Solitaire Strategy | Learn all the Solitaire Tricks

Solitaire is a basic card game most people learn to play at some point in their lives. It’s simple to set up, only requires a deck of cards, and of course, as the name suggests, you can play it on your own. There are also various versions of this classic game, some requiring more skill than others.

Klondike solitaire is the first version you will usually learn. It’s the standard from which all variations are created. Without Klondike, there wouldn’t be any other version available. You wouldn’t be able to sneak in a game of Freecell on your computer or figure out if Spider Solitaire is right for you if Klondike didn’t exist.

There are countless versions of the basic game concept. Some of them can even be dependent on region or casino. Often times those are games that have the same rules but different names depending on where you go.

For example, sometimes people will refer to Klondike as Canfield Solitaire.

The actual rules are a little different, but the overall idea is the same for both. Pyramid Solitaire can often be referred to as Solitaire 13 or Pile of 28. The rules remain the same even if the names are slightly different.

If you’ve spent a great deal of time playing this game you’ve probably wondered how much of it is strategy and how much of it is luck. The truth is that it depends on which version of the game you play. Klondike itself is largely reliant on luck, while other versions like FreeCell can be more dependent on skillful strategic moves.

Even with Klondike being dependent on luck more than anything else there are still some great tips and tricks to optimize your playing strategy. As you try out other variations of solitaire you may find that you’re really lacking ideas on the best ways to win the game.

You’ll be able to find strategic guides throughout your time spent reading this and apply them to your favorite game. After some practice, you’ll likely see some big results in your percentage of wins.

1. Klondike Solitaire

Klondike Solitaire picture

Image Via Flicker John Baer

As previously mentioned Klondike is largely luck based. If you’re unfamiliar with the basics of solitaire this is the game you’ll start with though. Even with the heavy reliance on luck, there are still some strategic things you can do to help increase the chances you’ll solve the game.

The Game

You’ll need a standard 52 pack of cards to play Klondike. Your goal is to get the four suits stacked onto the foundation in order from aces to kings.  Deal the first 28 cards out in seven piles, following the above image.

Your first pile is one card, the second pile is one card face down, and one card flipped face up. Follow this pattern, increasing the amount of facedown cards by one each time until you have your seven stacks. This is also referred to as your tfableau.

The four slots you can see in the image at the top are your foundation. The foundation is built from Ace to King. You cannot place anything other than your aces at the base of your foundation pile. From there you build up. Ace, two, three, four and so on until you reach the King and complete the foundation stack.

Moveable cards come from the face-up cards in your tableau or your deal pile. You can choose to deal yourself one card or three cards at a time. Beginners generally opt for one card at a time to get the hang of the game, while three cards offer a higher degree of difficulty because you can only play the card on the top card before you work your way to the card underneath it.

Cards can only be moved to opposite colored cards that are one rank higher than the card you are moving. (Ex- A red three can only move to be stacked onto a black four) Continue stacking cards in this manner until you have no move options left.

Once you create a sequence of cards, move them as a unit from that point on. This means your playable card in a sequence is the card at the top. If you have a stack of cards that starts at ten and goes down to two, you need to move the ten and all subsequent cards from that point on.

After you have exhausted all possible moves you’ll need to deal yourself the next card (or three cards) in your deck and continue the game. If you move a stack of cards and reveal a card that is face down, flip that card over so you can use the next card in your tableau.

As you’re dealing cards to yourself you’ll come to the end of your deck. When that happens, flip the dealt stack back over and start dealing from the deck again. Sometimes for a harder level of difficulty, you can limit the number of times you go through your deck to three at most. At first, you’ll probably want to allow yourself unlimited times to reuse your dealt cards.

As the game progresses some tableau slots will become empty. Only Kings can be placed in empty tableau slots to start a new sequence of cards. You can move Kings into your empty slots from your deal pile, or from any card you flip over in other tableau stacks.

Tableau stacks are built from kings down to aces, whereas the foundation piles are built from ace to king. Remember your goal is to get all cards into your foundation piles based on the four suits, starting with Aces.

The Strategy

After you’ve set up your cards, you may be tempted to start making any moves you see possible before flipping the first card over from your deal pile. This isn’t the best way to win. Instead, deal yourself the first card (or three cards if you’re dealing three at a time) first and see if that will change any moves you might make. This tip will fully maximize any possible first moves you make.

