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I love playing cards. They are one of the favourite tools of the magician's trade. But I also love games, so it won't come as a surprise that I also love playing traditional card games. These can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, in a relaxed and casual setting. Especially if you own a custom deck of playing cards, it be wonderful way to enjoy the artwork and graphic design of a lovely deck at the same time.

But what if nobody else is around, or when you're looking to kill some time when you're on your own? That's where solitaire card games come to the rescue. Especially in times of quarantine, solitaire card games are a great activity to enjoy, whether on the screen or with an actual deck. We all have moments where we're alone and need something to keep us amused, and solitaire card games can provide hours of enjoyment. And they'll provide something for all kinds of moments, with some coming down to pure luck, while many excellent ones require genuine skill, and can be a very rewarding challenge to play.

There are plenty of other reasons to enjoy solitaire games with a traditional deck of cards today, especially in view of the ease in which you can play them, such as a good online site where you can play them for free on your web browser. This makes them easier to learn and play than ever before. Especially given the incredible variety of solitaire card games in existence, it also allows you to explore a wide range of different games with leisure. Solitaire cards games are a great way to fill time, and you can play as long or short as you like. And they can be as relaxing as you like, or as challenging as you like. They're certainly incredibly satisfying, and even rather addictive. So let's learn a thing or two more about them, and whet your appetite to give them a go yourself!


As it turns out, playing solitaire games with a traditional deck of playing cards places us in a fine tradition with a long history - long before they ever came to your personal computer - because people have been enjoying them for over two hundred years already. Germany is a likely place of their origin, and there's a recorded mention of them already in the late 18th century. But their popularity especially bloomed in France in the early 19th century, and that's when some of the best solitaire games were devised. It is also in these French roots that the alternative name "patience" appears to originate, along with other common solitaire terms like "tableau". From France they eventually spread to English speaking countries, much like playing cards themselves did centuries before, and eventually solitaire card games became a popular international phenomenon enjoyed around the world. Even Napoleon is said to have whiled away many hours playing solitaire while in exile on St Helena. When you're playing a solitaire card game today, you're sharing in activity that has been enjoyed by many generations before you, and many of the great solitaire card games available are time tested and proven classics.

But while solitaire card games have been around for a long time, the development of the personal computer was a real catalyst in popularizing them with modern audiences. Microsoft Windows has long had the practice of distributing a game of Solitaire with their operating systems, much to the relief of bored sales assistants and office workers around the globe. That singlehandedly turned solitaire one of the world's most popular activities to do on a computer. Ever since the release of Windows 3.0 in 1990, Klondike Solitaire has been a staple on most personal computers, and it has now given hours of amusement to billions of people around the world for three decades. Countless people still turn to it for their quick five minute fix, which will of course be repeated many times over! Today Microsoft's solitaire package has grown to include Spider, FreeCell, Pyramid, and TriPeaks, making these the most familiar forms of the game for the average person.

Besides computer software, today there are also many websites where you can play a variety of different solitaire games online. Personally I've made good use of Solitaired.com, which offers more than 250 different solitaire games, and lets you play entirely for free, without ads, and without any need to register. Digital implementations like this allow us to play solitaire more quickly and easily, without all the hassles of set-up, shuffling, dealing, and moving columns of actual cards, making it even easier to fill a few spare moments. Besides simplifying the book-keeping elements of the game, they've also enabled versions of the game to be played that would be more difficult to do in person, like one suit Spider, where multiple sets of the same suit are used.

The result of the digital revolution means that solitaire card games are booming like never before, and even people who don't even own a physical deck of cards can spend countless hours enjoying different forms of these classic games. With a long history steeped in tradition, the computer age has injected solitaire card games with new energy and new possibilities, and there's never been a better time to explore what these games have to offer.



