Solitaire had awarded more than 1.3 billion Gamerscore, which would be like a high game score on an old video game.
Microsoft doesn’t corner the market on Solitaire, though. You can find any of the multiple variations online through numerous gaming platforms like AARP games or MSN games. There are also websites entirely devoted to Solitaire play. A few of the top online casinos offer Solitaire games you can play for real money, too.
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Solitaire, card play for one, has been keeping global players entertained for centuries now. At the heart of the game, there’s a simple premise, but creative game players have taken it to a whole new level hundreds of times over.
It doesn’t matter if you play with a deck of cards, on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, Solitaire allows you to strategize and improve your gameplay with every new deal. Some of the more creative twists to the original even allow you to compete with friends for a high score.
If you haven’t played since you were a kid, you may not even know about most of the spin-offs that add a whole new level of excitement and challenge.
So, the next time you’re waiting in a doctor’s office or stuck on a plane for hours, grab a deck of cards (or your phone) and try out some of the newer versions. You’re sure to find a new favorite go-to. No opponent required.