Let’s dive right into it.
Introduction to Classic Solitaire
Playing classic solitaire online is easier now than ever, with countless platforms offering ways to jump right into the game. The aim of the game is simple: with a standard deck of 52 cards, you must arrange all cards into the foundations starting from ace and ascending up in value for each suit. You do this by creating sequences in what is called the tableau, or the main area where the game is played.
Solitaire can be played with a physical deck or online. It has been popular since at least the 19th Century in its modern form, though again there are many different variations that have been played over the centuries.
With the basics out of the way, let’s get into a complete and comprehensive view of everything you need to know about classic solitaire.
Classic Solitaire: the Complete Guide
Understanding the place that classic solitaire has in the modern world is a more complex proposition than you might think. Nonetheless, today we will cover this question and more—we’ll look at a complete guide for how to play the game, how to give yourself the best chance of winning, and what the history of this classic game is.
To start with, where does solitaire come from?
The History of Classic Solitaire
The history of solitaire is fairly long and complex, and the ultimate, exact origin of the game is unfortunately not known. Firstly, it’s worth clarifying that the word “solitaire”, strictly speaking, refers to any table top game played by only one person. Solitaire card games, such as the classic solitaire game Klondike, are more specifically referred to as patience. Patience was originally the English name for the game, whereas in the United States it was more commonly referred to as solitaire. Overall, “solitaire” is the more common name today.
The ultimate, original source of these card games is thought to be northern European, possibly German or Scandinavian. Our first literary mention of patience card games comes to us from 1765, right around the same time that so-called “Cartomantic” layouts were first developed. This was the practice of using cards for the purposes of divination, and the way the cards were laid out was vitally important to this process. This was much more associated with the Tarot deck, though more typical playing card decks were also used for divination even at this late stage.
It’s thought, then, that there may have been a connection between patience card games and cartomancy. Indeed, it’s believed that when patience card games like Klondike solitaire were first played, they were themselves a form of divination—whether or not you won a game would say something about your own destiny.
So, these games were already popular by the middle of the 18th century. However, it was in the next century that the games really took off. For the first half of the 1800s, the games were most popular in France, and many French-language rulebooks were written during this time. Before the German references of the 18th century, large compendiums of game rules did not mention solitaire, suggesting they either did not exist at all or were very poorly known.
Their popularity in France plainly caught on, and by the latter half of the 19th century, the games had spread to Britain and the United States. The first English rulebooks were published towards the end of the 19th century, though it’s not entirely clear which was the first one in English. The oldest extant rulebook to which we have access was published in 1870, under the title Illustrated Games of Patience, by Lady Adelaide Cadogan. She, however, lists an earlier book from 1860 in her references, called Patience by Perseverance. Unfortunately, this book does not appear to survive to our days—or at least no surviving copies have been found yet.
Many more rulebooks were published around this time, the earliest American text being Ednah Dow’s Patience of 1869. Already there were many forms of solitaire, but Klondike was the most popular. The name is thought to have come from the Canadian region where the Klondike Gold Rush occurred at the end of the 1890s. However, in some rulebooks, what was then called Klondike actually referred to what we would call Canfield solitaire today.
It continued to be popular in the 20th century, but the decision to include a collection of solitaire games in the Windows operating systems of the 1990s had a huge impact on the game’s popularity, and led to a modern revival of classic solitaire.
That brings us here, today—so let’s look at the rules.
The rules of classic solitaire are simple. The game is quick and easy to pick up, though difficult to master. Let’s break down the rules step by step:
- The game is started by shuffling a 52 card deck, and then the tableau cards are laid out in seven piles in the center of the play area. Starting from the leftmost pile with one card, the piles then ascend in number of cards by one. Each pile has the top card face up, and the rest face down. The top card is available for play.
- The rest of the cards are placed in what is called the stockpile. Next to the stockpile, you have a waste pile. At any time during the game, you can take the top card, or sometimes the top three cards, from the stockpile to the waste pile to make them available for play. There is no limit on how many times you can pass through the stockpile in standard Klondike rules.