After you’ve made a few moves and you’re starting to see your game fall into place, keep an eye on which stacks have the most hidden cards. If you have two choices to make that will expose hidden cards, try choosing the option that will expose the most hidden cards possible.

This is another tip that focuses on maximizing your options which is very important in Klondike. To overcome the balance between luck and skill you’ll have to keep as many options open as possible at all times.

While you keep options open, try to think one step ahead. If you see a move available but it’s not a move that makes much of a difference yet, it might be okay to hold off for a bit. There could be a card coming up in your deck that will be a better fit.

The final strategic tip you can try for your game of Klondike is something you might already be doing without realizing it. As you are dealing your cards if you run across the chance to choose between a black or red king to fill an empty tableau slot, try to remember what cards you’ve already seen come from your deck.

If you’ve had to reuse your deck several times you probably know which cards are coming at that point. Keeping a mental note of what’s coming and when can help you choose the best option when you are filling one of your empty tableau slots.

Remember that not all games of Klondike are solvable. A vast majority of the time you may not win with this particular solitaire game. However, making a few adjustments to your standard gameplay can result in better odds overall.

2. Pyramid Solitaire

Pyramid Solitaire picture

Image Via SolitaireCity

Pyramid solitaire is another popular version of solitaire. The basic rules and set up are different than Klondike so it may feel unfamiliar the first few times you play. Before focusing on advanced strategies it’s best to make sure you understand the basics by playing a few rounds first.

The Game

Pyramid starts out with a standard deck of 52 cards which are dealt into a pyramid shape of 21 cards. The cards are dealt face up, in six overlapping rows following the above image. The first card you deal will be its own tier, the second tier will have two face-up cards and so on.

After you’ve set up your pyramid of cards you’ll deal yourself six extra which is referred to as your reserve. These six cards and your six cards at the bottom of your pyramid are available to play immediately. Subsequent cards can only be played once they are “released” by removing the two cards covering it from the tier below.

Removing cards is what makes Pyramid a very involved yet intriguing solitaire game. You must remove cards and place them into your discard pile by making card pairs that add up to a total of 13. Aces count as one, Jacks count as 11, Queens as 12, and Kings count as 13 on their own. Your goal is to move all cards into your discard pile, demolishing your pyramid completely.

You’ll deal yourself one card at a time from your deck (or stock) and that card can be used to pair with and create a total of 13 with any movable card. If it cannot be used the card goes into the waste pile face up. Moveable cards include any freed card in your pyramid, your reserve pile, or the top card in your waste pile.

Once your stock has been fully dealt and no moves are left to make the game is over. Because you can only use your deck one time in this version the game may only take a couple of minutes to play. This makes it a great choice if you want to play solitaire but don’t have time for more involved variations.

The Strategy

After you’ve mastered the general idea of this solitaire variation it’s time to kick things up a notch. This game is much more strategy based than Klondike so there are some things to keep in mind as you go. Each move you make should be more carefully planned than a classic game of solitaire would require.

One of the things you’ll want to do as quickly as possible is to get rid of all your kings. They are only in your way and serve no other purpose. If you see a move that will allow you to eliminate a king, take it. Then move on without a second thought. It’s one less card to worry about.

Make sure you’ve set yourself up for a game you can win. Remember you can only remove cards that are uncovered, and in pairs that add up to thirteen. If you’re looking at the game you’ve just laid out and realized all your sixes are at the top tier with only sevens below, there’s no way you can win this round. Scrap it and start over.

Take a little extra time and plan your moves carefully. Remember you only get to go through your deck one time. Make sure you aren’t missing any moves by getting swept up in the quick play nature of this game. Being a little more methodical will result in a higher win rate.

3. FreeCell Solitaire

FreeCell Solitaire picture

Image Via SolitaireCity

Just like with Pyramid Solitare, you’re changing the layout and the rules of the game to play a new variation of the same concept. Clear the cards to win the game. FreeCell has been popularized as a standard game on most Windows computers, so you’ve probably seen the layout at least a few times in passing.

The Game:

FreeCell is set up with a single deck of 52 cards but the difference this time is you’re dealing all cards face up. There is no deal pile or leftover deck in this variation. You’ll deal eight rows of cards and the first four rows in your tableau will have seven cards while the last four rows each have six cards.