There are an incredible amount of different solitaire games in existence, and they comprise an enormous family of games in their own right. But many of them do follow a somewhat similar pattern. This usually involves laying out cards on a tableau or layout, with the goal of moving them to foundations, where you build up each suit in sequence from Ace through King. This is accomplished with the help of turning up undealt cards from the stock, and by building and transferring columns of cards within the tableau that match in value, suit, or colour. That's a game of solitaire in a nutshell. But these games do have their own unique terminology, and this can best be understood by explaining how a typical game works, so let's dive into a little more detail.

First you create an initial array of cards by dealing them in an initial tableau as prescribed by the rules of that particular game. In some games the cards dealt to the tableau are all face-up, creating an open game. In a closed game some cards are dealt face-down, so you have incomplete information at the start of the game. These cards only become revealed when cards blocking them have been moved, making them available to be turned face up or moved. Face-up cards in the tableau are usually placed in an overlapping configuration or cascade, so that you can see their indices, and so you can plan accordingly. Depending on the game, the arrangement can be in overlopping rows, or overlapping columns.

Your primary aim is to get cards onto the foundations, which in most solitaire games must begin with an Ace. Once you've placed an Ace, you can build up that foundation by placing further cards from that suit in sequential order. Your ultimate objective is to successfully build all the cards onto these foundations, in which case you have won the game. In solitaire card games, the standard sequence goes from Ace as the lowest ranked card to King as the highest ranked card. Usually you can only build from Ace through King, but some variations allow wrapping of a sequence so that an Ace can continue from a King, which is also called building around the corner.

To achieve the goal of playing all the cards to the foundations, you must manipulate the cards within the tableau, in order to get access to the cards you need, and to uncover face-down cards. This happens by transferring face-up cards, either individually or in columns, from different areas of the tableau, assuming these cards are free to be moved and are not blocked by others on top of them. Building cards in this way usually happens in ascending or descending order of rank, and is a key element of good game-play. Usually if the aim is to build up cards in ascending sequence to the foundations, then cards in the tableau may be built down in descending sequence, often in alternating colour. If you create a vacancy in the tableau by removing all the cards of a pile there, you can strategically use this space to manipulate the tableau to your advantage by starting a new column of cards there.

Often the entire deck isn't dealt out at the start of game, and the rest of the cards are considered the stock, which you bring into play by dealing them face-up into a separate pile called the waste (sometimes called talon, although confusingly in modern usage this term is often used instead to refer to the stock). These are often dealt one at a time, but in some games, like the extremely popular Klondike, there are variations where you deal them three at a time. In some variations you can only go through the stock once, while other solitaire games may allow a certain number of redeals, or even an unlimited number.

Not all games of solitaire can be successfully completed, but this is not necessarily the fault of the player. Sometimes a random deal will be theoretically unsolveable, and part of the challenge and fun of solitaire is to see whether or not you can achieve a win with a hand that you've been dealt. But you can't just blame the deal, because poor choices can lose a game in which you might have achieved a much better result with optimal play. You definitely learn to improve your play, and strategic choices will usually be rewarded!



How to learn

Most solitaire card games are easy to learn, and you'll find plenty of places online that provide lengthy lists of the different solitaire card games that exist, along with rules for each. As always, a good place to start your journey is Wikipedia, which has a page offering a list of common favourites. There are many websites set up by dedicated solitaire enthusiasts, some of whom have created software to help play the game on your mobile device or personal computer. These software programs typically go far beyond the two or three versions that Microsoft Windows has available, and offer you one hundred or more different ways to play. Many of these also serve as a resource, like BVS Solitaire Collection, and besides the software they have created for Windows, Mac, and iOS, they also host comprehensive rules. The Solitaire Game Rules page will help teach you Klondike, the most well known solitaire game, and introduce some variations.

In former times, the only way to learn how to play solitaire was by having the good fortune to be taught it in person by someone you know, or by wading your way through a pile of written words in a book. I remember trying that latter method as a teenager, and often giving up in frustration, as I tried to make sense of the words and turn them into an arrangement of cards on the table, as part of an unsuccessful attempt to figure out the rules. Nowadays it is so much easier to learn how to play solitaire, by simply playing it with a digital implementation that automatically enforces the rules and teaches you how to play. This makes it much more realistic to try new forms of solitaire, and I highly recommend this as the best way to learn, and to enjoy playing.

