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Solitaire, also known as 'patience' in some parts of the world, is a hugely popular one-player card game that sets the tasks of organizing an entire deck of cards into columns defined by their suits. The cards must run in number order, and more often than not the game will not end in the completion of the task.
Solitaire has its origins in the mid-18th century but really came to prominence in 19th century France. The game spread quickly from there and remains an extremely popular pastime to this day. The number of online versions out there has raised solitaire's profile considerably. Being a one-player game, solitaire is ideally suited to mobile and tablet gaming, and it's the rare office worker who hasn't filled a dead hour or two by accessing it on their Mac or PC.
What equipment is required to play solitaire?
You'll need a regulation pack of 52 playing cards to play solitaire. The jokers are removed and you play with everything else - four full suits of 12 cards each, from ace to 10, with jacks, queens and kings all thrown in too.
If you're playing a physical game of solitaire, you'll need table space to spread out the columns. To play electronically you'll need a desktop or mobile device, along with either a solitaire program uploaded to your device or the ability to access the Internet and visit an online solitaire site.
What is the aim of solitaire?
There are many different versions of solitaire but the most commonly played sets the task of building four complete columns. The aim is to have fully-stocked columns of spades, clubs, diamond and hearts - each running from King all the way down to ace.
What are the rules of solitaire?
If that sounds too easy, it's time to introduce the rules. It's the way you draw the cards, and where you can place them, that makes solitaire so difficult to complete and such an appealing challenge.
Here is a basic outline of the rules for classic solitaire, and again it's worth stressing there are varieties that will differentiate in subtle ways here:
The player shuffles the pack and deals out seven columns, or piles, that are known as 'the tableau'. The first card is dealt face up to pile one, with the next six dealt facedown to the six other columns. You then deal a face up card to pile two, with five cards facedown to the remaining five columns. The process continues until you place a face up card on the seventh column. You end up with seven columns, each with a face-up card on top, and increasing in size by one card as the columns run left to right.
To start building each of your 'foundation' columns, which are the four sets of suit-specific cards you're trying to complete, you need an ace. Only an ace can get a foundation column going. Starting with ace, you build up in numbers of that suit from two to 10, before going to jack, queen and king to complete the foundation. You can only add cards in rank order.
Face-up cards on the top of each pile in the tableau are available to use for the foundation columns, as are the cards you draw from your 'stock' pile.
The stock consists of the cards you don't use to build you tableau columns. You work through these cards by turning either every card over, or turning every third card over. Each card you draw is available to place either straight on a foundation column (should a move be available) or onto a tableau column.
Tableau columns work differently to foundation piles. With tableau columns you add cards in order, but you can mix up suits and move entire piles to add to other piles. Once all face-up cards are removed from a tableau column you get to turn over the card beneath.
The game continues until either you column the foundation columns, or you reach a point of stalemate where you acknowledge it's not going to happen.
How to master solitaire
Even if you stick to the rules and play the perfect game, solitaire is not always winnable. There are deals that make completing the game impossible and situations you can't move on. Strong players may win more often than weak ones, as they see every opportunity to place a card and make key decisions that influence the flow of cards.
How to get started with solitaire
Playing online solitaire is a great way to get acquainted with the game and develop a strong understanding of the format. Many online solitaire games are free to play, and you can also play for cash prizes at some sites. Best practice is to check out an online solitaire portal and read up on the best sites to play at.