You’ll have four empty slots designated as your free cells, and four designated as your home cells. Your free cells are used as temporary holding slots and your home cells are where you want your stacks of cards to end up to win the game.

Your home cells will be built up from Ace to King just like your foundation slots in Klondike. With FreeCell however, the cards are built in ascending order and must be of the same suit. This is a key difference from the alternating colors and varied suit options in Klondike.

The exposed card at the bottom of each row in your tableau is available to be moved at any time. FreeCell does allow you to move single cards at a time so you don’t have to worry about moving stacks of cards even if you’ve started to create a sequence.

Cards can be moved to any slot that will form a descending sequence of alternating colors. This is the same as Klondike, so you are already familiar with how cards should be placed. You can move cards from the bottom of your tableau rows or your free cells to create the sequences.

Any exposed card can be placed into one of your four available free cell slots at any time. You can use those slots to free up another card, but eventually, you will have to move your stored cards back into play.

As you empty slots in your tableau, you are allowed to fill those slots with any card you want. It does not have to be a King that fills the empty tableau slot in FreeCell. However, having empty tableau slots and empty free cells directly affects how many cards you are allowed to move at once.

FreeCell gives you a limit of the maximum number of cards you can move at one time. You aren’t prohibited from moving one card at a time but you do have an upper limit of cards you are allowed to move. Usually, this is equal to your amount of empty free cells, plus one.

If you have empty tableau slots, however, the number of cards you can move at one time doubles for every empty tableau slot you have open unless you are currently moving a sequence of cards to that slot. If that is the case you cannot count the slot as empty.

Because of this added factor of calculating how many cards you can move, the easiest way to play FreeCell is on a computer. The computer will automatically tabulate how many cards you can move at once, but as you have already seen it is possible to play this game with regular cards too. You just have to do a little extra mental math while you’re playing.

The Strategy:

FreeCell is unique because you can see all of your cards right from the start of the game. This means the game is almost entirely based on a player being well skilled and using the right strategy. Seeing all of your cards right away eliminates the unknown factors involved in having a pile of unseen cards you deal from.

Once you have a good understanding of FreeCell your next step is to make sure your moves are well planned. Before moving any cards, take a look at your entire layout. If you see problem areas make a note and plan ahead so you can handle those areas when the time comes. 

After you’ve looked over your game and mapped out some possible problem areas, one of the first things to use strategically is your actual free cell slots. Use them wisely and get cards that are infringing on progressing the game out of your way.

Keep an eye on what you place on hold in your free cells, but don’t be afraid to use those slots resourcefully. The key is to think of your free cells as temporary storage rather than a permanent holding slot. Remember your card moves are limited when you have a free cell tied up so you’ll want to use them and get cards back into play as quickly as possible.

Make sure you are using any freed up tableau spots too. Remember you can place large runs of cards in empty tableau slots. Keeping this in mind will increase the mobility of your cards as the game progresses. Getting down to only one or even two open free cells really limits how much you can move around.

While you’re thinking about your tableau slots, keep in mind that one of your first goals should be to try and clear one of your columns. This is how you’ll have that slot free and the increased mobility you’ll be able to rely on as mentioned earlier. It’s also how you’ll have the option to move more cards at once.

The easiest way for you to clear columns is to start with columns that don’t have any kings in them. If you start there you’ll be able to work quickly to free up space and be able to move more sequences. You’ll have to spend some time really practicing the strategies for this game but with the right planning and strategy, almost every game of FreeCell can be won.

4. Spider Solitaire

Spider Solitaire picture

Image Via SolitaireCity

Spider Solitaire is another variation that was widely popularized as a computer-based solitaire game. Oddly enough it’s become more popular than its inspirational roots of Klondike. It might appear to be more complicated than you want to deal with at first but once you make a few moves you’ll probably find yourself hooked.

The Game:

Spider Solitaire is played with two decks of cards which is different than the other variations you’ve learned about so far. Two decks add a lot of difficulties right from the start, including setting up your game.

There are slightly easier versions of Spider Solitaire where you only use one suit or two suits, but for now, it’s best if you learn the general idea before changing it up. If you opt to change to the other suit variations, you’ll need more than two decks of cards to make up for the excluded suits from your decks.

You’ll want to make sure your decks are very well shuffled before you start. Alternatively, much like FreeCell, you can opt to just play this version on a computer and avoid set up entirely. It’s easily available online or even as a preinstalled game on most computers.

