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What Are the Rules of Solitaire?

By Eugene P.
Updated: May 17, 2024

There are a great variety of rules that can be used to play the single-player game of Solitaire, but the one considered the classic version is known as Klondike Solitaire. The rules of Solitaire begin with the use of a standard 52-card deck with the jokers removed. There are four areas where the cards are played: the tableau, the foundations, the stock and the waste or discard pile. The objective of the game is to arrange the cards sequentially from the lowest- to the highest-valued cards by drawing from the stock pile. Cards that cannot be placed on top of a higher-valued card in the tableau are placed in the waste pile and the process continues until all of the cards are arranged in order on the foundation spaces.

The first step in setting up the game board according to the commonly accepted rules of Solitaire is to establish the tableau. This area begins with a single card turned face up on the left side of the area. After the first card is dealt, six more are dealt face down, each to the right of the last to form a line of cards. The process repeats with a card being placed face up on top of the second pile of the tableau and then five more face down in each pile to the right of that. This continues progressively until a card is placed face up on top of the last pile on the right.

The remaining cards are placed face down in a single stack in the upper left of the game area. This pile, called the stock, is the area from which new cards will be drawn. To the right of the stock is the area where unused cards are discarded, face up. The waste pile is to the left of the foundation piles. The foundation piles start with the lowest-numbered card, an ace in the rules of Solitaire, and end with the highest-valued card, the king.

The basic rules of game play start after the board is set up, at which point the player draws three cards from the stock pile. The first goal is to place the cards from the stock in the tableau in specific order. The cards from the stock can only be placed on face-up cards in the tableau that are exactly one value higher, and only on cards that are of the opposite suit color. So, a black eight of spades can only be placed in the tableau on top of a nine with a red-colored suit — either a heart or a diamond.

The different piles of cards in the tableau can be moved to complete or lengthen other piles as long as the pattern is continued. Only a king, either by itself or at the top of a pile, can be placed in a blank tableau space. As cards are moved around the tableau or retired to the foundation spaces, face-down cards are revealed. These cards can be turned face up as they become available.

Ultimately, the rules of Solitaire define winning as have all four foundation spaces filled with all the cards in the deck. Each of the four foundation spaces can only have one card suit in it. As each card from ace to king becomes available as a face-up card, either in the draws from the stock or in the tableau, they can be placed in the foundation spaces.

There are two distinct methods of playing that can have a significant result on the outcome of the game. The original rules of Solitaire only allow the player to draw cards from the stock once. When all of the cards in the stock have been drawn, the game is declared over. A different set of rules allows the player to turn the discard pile face down without shuffling the cards and again begin drawing cards.

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