Where to play

There are several websites that offer solitaire card games, and enable you to play for free straight from your web browser. My personal site of choice recently has been Solitaired, which I can recommend. It has over 250 different solitaire variations, is ad-free, and I've found the gameplay smooth and straight-forward. Other sites to try include World Of Solitaire, Classic Solitaire, and Solitaire Network, which also offer an extensive number of different solitaire games, supply rules for each, and provide free online play.

If you're looking to explore the wonderful wide world of solitaire games beyond the limited menu provided by Microsoft, another alternative is to get some dedicated software for your personal computer or mobile device. Recommended commercial options for Windows include BVS Solitaire Collection, as well as SolSuite 2020 and Pretty Good Solitaire. The Python Solitaire Game Collection doesn't have as slick graphics, but it's completely free, has an extensive collection of games, and there is also a companion Android app that is also free.

There are many free apps available for iPad and iPhone, but these tend to be supported by ads, which can become a little annoying. Of the free apps available, I've had good success with Solebon Solitaire (Solebon), Solitaire City (Digital Smoke), Full Deck Solitaire (GRL Games), Solitaire Suite (Rikki Games), and 250+ Solitaires (Alxanosoft), all of which get you started with a very strong selection of the most popular solitaire games. The commercially produced apps tend to offer more games or polished features, and I suggest the following as the better ones: BVS Solitaire Collection (BVS Development), Allgood Solitaire (Allgood Software), Solebon Pro (Solebon), Pretty Good Solitaire (Thomas Warfield), Solitaire Forever II (Solitaire Forever), and Solitaire Victory HD (P.R.O Corporation). If you're looking for a smaller collection of favourites to start with, try Solitaire Till Dawn (Semicolon), Astraware Solitaire (Astraware) or Solitaire Deluxe 2 (Mobile Deluxe), all of which are free and offer around a dozen or two popular favourites for free.

Naturally once you're familiar with the rules of a particular solitaire game that you really enjoy, then you can grab your favourite custom deck of playing cards, and use that! There are miniature decks available for this purpose, but I think you'll get most satisfaction if you play with an attractive poker-sized deck. You will often need a decent amount of space to work with, and I highly recommend playing with a quality deck of playing cards to make your shuffling and dealing more pleasing on both a practical and an aesthetic level. If you need suggestions for a modern high quality deck, I suggest checking out the selection of Theory11 decks at PCD here.

What to play

It's important to realize that not all solitaire games are like the classics familiar from Microsoft Windows, such as Klondike and Spider. You should make an effort to explore the diverse range of solitaire games available, and even if you think you don't like Solitaire card games, it could just because you didn't like the one or two forms of the game you have tried until now. To get you started in your search, here's a list of some of the more popular solitaire games, arranged in different categories according to type:
Adding & Pairing: Golf, Monte Carlo, Pyramid, TriPeaks
Builders: Baker’s Dozen, Beleaguered Castle, Canfield, Forty Thieves, FreeCell, Klondike, La Belle Lucie (Lovely Lucy), Scorpion, Spider, Yukon
Non-builders: Accordion, Aces Up, Calculation, Clock Patience, Cribbage Solitaire, Gaps (Montana), Grandfather's Clock
Others: Miss Milligan, Osmosis, Sir Tommy, Sultan (Emperor), Windmill

I also highly recommend Bowling Solitaire by genius game designer Sid Sackson. It is entirely unlike all the other solitaire games mentioned, but is an incredibly thematic and clever game.



So what are you waiting for? There's never been a better time in history to explore the fun and variety of solitaire card games, especially with the help of a digital assistant who can help teach you some different games and manage the book-keeping and administration elements of the game for you. And especially if you're stuck at home as a result of quarantine or other restrictions, this might just be the thing you need to help keep you busy and amused.