- Usually placed at the top, you also have four foundation piles. These piles will be empty at the start of the game. These foundations are ultimately where all the cards need to go. You must start filling them by finding the ace of each suit and placing them in their own foundation. You then ascend in value, going 2, 3, 4 and so on until all cards of each suit are in the foundations.
- Most of the game is played by building sequences in the tableaus. In classic solitaire, sequences are built by descending value and alternating color. So, for instance, if you had a seven of hearts at the top of a tableau pile, you could place either a six of clubs or spades onto it.
- When the top face-up card is removed from a tableau pile, the face-down card beneath it is revealed, making it available for play. When all cards are removed from a tableau, the empty spot can only be filled with a king.
- You can move multiple cards at a time as a unit as long as the highest card in the sequence can be placed in the correct sequence with another card.
- When you are at the point that there are no more moves available, the game is considered lost.
Knowing the rules is one thing—let’s look at some more concrete tips for how you can win.
Tips and Tricks for Winning
The ultimate goal of solitaire is to arrange all cards by suit in the foundation piles. But how can you do this?
Firstly, it’s important to be aware that winning Klondike solitaire is not as easy as it might at first seem. Strategy is ultimately your most important ally, but in classic Klondike solitaire, there is a large element of luck involved. It’s not completely certain, but estimates suggest that your chances of winning a given deal are around 1 in 30—so the odds are stacked against you!
With that said, let’s look at our top tips for winning solitaire:
- Play carefully and strategically. This is very general advice, but it is perhaps the single most important tip for winning classic solitaire. Games may not all be winnable, but far more often it will be that players get themselves stuck in the position that they can’t win by making the wrong moves. Think carefully about every move you make and what it will mean for your future moves.
- Target larger stacks of facedown cards. In terms of specific ways to play, your first goal in any game of Klondike solitaire should always be to get access to the facedown cards in the tableau piles before anything else. You want to target the larger stacks first, as you’ve got more chances of getting these stuck as the game goes on. The more cards you reveal, the more moves you can make, and the better your chances of winning.
- Think about color and sequence. Though the aim of the game is to get all the cards into the foundations by suit, most of the actual gameplay will take place in the tableaus. You need to think about what your most optimal sequences to build are. For example, you should never empty a tableau spot unless you have an available king. But you also need to make sure you are getting the optimal king into that spot—if you already have a black king elsewhere, make sure to place a red king in the empty spot.
- Always keep tableau piles even. When you are building sequences in classic solitaire, there can often be a temptation simply to place down any card that you see available. However, you need to play more carefully than this. Make sure to build sequences evenly, and don’t make one huge sequence while ignoring all the others—you will end up stuck this way.
- Open the game by flipping the card from the stockpile. Ideally, you want to avoid using the stock pile as much as you can—it’s not going anywhere, and you’ll get much further by revealing facedown cards in the tableaus. However, a great way to open any game is to flip the first card from the stockpile to see what it is—this gives you the greatest range of moves right away.
There’s more than a little strategy involved, then, in this classic game. Does that mean solitaire is hard?
Is Classic Solitaire Hard?
By some definitions, classic solitaire could certainly be called hard. In terms purely of the numbers, as mentioned, the odds are stacked against you. In a given random deal, the odds you’ll actually be able to win are quite low. This is often surprising to people since this is not always true of all forms of solitaire, and yet Klondike is by far the most popular.
Earlier, we said that Klondike is a game easy to pick up but difficult to master. This is the most helpful way of looking at it. Klondike solitaire is very easy to learn and to start playing, but consistently winning is a very different story. It will take a lot of time and practice, as well as a lot of careful strategizing.
In online solitaire, you can often filter games based on difficulty. You could, for example, choose a random deal, in which the odds are likely stacked against you winning. However, you could also choose to play only winnable hands, or even easy, intermediate, or hard hands.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Solitaire
Solitaire isn’t just a fun game—it comes with many of its own benefits and advantages. Playing the game will do you good in a lot of different ways, which we will look at shortly. However, there are also some potential drawbacks to solitaire.
