How to Play Solitaire

By - 06/27/2022

What is Solitaire?

Solitaire – also known as Patience, Klondike, or Cabale – is a famous solo card game in which a player tries to clear a table of cards by stacking them based on numerical order, color, and, ultimately, suit.

Solitaire is an umbrella term for many single-player card games that involve concentration, skill, and a set layout of cards.

In the traditional version of the game, the short-term objective is to play and expose as many cards as possible to open up the game. The end goal is to stack all the cards in the deck onto the foundation piles – when you have no cards left on the tableau or the reserve pile, the game is won.

The history of solitaire

With the earliest reference of the game appearing in 1746, the original solitaire is believed to have been created by a French aristocrat during his time captured in the Bastille.

However, other sources suggest the card game originated in the 18th-century, in the Baltic region of Europe and possibly arose as a form of fortune-telling.

Variants of solitaire

Solitaire is an umbrella term for many different solo-player card games and there is a range of variants of the game.

Some variants – for example, pyramid or scorpion solitaire – involve radically different layouts and rules to win.

Some require more cards than conventional variants. For example, spider solitaire requires two full decks of cards and is played with 8 foundation piles. Some popular variants of the solitaire format include:

How to Play Solitaire

There are three elements to the starting layout of a game of solitaire – the ‘tableau’ of seven active stacks, four foundational piles (which begin empty), and the ‘stock’ pile, consisting of the rest of the deck.

The aim of solitaire is to create four foundation piles, one for each card suit – with each foundation pile ascending from ace to king.

The seven active stacks in the tableau progress from one card to seven cards, with only the top card of each pile facing up and the others facing down. As the game progresses, these face-down cards may be turned over, at which point they become active and lower cards can be added to them.

At all times, the top card on each tableau pile must be face-up. So, when the current top card gets moved to the foundation pile, the next face-down card must be turned over.

The player can turn over either one or three cards – depending on the game format – from the reserve pile at any time and bring these into play on the tableau.

To learn how to play solitaire, it’s vital to first understand the rules.

Rules of solitaire

  1. Players can only move cards across piles if the card’s value is one less than the occupying face-up card at the top of the stack.
  2. Only face-up cards can be moved at any time, meaning players need to expose face-down cards to progress the game.
  3. The card you’re looking to move must be a different color from the card on the top of the target stack. Stacks should alternate between red and black, and there should never be two black cards or two red cards on top of each other – however, any suit can be placed below any other, as long as they are opposing colors.
  4. In traditional solitaire, there’s no limit to how many times a player can draw cards from the stock pile – however, they must never be shuffled when the game starts. In a game of Vegas solitaire, the stock pile can only be accessed once in a game.
  5. Only when an ace is turned face up can it be used to start a new foundation pile.
  6. If any of the seven columns become empty, you can start a new pile by placing a king in the vacant pile space.

To play solitaire, just follow these easy steps.

1) Make sure the cards are set up correctly

To complete the set-up – known in solitaire as the tableau – make sure you have your 7 ‘stacks’ or ‘piles’, space for the four foundation piles at the top-right, your reserve stack, and one to three spaces for your ‘active’ reserve pile cards.

2) Examine the tableau

The goal is to first expose as many face-down cards as possible to increase the number of options you have for shuffling cards around the tableau and the foundation piles.

Firstly, identify any face-up cards that can be shuffled around on the stacks. This means any aces can be moved to form one of the four foundation piles at the top, and any lower-numbered cards can be stacked to start revealing face-down cards deeper in the stack.

3) Start moving to expose face-down cards

When you move a card to a new stack – leaving a face-down card at the top of the pile – make sure you then flip this card over to make it active and visible. Any aces you uncover can immediately form a new foundation pile at the top-right of the tableau.

With the aces on the foundation piles, you can start ascending the cards from ace to king by adding 2s, 3s, and so on until you have a completed suit in the foundation pile.

You can move any face-up card onto another stack, providing the card you plan to move is one less in value than the face-up card on the intended pile and of the opposite color.

4) Using the reserve pile

If you can no longer make a move with the face-up cards currently in play, you can take up to three additional cards from the reserve pile. In a traditional game of solitaire, there’s no limit to how many times you can cycle through the reserve pile.

If you’re playing with a deck of cards and not online, don’t shuffle the reserve deck. You need to follow the reserve pile cycle, and shuffling can be seen as cheating.

How to win at Solitaire

It’s often thought that solitaire is purely a game of luck and that the chances of you winning are centered around how the cards are shuffled.

However, there’s much more skill involved in the game than first meets the eye. Strategy, knowledge, and experience all play a role in helping to turn what looks like a loss into a win.

