What Is Solitaire?
The term ‘solitaire‘ is itself a confusing one. For those in the US, it refers to a particular set of card games that can be enjoyed by a single person, wherein you shuffle a pack of cards and are then expected to return them to order. And yes – they are games, even if they‘re played alone (at least according to card game historian David Parlett).
But for the rest of the English-speaking world, solitaire is often referred to as ‘patience‘. The term ‘solitaire‘ is used for a chess like game played with marbles and a peg board – in the UK at least.
However, with the proliferation of the American vernacular – and of course, the famous Microsoft version ubiquitous to all windows-running computers, it‘s unlikely that using the term ‘solitaire‘ to refer to the card game will generate a great deal of confusion on the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps because there are a variety of different ‘patience‘ games with slight changes to the rules of each, and also because the marble-based game is firmly out of fashion.
‘Patiences‘ are broadly defined by Parlett as games where ‘the player starts by shuffling the pack very thoroughly and then aims to get the cards back in order by following certain rules of play‘. They can be played by multiple players in competition, or solo. They can be played purely for fun, or can be staked.
Both ‘patience‘ and ‘solitaire‘ are terms borrowed from French; solitaire simply means ‘solitary‘, reflecting the single-person nature of the game. However the game itself is not necessarily French in origin…
A Brief History of Solitaire
Before we start, we should note that investigating the history of particular card games can get you into some murky waters, due to the fact that there are a seemingly infinite number of variations on the classic fifty two card formula.
Patience games first appeared in the areas around the Baltic Sea. An investigation by Ross and Healey, members of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, concluded that they probably originated in Sweden.
The first known written reference to ‘a game of patience‘ is in a German card game anthology from 1783. Within that collection, however, their specific patience game is played by two players, and it is staked.
But by 1826, there were enough variations on the game to fill its own anthology, with ‘A Collection of the Card Layouts Usually Known as Grand Patiences‘, published that year in Moscow (yes, book titles were far longer in those times). Naturally its original title is in Russian.
A similar rench collection appeared in 1842 – and by this time it had acquired an association with the boredom of courtly life. The Danish poet, Oehlenschläger, remarked on this in a letter about his visit to Versailles, the seat of the French king. The queen and her sister-in-law were killing time by playing the game.
In fact, patience games, and ‘solitaire‘ in particular, were once well associated with high society women with nothing but time on their hands. But there‘s also a curious association with the indefatigable emperor Napoleon, so it‘s no surprise that many types of solitaire are named after him.
The obvious connection with the emperor is during his second (and ultimate) exile on the remote St. Helena. It‘s not unrealistic to assume that he‘d play cards to pass the time while imprisoned on an island only ten miles across and more than one thousand miles from anything else.
And he did – though not solitaire. A letter on the idle emperor‘s status references a ‘solitary game of patience‘, but it was being played in the corner of the room by an associate. Instead, Napoleon is said to have enjoyed Vingt-Un (21), Piquet, and Whist.
So how did solitaire go from a game enjoyed by bored queens and bored emperors to one enjoyed by bored office workers? By the end of the 19th-century patience games had reached somewhat of a heyday; solitaires gained their place as a reliable way to kill the time.
But with the development of information technology (and a raft of new ways to escape boredom), it took a curious choice to explode solitaire‘s popularity and make it the quintessential time-filler of the 2000s.
Determining the best game to ‘soothe people‘ into their Windows 3.0 operating system, Microsoft set artist Susan Kare (the pioneering graphic designer) and programmer Wes Cherry to work on a digital solitaire game which could help improve mouse skills and get users to grips with a graphical user interface (GUI).
At a time when home computers came packaged with very little software and had limited graphical capabilities, the simple but ever changing setup of solitaire made it an obvious standout among users for killing the time.
It has remained a firm favourite ever since, but with Microsoft adding new features to a game well-loved for its simplicity, not to mention the popularity of MacBooks and android devices, many now turn to online versions for that simple solitaire fix.
How to Play Solitaire
As mentioned in our history overview, there are countless variations of patience games, so we‘ll be focusing on the single player version you‘re probably most familiar with: classic (or Klondike) solitaire.
It remains the most popular format: a thoroughly shuffled deck, with 7 rows of cards laid out next to each other, ascending proportionately in number (from 1 card in row 1 to 7 in row 7).
The goal is to reset the deck back into order – which for the purposes of solitaire is spades, diamonds, clubs and hearts, ascending from ace to king (a typical deck of cards comes arranged with clubs and hearts in descending order, not to mention the jokers).
First you need to set up your game: create seven rows of cards with an ascending number of cards in each row counting up to seven, facing away from you (this is called the tableau). You should lay each row of cards in a vertical line, overlapping each other. Each of these rows is called a cascade.
Flip over the bottom card of each cascade (of course, just the single card in row 1) so you can see the suit and number.
Place the remainder of the cards in a stack facing down so you can‘t see the number or suit, somewhere near the tableau. This is called the talon.
Make a space on your table for the foundation (that‘s enough space to fit four cards next to each other – one for each suit). This is where you‘ll take cards from the cascades and arrange them into ascending order by their suits, starting at the ace.