So fire up that solitaire software or website, or whip out a deck of cards, and fill a few minutes with a satisfying challenge!

Where to start: I suggest heading to Solitaired.com right now, for a quick and easy game of the world's most popular solitaire game, the classic Klondike.

Reference: For further reading about the history and nature of solitaire card games, see the article Patience: Playing-card solitaires by card game expert David Parlett.


Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
View Profile
Inner circle
Reviewer EndersGame
1860 Posts

Profile of EndersGame
View Profile
Inner circle
Reviewer EndersGame
1860 Posts

Profile of EndersGame

20 Reasons Why You Should Play Solitaire

The word "solitaire" is closely connected with the word "solo", which means "for or done by one person alone; unaccompanied." According to Merriam Webster's dictionary, the word "solitaire" means "any of various card games played by one person, the object of which is to use up all one's cards by forming particular arrangements and sequences." In short, we're talking about card games that you play alone. More specifically, in this article I'm focusing on what is sometimes called Patience, and the kind of solitaire game which you'd play with a standard deck of cards.

If you're into magic, it's almost certain that you already own a deck of playing cards. So why not put them into service in playing some card games as well? But solitaire card games can't only be enjoyed with a physical deck of traditional playing cards, but also on the screen of your personal computer or favourite digital device. However you choose to play them, solitaire card games are a perfect activity to keep you amused when you're looking to kill time while on your own. Quarantined? Bored? Want to play a game but your friends or family doesn't? That's when solitaire card games come to our rescue. And they actually offer us a lot, with a real range that covers the extremes of pure skill to dumb luck, and everything in between.

Maybe you already enjoy playing solitaire card games, or I've already convinced you to try them. But whether you're an avowed fan looking to justify your addiction, or a skeptical bystander looking to be persuaded to give them a go, here are some good reasons why you should check out the fun you can have playing solitaire card games.

1. They don't require other players. Unlike most other card games, you can play a solitaire game even if nobody else is around. You might be in the mood to play a game, but your friends or family aren't always going to be available to play games 24/7. Solitaire card games help fill these gaps. Sometimes we even need some `alone time', without the stress of human interaction. When you're playing solitaire, you don't have to explain things to someone else, adjust your pace to suit them, or wait for their move. You also don't have the additional headaches of the arguing or bad behaviour that can sometimes happen when competitive games bring out the worst in us! Playing on your own means you can play at your own pace, whenever, wherever, and however you want, and that usually makes for a more relaxing experience.

2. They are easy to learn. Part of the beauty of solitaire games is their simplicity and elegance. Within a relatively straight forward set of rules that is easily and quickly grasped, you are presented with a good challenge. Some modern card games come with 20 page rule books - seriously! Others have complex rule sets that you finally only begin to understand after playing a game or two. In contrast, most solitaire card games operate with very simple rulesets. And once you've mastered the rules of one, it becomes even easier to learn others, because they often borrow from each other in terms of the style and approach of play. For example, many share the basic objective of trying to collect cards from each suit in order from Ace through King, as well as mechanics of building within a tableau.

3. They are easily accessible. All you need is a deck of cards, or a good website or computer, and you are ready to go. Often we don't have the time or energy to pull out the paraphernalia needed for some other hobby or interest. You might like fishing, water-skiing, or playing music, but hobbies like these have equipment requirements and often take time to set-up - or considerable clean-up afterwards! But with solitaire, you just pull out your cards or click on your computer, and away you go. It also helps that almost everyone around the globe is already familiar with a standard deck of traditional playing cards, and the suits and values of playing cards are a universal language, so there's a very low thresh-hold for entry. Playing a digital version that enforces and teaches the rules makes this learning and playing process even easier.

4. They are completely free. Unlike a lot of modern card games and board games, all you need is a deck of traditional playing cards - which you probably already own. You can purchase apps or software if you really want, but there's plenty of websites where you can play for free, as well as free apps. And if you're running a computer with Microsoft Windows, you likely have a couple of good solitaire games built right in, ready to go! While many other hobbies have equipment costs and require a significant investment of money or time to get into, there's no such entry barrier with playing solitaire.