If you’re looking to increase that win ratio and step up your game, follow these simple tips:

1) Get to grips with the rules

It may seem obvious but understanding the rules can mean the difference between having to concede and spotting a move that’s a sure-fire win.

On average, players have over an 80% chance of beating the game if all the rules are followed. So, if you’re struggling to win games, practice makes perfect for understanding all the complexities of solitaire.

2) Reveal cards in larger stacks first

Because the stacks are uneven, you should focus on the larger ones first.

By prioritizing these, you have a much greater chance of exposing a more useful face-down card – like a king or an ace – that frees up space on the main tableau or starts a foundation pile.

3) Focus on color when filling a space

When it comes to organizing your cards and giving yourself the most options for moves possible – color is king.

The colors you place when forming or adding to your stacks govern how that pile is played throughout the game. Choosing colors where you have few playable options in your stacks can make it difficult to move around the tableau and access crucial face-down cards.

4) Don’t always build foundation piles first

Solitaire is a game of patience. This means it’s not always advantageous to focus on the end goal straight away.

Attempting to move as many cards as possible into the foundation piles right away isn’t always the best move as it limits how you can move cards around the tableau stacks. For example, adding a six to the foundation pile means you cannot release a five (and so on) from the reserve pile to the tableau if needed.

Striking a balance between moving cards to the foundation piles, or around the tableau when you need to, is critical for the long-term success of standard solitaire and almost all its variants.

5) Make sure there’s a reason for moving any card

With every strategy game, there needs to be a reason to make a move, and solitaire is no different.

You should only be making moves if they get you steps closer to unveiling face-down cards or building on your foundation piles. Experienced solitaire players make every move in a calculated manner in a way that benefits them in the long run.

6) Try not to clear a tableau pile

The only card that can start a new tableau pile once cleared is a king. If you don’t have a king on the tableau or your reserve pile, all clearing a pile does is limit your options when moving cards around and progressing the game.

It’s best to keep all lines of play open for as long as possible – in case you need active piles available to release cards from the reserve pile.

7) Manage your kings

Kings are regarded as the game-changers of solitaire – they are the cards that can decide a match, as they reveal the most cards on the table.

Kings open the door to move around some of the higher value cards – queen, jack, 10, 9, etc. – which can prove tricky to move mid-game without any kings in play.

Solitaire – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the best free solitaire app?

The best solitaire apps will have cards that are easy to read and interact with on mobile, desktop, and tablet.

It will also boast a range of features, like the ability to undo and keep track of total moves, start new games when you're stuck, provide hints, and the option to only play winnable games.

Our goal at Solitaired is to create bespoke solitaire games, and you'll find all these features for new and experienced players throughout the range of games on our site.

What is the best game of solitaire?

The best game of solitaire is down to personal preference. Those new to the game and wanting a simple challenge may prefer Freecell or traditional Klondike. Those that like a challenge and are looking to test their observational skills will enjoy a game of Pyramid or Scorpion solitaire.

Klondike and classic solitaire are by far the most popular versions. Spider solitaire is the next most popular, and then Freecell. You can find all these games and 500 others on Solitaired.com.

Aside from these solitaire games that require playing cards, there are other types of solitaire games that can be played alone, like Mahjong, which uses tiles instead of cards.

Is solitaire good for your brain?

There are numerous mental benefits of playing solitaire – with critical thinking and decision-making involved. Figuring out how to sequence cards to eventually place into the foundation requires sustained periods of concentration, which can improve brain health.

Players find improvements in their memory and decision-making over time while also enjoying a relaxing quality that soothes the mind.

It also teaches patience. For example, there are times in the game when you may want to move a card from the tableau into the foundation pile, but this might put you at a disadvantage. It teaches you that sometimes you must make backward moves to progress the game.

How do I download solitaire on my computer?

We don't yet have a downloadable version of the game. Solitaired is only available with an internet connection. This means you can access our game on any smart device, and because you can save games when logged into a playing profile, you can pick up where you left off on any device.

How do I play solitaire on Windows or Windows 10?

Windows includes a great selection of solitaire games. If you can't find them pre-installed on your computer, search for \"Microsoft Solitaire Collection\" on the Microsoft Store, and then install the game.

Of course, on Solitaired, you can play the game in your browser instantly, and we make regular updates to improve our games.

What is the difference between Klondike and Solitaire?

The game of solitaire has many variations. On our site alone, we have over 500 versions. Klondike solitaire is another name for the classic version of the game and the one you probably first learned to play.

The two terms are often used interchangeably, so when you hear someone talking about playing solitaire, it’s likely they're referring to Klondike solitaire.

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What is the probability of winning solitaire?

Given the complexity and variations of the game, this answer can vary. A study run by Cornell University found that the probability of winning a standard game of solitaire is 82%.