Your aim is to move cards from the tableau or talon to the foundations. The game, then, is built around a series of rules which make this achievable in a challenging but rewarding fashion – so let‘s break it down.
How to Correctly Set Up a Solitaire?
Achieving the perfect setup is simple. In most Klondike games, you‘ll have the talon above the first two cascades of the tableau, and the foundation above the final four, creating a rectangular playing area.
Getting the perfect tableau set up means making it so the rows of alternating coloured cards you‘ll be creating can easily be picked up and moved between cascades. You can do this by making sure that there‘s just enough of each of the individual cards showing in the overlapping rows, about a finger‘s width.
Of course, in online solitaire, it‘s already set it all up for you – you can get playing right away.
What is the Foundation in Solitaire?
As mentioned earlier, the foundation is the name for the area where you‘ll be arranging each suit of cards in ascending order.
What Types of Solitaire Are There?
Aside from Klondike – and those Napoleon-inspired variants we mentioned – a countless number. Inevitable, given that the game and its variations could fill an anthology all the way back in 1783, and has had 240 years of development since then. Here are some other well-known versions.
Klondike is far and away the best known of all solitaire variants, which is why we thought we‘d go into a little more detail about its origins.
It‘s evident from the name that it had some connection with the Klondike area of Yukon, Canada (though it might also remind you of a certain chocolate bar), and indeed it does, as it emerged around the time of the Klondike gold rush.
It‘s also known as Canfield, named after the eponymous casino of one Richard Albert Canfield, ‘prince of gamblers‘, where a staked version of the game was once played.
To the uninitiated, mahjong solitaire sounds like a fusion of patience and the famed Chinese tile game. In reality, ‘solitaire‘ here refers to the term‘s original meaning: solitary.
Mahjong is usually played with multiple players, whereas this variant can be enjoyed solo. You win the game by matching identical tiles, and removing each pair from the board until none are remaining.
The ultimate way that FreeCell differs from conventional solitaire is that it‘s almost impossible to lose. As such, the focus becomes on beating your previous score, which explains why it‘s an entirely computer-led invention.
Another change is that you can see every card in the cascades, not just the bottom one, and there are typically eight cascades in total as opposed to the seven of Klondike.
Spider solitaire takes its name from the eight foundations that players have to fill to win, referencing the eight legs of a spider. This means that the game is played with two decks of cards, with fifty four cards arranged into ten cascades and the rest of the deck used as a talon.
Unlike Klondike, you have to arrange the cascades first on the tableau before moving them to the foundations. To facilitate this, you can stack cards of the same colour.
How to Win a Solitaire Game
In short, a game of solitaire is won once all the cards in a shuffled deck are returned to a particular order. You lose the game if there are no more moves available for you to achieve this.
This tends not to be a factor on online solitaire games however: the decks are often shuffled to particular settings which always allow for a win, and can be scaled at different difficulties.
With a randomly shuffled deck, it‘s not uncommon to experience loss after loss. In fact, the average win rate for Klondike is 1 in every 30 games.
But however you intend on playing, we‘ve put together a few tips and tricks which will hopefully help you reach new solitaire heights.
Solitaire Tips and Tricks
- Start off by immediately drawing a card into the waste pile – in Klondike, you can draw the top card from the waste at any point. Doing this at the start of the game will give you greater options before you eventually have to draw another card from the waste pile.
- Get rid of aces and twos – as soon as you spot an ace, or have a two to follow it up, send either right onto the foundation pile. If you think about it, these cards cannot actually be used for anything else other than starting off the foundations; get rid of them and you‘ll have revealed more cards to play.
- Don‘t clear a cascade from the tableau unless you have a king available – In Klondike, you won‘t be able to fill an available slot with a new cascade unless you have a king to put there. Even though it may seem counter intuitive, there‘s no point in restricting your potential moves by reducing the number of cascades, (unless of course it‘s an ace or a two, which you can‘t do anything with anyway).
- Only transfer cards between cascades if it allows you to flip over a down card – there‘s no point transferring a card if you can‘t flip another over, as this will simply trap another card that might be useful later.
Solitaire Score: How Does It Work?
Traditional solitaire isn‘t scored – the directive of the game is simply to get your foundations in order. But as the game has moved into the digital world, it‘s been supplemented by a scoring system in order to make the game more repayable. Each game offers a new chance to best your previous score.
Points are often doled out for moving cards around the playing area in productive ways, such as:
- Moving a card from waste to tableau.
- Moving a card from waste to foundation.
- Moving a card from tableau to foundation.
- Flipping a tableau card.
Points may also be deducted for certain moves, including:
- Recycling the waste.
- Taking a card from the foundation back to the tableau.
With this article we set out to answer any questions about solitaire that you may have had – but you‘re doubtless leaving us with many more!
The world of solitaire games is a versatile one, which is why it‘s been our go-to cure for boredom since the days of courtly drama to the advent of the internet.
But however you play, you‘ll find plenty of different ways to do so right here on our website. Go ahead and enjoy!