5. They are time-tested and proven. Many solitaire games have been played and enjoyed by millions of people. They aren't a flash-in-the-pan fad that will go away any time soon. Many of them are classic games that go back decades and more, and have proven themselves to be games of worth, so they have held up over time.

6. They have an incredible variety. When I was first introduced to solitaire card games many years ago, it was with the evergreen Klondike, which is the game that's been included with Microsoft Windows for the last 30 years. But don't make the mistake of thinking that your limited experience with solitaire on Windows is all that there is solitaire. I had no idea how many different solitaire games actually exist! It's true that many solitaire games share similar building techniques with a tableau and foundations, with the goal of arranging suits from Ace through King. But there are also many solitaire games that are very different from this. So there's plenty of variety to explore and keep you busy for a long time, and just because you don't like one style doesn't mean you won't find another type of solitaire card game that you might really enjoy.

7. They can be as short or long as you like. One nice thing about solitaire games is that you can play them in bite sized chunks. The most popular solitaire game of all time, Klondike, typically takes only around 5 minutes to play a quick game. Many other solitaire games can be played even more quickly. But if you want to fill more time, you can easily play a number of short solitaire games back-to-back. Alternatively, there are also more thoughtful solitaire games that will take you up to 15-30 minutes to play on their own, and which provide a longer experience that is satisfying and more challenging.

8. They can be as easy or hard as you like. Solitaire games typically contain a good balance of luck and skill, and which way this balance will lean can vary from game to game. If you want to really chill out, and really don't feel like thinking too hard, there are very simple and almost brainless solitaire games that lean heavily on the side of luck, and which you can play almost on auto-pilot. But if you're in the mood for something more challenging, there are also many solitaire games that require a high degree of skill and careful thought. The choice of difficulty level is yours - and there's plenty of it!

9. They can develop strategic thinking. Some solitaire games require real skill, and typically require both short-term tactical thinking as well as long-term strategic thinking. The first time you play a game of solitaire, you're likely to do anything that is a legal move, thinking that this will help you accomplish your goal. But as you become more experienced, you'll start to realize that some choices are better than others, and there are long-term considerations that should play an important role in your decision-making. To play well, you often need to plan ahead, and optimize your moves to increase your chances of success. Having a good sense of probability will also enhance your game-play. Solitaire is definitely something that you can get good at, and with practice you can even learn to master the harder forms of the game.

10. They can develop logical thinking. Solitaire games especially appeal to people who enjoy the challenge of logical sequences and puzzling. Contrary to the perceived notion of some that they are mindless exercises and brainless activities, wise play in a good solitaire game requires both concentration and logical thought. That makes it an intellectual exercise that will have a real appeal particularly for anyone who enjoys puzzles, while remaining accessible to almost everyone else as well. What's more, the patterns of logical thinking that they require have a lot of crossover to other areas in life where we need to plan things. The logical planning required by solitaire can also bring real rewards when we apply this same principle to other aspects of life.

11. They can stimulate your mind. Our brain is like a muscle, and it does need regular exercise. A lot of "time waster" apps are essentially games where your brain is on autopilot, and very little thinking is involved. While there are times where that might be appropriate, we also need moments where we are amusing ourselves with an activity that actually engages our brain in a positive way. Most solitaire card games do that, because they require you to switch on your thinking cap, and activate your mind.

12. They can relax your mind. This may appear to contradict the previous point, but it all depends on what solitaire games you choose. Certainly there are solitaire games that require you to burn some serious brainpower in order to play them. But there are also solitaire games that cater for those moments where you just want your brain to idle. You can choose something as stressful or as chill as you like - it's totally up to you. Especially if you are busy with a stressful series of tasks in the work place, then it's not healthy to go on indefinitely, and it's important to give your mind a break from time to time. A solitaire card game can provide exactly that quick break you need, getting your mind totally off what you were doing. After 5-10 minutes, you're refreshed and ready to resume whatever work you were busy with.