However, this can change depending on the rules of your variant of solitaire. For example, if you don't have infinite re-deals, it's harder to win. Turn 1 Klondike solitaire allows you to play every card from the stockpile and therefore has a higher chance of winning.

However, while a game may be winnable, you'll have to make well over 100 moves on average to win a game. If you make one wrong move, that may lead to the game being over.

What’s the setup for solitaire?

If you’re eager to take solitaire with you on the go or fancy playing with a deck of cards, you’ll need to know how to set them up.

Make sure you have room for the three sections in the playing area.

  • The tableau – The main playing card area.
  • The foundation – The four blocks where the suit piles need to be to win the game
  • The stock pile – Where all the reserve cards are placed and dealt

Once you have enough space for the designated sections, start by constructing the tableau. To do this, you’ll need to:

  1. Shuffle the deck
  2. Deal 7 cards face down and turn the card in the first column over so it’s face-up.
  3. Skipping the first column, deal six more cards face down, just overlapping the previously dealt cards, and turn over the top card on the second column.
  4. Skipping the first and second columns, deal 5 more cards face down on the remaining columns and turn over the top card on the third row so it’s face-up.
  5. Skip the first three columns, deal an additional 4 face-down cards onto the remaining cards, and turn up the top card on the fourth column.

How many columns are there in solitaire?

In a traditional – or ‘Klondike’ – game of solitaire, there should be seven columns.

Other common variants – like spider solitaire – play with two 52-card decks and use 10 columns.

The win rates change drastically between solitaire variants, while user skill also plays a critical role in how often a player wins.

Winnability and odds of winning are two different things and are often confused. A game might be winnable, but if the player doesn’t know the rules well enough, they might not be able to spot a potential path to victory. However, sometimes it is impossible to win.

Is solitaire a game of luck or skill?

Solitaire is predominantly a game of skill.

Sometimes, the card order you’re dealt can make it impossible to win. However, often there is a way to beat the game with enough patience and knowledge.

What is the trick to winning solitaire?

No single trick guarantees you a win in solitaire.

The best way to improve your chances of winning a game of solitaire is by learning the rules of the game inside-out – this will help you spot a winning route in more games.

See the rules of solitaire for additional advice.

What is the average time taken to win a game of solitaire?

The average time taken to complete a game is roughly 10 minutes.

However, this is heavily dependent on user skill and experience, as well as the luck of the draw – which can make it quicker or more time-consuming to complete.

Solitaire – Glossary

When you’re trying to learn a new game, understanding the terminology is key.

Below, you’ll find a list of common terms related to solitaire and what they mean.

  • Blocked – when you can’t make or find any more moves to progress the game. Being blocked is a pivotal point in the game whereby you can easily win or lose.
  • Build – A sequence of cards in a pile. In traditional Klondike solitaire, a build is a series of cards built together in alternate color order – it might look like a red eight followed by a black seven, a red six, and a black five, for example. Some games allow you to move entire builds or split them down the middle, so cards can be shifted to alternate piles. However, some solitaire variants don't let you move or break card formations once they’ve been constructed.
  • Deal – Involves adding more cards to the playing layout from a hand or reserve pile. With some variants, there is no hand or reserve pile – meaning no dealing.
  • Deck – A conventional pack of 52 playing cards. Within games, the word deck also refers to a pile or hand which you can also deal into the game.
  • Foundation – This refers to both an individual suit pile and the ‘foundation’ area on the wider game layout. The aim of traditional Klondike solitaire is to stack all the cards into the four designated foundation piles.
  • Hand – any leftover cards that are separate from the layout. Usually, the hand is where additional cards can be dealt from – this is also known as the deck.
  • Pile – is a cluster of cards. These can either be spread out into a fan or squared – this means that only the topmost card can be seen in the pile.
  • Rank – The value of the card. Ranks can change depending on the game type. For example, an ace is generally ranked as the lowest value card, followed by 2,3,4, and so on. Kings, queens, and jacks are usually the highest-ranked.
  • Reserve (also known as the ‘stock pile') – a pile of cards outside the layout where extra cards can be drawn from. See ‘Hand’.
  • Suit – How cards are organized. A deck of 52 playing cards has four suits: Hearts, Clubs, Spades, Diamonds
  • Tableau – This is the largest section of the solitaire layout, where most of the game action occurs. The table is where the initial stack columns reside in a game.
  • Talon – otherwise known as the ‘waste’ or ‘discard’ pile, the talon is the pile where any cards from the stockpile that are not moved to the tableau are placed. Depending on the game, these can be recycled back into play (including traditional Klondike) or may be removed permanently (Vegas solitaire).
  • Topmost Card – The card at the top of a pile that isn’t overlapped by any other card on the layout and is face-up.

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