To set up the game yourself you’ll build your tableau with ten rows of cards. All cards are dealt face down, and the four columns to your farthest left will each get five cards while the rest of your tableau rows will get four. Each column should have one final card dealt to it that is face up. All remaining cards are used to form your deck (or stock) to deal from.

Your goal in the game is to create a sequence of cards all in the same suit that descends from King to Ace within your tableau rows. Once you’ve created this entire sequence you can move the sequence to one of your foundation slots. When you’ve used all of your cards and created eight full sequences to move to your foundation the game is won.

You can move any exposed card from the end of a tableau row to another column if it creates a descending sequence. When moving single cards you can form descending sequences regardless of suit. Moving a sequence of cards (or “packed” cards) to another tableau column, however, requires a descending set of the same suit.

Empty tableau columns can be filled with any card or sequence of cards you would like to move there. Once you cannot make any more moves on the tableau, deal one card to each of the columns using your stock.

Spider Solitaire requires you to fill all empty slots in your tableau before being able to deal from your stock again. This rule applies even if you have to break up a sequence to fill a tableau slot. You’ll want to avoid doing that if possible, but if not you’ll have no other choice in order to progress the game. Once your stock is exhausted the game ends when you cannot make another move in the tableau.

The Strategy:

After you’ve had a chance to play a few games and get the hang of the general idea, just like with the previous versions it’s time to add in some strategy to increase your chances of winning. Some of these strategies may be similar to ones you’ve learned about for other games, which means you already have a head start on the general idea of some key tactics.

With Spider Solitaire you can maximize your ability to move cards by looking at what is called a “natural build” or building a sequence within its suit. This is similar to the strategies for Klondike where you want to have the most possibilities for every move you make. Natural builds are able to move as a unit which means maximum effect for every move you make with those sets.

While you’re drawing on strategic skills you’ve learned from other games, you can also reuse a tactic from Pyramid Solitaire. In both games, you want to focus on trying to reveal a card with each move as often as possible. Once again it’s all about creating the maximum amount of mobility within your tableau.

Spider Solitaire isn’t done borrowing strategies from other games just yet. Just like in FreeCell you can empty slots in your tableau and use them as temporary holding spots for cards that don’t fit into your plan just yet. You can also use this strategy to continue working on the natural builds you’re working on.

One thing you’ll want to really focus on to give you the best chance to win is making sure you’ve made every move possible before you deal out the next set of cards. This includes exposing all possible cards and arranging anything within a suit that you can. Double check before dealing the next 10 cards to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

Spider Solitaire and the strategies involved can take some practice, but it’s not the most popular solitaire game out there for no reason. Spend some time working on these strategies and building on the skills you’ve already used and you’ll find yourself winning fairly often.

Your odds of winning are increased if you opt to play one suit or two suit versions which are easier to create your natural builds with. The same strategies can be used for these versions of the game regardless of their reduced suit count.

Other Games

There are so many variations of solitaire it’s impossible to cover them all in one guide. These are just a few of the more popular forms of the game you can play. If you’re ever curious about what games are out there and their difficulty level it’s easy to research with guides like this one where you can find a list of games, their solitaire type, and their difficulty ranking.

Some of the games listed are based on play types already covered here and you can utilize the same strategies even if the game is slightly varied. Something like Eight Way is still a version of FreeCell so focusing on FreeCell based strategic moves is going to be effective in this game also.

If you’re using computer-based solitaire games you can also change things up by trying out different scoring options. Scoring is an added layer that’s often different depending on which solitaire program you use, and which scoring option you choose.

Windows-based Klondike games, for instance, can be adjusted to incorporate things like “Vegas scoring” where you can see what dollar amount you’re winning as you play the game. Even with different scoring options out there, you’re still not going to have to change your basic strategy, but the better you get at these tactics the higher you could see your score soar.

Even with all this discussion about strategies to win solitaire, it’s still supposed to be a game you enjoy. If you find yourself really disliking a specific variation of solitaire after trying it a few times and using these strategies, it’s okay to move on to one you like better. Games are supposed to be relaxing and fun. Solitaire is no exception to that.

It does take some practice to effectively use these strategies. It’s not going to happen the first time you play the game. You’ll have to find your favorite version or versions and invest some time digging into the tactics you’ve learned to see results. Once you do that, you’ll be an unstoppable solitaire force.

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