13. They help you learn to cope with bad luck. While many solitaire games require real skill, they aren't only about strategy. Typically they also have a real element of the luck of the draw, which can make games easier or harder to win. Much the same can be said about real life. Things don't always go our way, and it is important to learn how to deal with this. Even the failures in solitaire can help us learn to cope with disappointments in the real world.

14. They are a great time-filler. One of the challenges we all face in life is finding something to do in an empty moment. Boredom can be mentally destructive, and it is important to fight boredom by filling empty moments with something constructive and positive. Especially if you don't have a large block of time, a solitaire game does a great job of filling that space by giving you something to do for 5-10 minutes or more.

15. They are incredibly satisfying. The moment when you complete a solitaire game can give you a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This helps bring you to a state of happiness, and helps you feel positive. Especially in a world where there is so much negativity, we need positive moments like this, and solitaire gives us regular moments of reward. And even if you don't "win" a game, there's still a sense of achievement and accomplishment of having built up something. And since most solitaire games are played quickly, when this happens you simply start over and try again, and eventually you will get those winning moments that make you feel good.

16. They are very addictive. There's something about solitaire games that keeps you coming back to them. I don't mean this in a negative sense, but they have a unique and intangible quality about them that puts them in the same category as other good things in life, like chocolate or fast food. Of course, it's not wise to consume everything that tastes good in excess. But the point is that there are some things in life that have that magical and indefinable quality about them that makes you gravitate to them again and again, and solitaire is one of those. Usually if something is addictive, it doesn't mean that there's something inherently bad about it, but that it has something good about it that makes you want to return to it regularly.

17. They give you personal incentives. Many computer implementations of solitaire games allow you to keep track of personal statistics. It can especially be rewarding to see what percentage of games you "win", or to try to beat your best time. These kinds of statistics give you extra incentives and goals to play for. Some digital versions have implemented scoring systems for specific solitaire games, which you can use to try to beat your personal best, or to score higher than your friends.

18. They can be played competitively. While solitaire card games are ... well, solitaire ... there are also ways to play them with other people if you really want. You can even play solitaire cooperatively with another person if it is a shared experience that you're looking for. But there are also excellent ways of playing competitively, with games like Double Solitaire and Russian Bank being fine examples. These take the basics of classic solitaire games like Klondike, and turn them into a two player game. For real time frenzied play in the style of solitaire, try the very popular game Nertz, which is also known under other names like Pounce or Racing Demon.

19. They are a great way to enjoy a custom deck of cards. Nowadays there are some wonderful decks of high quality playing cards on the market, which have magnificent artwork and very creative graphic designs, and they look fantastic on the table. Personally I own a large collection of custom playing cards, and pulling out a custom deck or two to play some games of solitaire on the dining table or coffee table is a great way to enjoy the visual feast of the artwork on these cards. The tactile feel and act of moving around physical cards can also help you relax and tune out from the stress of the real world, and there can even be a therapeutic component to this.

20. They are plain fun! What other reason do you need, really? If you enjoy solitaire games, as I do, that's reason enough to play them! Certainly it's the reason that so many people just keep coming back to them. Playing solitaire card games is a form of entertainment, recreation, and leisure. And if it's an enjoyable activity that you simply like, then by all means go ahead and enjoy it!

I'm not advocating that you play solitaire as a permanent escape from real-life responsibilities, or that you immerse yourself to the point where it interferes with your ability to function, or causes you to ignore friends, family, or work. But when given its proper place, solitaire can help you function better at life, and there is a rich and rewarding variety of treasures to be found and enjoy in the family of solitaire card games.

So next time you're stuck on a plane, waiting in a doctor's office, fighting boredom while quarantined at home, or desperate to kill time in a boring conference, fire up that solitaire software or website, or whip out a deck of cards, and fill a few minutes with a satisfying challenge. Happy solitaire to you!

Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks.
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