The word “solitaire” refers to an entire group of games meant for one person to play — hence “solitaire”. Games of solitaire usually involve putting cards into groups according to their rank or suit, and are characterized by fairly sophisticated “set ups”.

Traditional Solitaire – Klondike Solitaire

The most traditional version of Solitaire is known by many names — Chinaman, Klondike, Foundations — but no matter the name, the set up and gameplay are the same.

To deal traditional Solitaire, all you need is a deck of cards with the jokers removed.

The first step is to lay down a row of seven cards — the first card on the left should be flipped face up, and the other six cards should be face down. You repeat this process one row down, but you don’t lay down a card on top of the flipped card. This second row of cards uses only six cards, and the first card in this new row should be face up just like the first row.

Repeat this process until you’ve dealt 28 cards — each of the seven piles should have a card face up on top of it. You then put the unused cards in a stack next to your seven piles — this is the “stockpile”.

Foundations and Tableaux

The point of this version of Solitaire is to make four “Foundation” piles above your seven sequential piles, starting with Aces and moving up in rank through to the Kings. You make these Foundation piles by first finding the Aces in the pack and using them as the beginning of the Foundation. In other words — when you see an Ace, set it apart as the beginning of a Foundation pile.

Foundation piles are sorted by suit — the Ace of Diamonds will start the Ace pile, while the Ace of Spades will start the Spades pile, etc. The purpose of this version of Solitaire is to build the four Foundation piles from Ace up to King.

Cards can move around the table by forming what are called “tableaux” — these are sets of cards in descending rank and alternating color. This means that the card played on any tableau has to be the opposite color of the card currently showing on the tableau (red on black, black on red) and the card you play must have a lower rank than the one showing. For example, if a 10 of spades (a black card) is showing, you can play either the 9 of hearts or 9 of diamonds (the red suits) on it. The point of forming tableaux is to set yourself up to build the Foundations, and to get at hidden cards that would keep you from building your piles.

Here’s how a single “round” of a game of Solitaire may go — the player takes the top card from the “stockpile”. The card is a 9 of diamonds. The player scans the current tableaux (the seven piles formed at the beginning of the game) to see if he can lay this red 9 anywhere — he’s looking for a black 10. If the player can’t place the card on any tableaux, he must put that card in the “discard” pile.

When you can, you want to move “face up” cards around to expose “face down” cards. When a “face down” card is exposed, it can be flipped over and is now in play. This is how you move through the deck — by putting cards from your “stockpile” into play in the tableaux, and by altering the tableaux to get at the hidden cards underneath. All so you can form Foundation piles and “go out”.


A few tricks of the game — you can always move a King of any color into a “blank spot” left over when an entire tableau moves. This rule helps you move cards around, though it limits your ability to fill the blank space with only Kings. Also — try to move cards in groups from one tableau to another — if you have a tableau composed of red King, black Queen, and a red Jack, and across the “board” there’s a tableau that starts with a black 10, move the entirety of the black 10 tableau to join the red King tableau. This will clear up space quicker, and is the key to winning the game.

Opinion is divided as far as how many times you can “flip” the discard pile over and re use it as the “stockpile”. Traditionalists limit you to a certain number of flips — 3 or 5 for a really tough game — while most casual players will flip the discard pile as many times as they want. Watching my grandfather play this game as he got older, I also learned that some Solitaire enthusiasts allow themselves one or two “cheats” per game — takebacks after a card is already laid down, or a little peek at the cards underneath a tableau. Soliatire, by definition, is a time killer, a casual game — don’t be too hard on yourself if you take a few Mulligans at Solitaire before you “go out”.

Other Solitaire Games

There are so many variations of Solitaire, it would be quite a chore to describe the gameplay of each of them. Many versions of Solitaire are just minor variations on the more traditional game described above — Free Cell (made popular by its inclusion with Windows on many home PCs) is like the game above but with four additional “cells” where individual cards can be “stored” while you form tableaux. There are a few other differences, but the game is basically the same.

At the other end of the Solitaire spectrum is a game like Pyramid solitaire, where the purpose is to discard in pairs forming the number 13. The cards are dealt in a pyramid formation, and each card has a different value when played.

For a game meant for one person to play, and usually used as a repetitive time waster, Solitaire offers addictive gameplay. Solitaire is the kind of game that you can learn to play quickly but can only master with experience and a little luck