Benefits of solitaire
- Proven stress reduction. Solitaire has been shown to reduce the impact of stress on our daily lives, and is a great way to relax and have fun. In the rat race of the modern world, a quiet, contemplative game like solitaire is a fantastic way to get away from the hustle and bustle.
- Improves memory and slows degeneration of memory. Because of the active thinking and memorizing that solitaire requires, the game shows a lot of promise as a way to slow memory loss or even stop it completely. One study of 2020, taking a broad view of many different types of games, showed solitaire was especially beneficial to the elderly.
- Great way to relieve boredom. Because solitaire is so easily accessible, it is a great, universal way to relieve boredom. Whether you’ve got a physical deck of cards or access to a computer with the internet, you can very easily play solitaire when the rest of your daily life begins to bore you.
- Easy to learn for everyone. Many card games can be very difficult to get to grips with. Multiplayer card games require a lot of extra learning, if only because you have to account for what other people are doing. Solitaire is not like this—even young children can easily pick up the rules and, while they might not always win, they will much more quickly understand what they are doing.
Potential Drawbacks of Solitaire
There are a handful of aspects of solitaire which some suggest are not entirely to the player’s advantage:
- Repetitive nature and low win rate can make it addictive. Some suggest that, because Klondike solitaire is easy to set up, and hard to win, there is often a tendency to play the game over and over. The mental health benefits of playing solitaire usually come with playing it over a short period—if you play it too much, it can even add to your stress.
- Limited number of players. A solo game is great for many reasons, but the fact is that some people are just less interested in playing games on their own. That said, playing solitaire with other people is far from impossible—there are even competitive forms of the game.
- May lead to gambling. Some suggest that, because card games are such a common form of gambling, classic solitaire can be a “gateway” to real gambling. There is not a great deal of evidence to support this claim, and the same could be said of virtually any game.
Most of these claimed “drawbacks”, then, are more just general problems that anyone could have with virtually any game—as with anything, all things in moderation. Played properly, you’ll get lots of benefit from classic solitaire.
Fun Facts about Classic Solitaire
There are many fascinating facts about solitaire:
- The word “solitaire” originally referred to a widow or a reclusive person. The ultimate root of the word “solitaire” is Latin, where solitarius meant alone or isolated. This passed through French to become Solitaire, and ultimately to English to refer to games.
- Napoleon Bonaparte, among other historical figures, was very fond of solitaire. During his final exile to St. Helen’s after he was defeated, Napoleon is said to have spent many hours passing the time by playing solitaire. Other historical figures that played the game included Queen Victoria’s husband Albert.
- There are over 500 different forms of solitaire. We’ve been looking at the classic form of solitaire that everyone knows, and there are five main forms of solitaire that are the most popular: Klondike, Spider, FreeCell, Tripeaks and Pyramid. However, there are as many as 500 different variations of the game that you can play today, both developed in modern times and passed down to us from history.
- Professional solitaire circles exist. You may be surprised to learn that there are people for whom playing solitaire constitutes a job. They may play tournaments where the aim is to outscore other players or beat their time, and there are big cash prizes on offer for those who win.
- Solitaire was first included in Windows 3.0, which was launched in 1990. The game, though, was developed two years prior by an intern at Microsoft. It is remarkable to think that an afterthought, developed by a young intern, had such an immeasurable cultural impact—it cannot be overstated how much more popular the game became after its inclusion in Windows in the 90s.
- Solitaire’s main purpose in Windows was to teach users how to operate a computer mouse. Funnily enough, the initial idea behind including solitaire in Windows was so that people would learn how to use their mouse—in 1990, most people still didn’t know how to operate a home computer.
Solitaire has an incredibly long and storied history, then, and it has left an indelible mark on modern society. Card games have been around for a lot longer than solitaire, and yet solitaire games are some of the most well-known card games out there. If you’ve never played the game properly, then there’s no better time to start, and you’ll get so much out of it.