The Ultimate Strategy Guide to Winning Solitaire
Winning Solitaire is like solving a puzzle – you need to get the pieces where they belong. This site has loads of tips, ideas, and strategies, along with explanations and diagrams. Maybe the most basic lesson to learn is not to make a move just because it can be made. Every time you move a card, another card – or cards – may be harder to move later. If you want to beat the game of solitaire, or klondike solitaire, here are 16 tips and strategies to help you.
1. Start with just the seven columns
Once the Solitaire game is laid out, focus on moving cards that are in the seven columns before drawing from the hand, so that more cards in the columns can be exposed. Before you start going through the hand, things aren’t too complicated, but when you can, it’s always better to move a card in the seven columns, than to pull one from the hand.
2. Initial pass through the hand
- Low-ranking cards can get in the way of other moves (not always, but often).
- Every card has its counterpart (e.g., the 5♣ and 5♠), and it’s generally better to use the card from a column than its counterpart in the hand, so you can expose more cards.
Suppose you have the 4♦ at the bottom of a column, and the 3♣ shows up in your hand. If there are still a number of cards in the columns which are face-down, unexposed, then the other black 3, the 3♠, may be among them, and you need to uncover and flip all those cards to be able to win the game. So hold out for a couple passes before using that 3♣. (In fact, in this case, once you have the two red 2s on their Ace piles, you have no need for either black 3 in the columns.)
Here’s a more complicated example (and the resolution is below). If you have a black 5 at the bottom of one column, and a black 3 at the top of another, then a red 4 does help, so that you can expose what’s under the black 3. (See diagram below, and the following paragraph. The narrow gray row represents some number of face-down, unexposed cards.)
But the 5♣ and the 4♥ aren’t high-ranking cards; early in the game, it would be nice to keep them uncovered, so that we can move them to their Ace piles if the time comes.
But, what is under that 3♠ …? Well, we don’t need to answer that right away. Besides: what if we find the other red 4 in one of the columns? This would be the 4♦, the counterpart to the 4♥ we have in the hand.
Then we can expose what’s under the 4♦, as well as what’s under the 3♠.
Here’s what I would do. Seeing that 4♥ in my hand, and that 5♣ in that column, I would leave the 4♥ in my hand when making my first (and probably second) pass in the hopes that maybe I could move the 5♣ to its Ace pile.
If very few cards get moved, I would resist the temptation to cover that 5♣ even through the next pass. It makes the game longer, but I’m more likely to win.
But if it’s one of those games in which good moves just keep opening up, low-ranking cards as well as Aces and Kings, then I’d probably take my chances during the second pass through the hand, and put the 4♥ on the 5♣. But in general, I’d wait until the third pass.
If the speculation that you see is correct – if the 4♦ is under the 8♣ – then all I need is a red 9, so I can put it and the 8♣ over on the 10♣, exposing the 4♦. It just takes time for all this to develop.
If nothing else opens up, I would probably wait until about the fourth pass through the hand, and then put the 4♥ on the 5♣, and proceed from there.
3. Starting the Ace piles, or foundations
In Klondike Solitaire, Aces and their corresponding 2s can and should always be played to their Ace piles as soon as possible. Aces obviously belong there. But a 2 gets in the way in the seven columns. The only thing you can do with it is to expose the card(s) under it. Then, if it can’t be moved up to its Ace pile, it covers a 3 (and usually more), and you may need to move that 3 up to its Ace pile.
There are plenty of moves you can wait to make, but as soon as you can put a 2 on its Ace pile, you should do so.
4. One move not to make
The 2 is one card (or, a rank of cards) that you never want to move from the hand to a 3 on a column. No card can be moved onto the 2 from another column, so the 2 doesn’t help expose any other cards. Then, it covers cards (the 3 and anything the 3 covers), preventing them from being played to their respective Ace piles. So leave 2s in the hand until their Aces show up.
Moving a 2 from another column onto a 3 exposes cards under the 2, which you obviously need to do. But even these, I don’t rush into right away, early in the game. Consider a 3♠ at the bottom of a column, and the 2♦ in another column with face-down, unexposed cards underneath it. Yes, you want to see what’s under that 2♦, but it’s possible that the A♠ and 2♠ could show up before the A♦ – and without the A♦, the 2♦ is stuck on that 3♠. (One option is to move it anyway, then undo the move. If you see a card under it that you can use, it may be worth it to go ahead and move the 2♦ after all.)
Making Choices among Similar Cards
Being prudent about your making moves, you’ll eventually have to choose between what I call counterparts – two cards of the same rank and color (for example, the 4♠ and the 4♣). Which one should you move, and why?
5. Two of the same in the hand
If you have both black 7s in your hand, and a red 8 at the bottom of a column, does it matter which black 7 you use? I call those two black 7s counterparts to each other.
First things first: if there’s no red 6, black 5, red 4, etc. at the tops of other columns, you might not want to put anything on the red 8, especially later in the game. Once that 8 gets covered, it may be hard to move to its Ace pile.
But generally, you do need to choose between the two black 7s, so look at the Ace piles. If the spades pile is up to 3, but the clubs pile is empty, then the 7♣ might get stuck for a while on that red 8, preventing it from being played to its Ace pile. So put the 7♠ on the red 8.
(Of course, there are games in which, although you got up to the 3♠ on its Ace pile, no more spades will appear. But clubs cards do appear, so the 7♣ would’ve been the right card to choose in the example above. The odds are against that, but if you do notice this happening later in the game, and if it looks like holding down the undo button to get back to this point in the game could win the game, do it; use that undo key! It does mean playing some of the game over again, but it can be fun when you win.)
6. One in the hand, and the same in a column
Another example: if you can take a black 6 from a column, that’s more useful than taking a black 6 from the hand. This way, you either uncover the card(s) below it, or free up a column for a King. (If you already have all the columns you need for the four Kings, and the black 6 is in a column all by itself, then it doesn’t matter which black 6 you use.)
7. Choosing between two columns
If you have a black 8 at the bottom of a column, and you can choose between moving the 7♥ or the 7♦ from the tops of two other columns, then the issue is which column has the most face-down cards. If there are more unexposed cards under the 7♥, generally that’s the one to move.
The whole idea of moving any cards in the array is to expose cards, and make them available for the Ace piles. In fact, if neither of those red 7s had any unexposed cards under them to begin with, why cover the 8 at all? Maybe the 8 can be moved to its Ace pile. (The only reason to cover the 8 in this case – in which neither 7 covers any cards – would be to make room for a King that needs the column, and often that can wait.)
You can also try them each, and see what other moves open up (then undo the moves that you don’t want). If the first card under that 7♥ is of no use, but moving the 7♦ opens up three moves you can make right away, stick with the 7♦. And if they both open up moves, which one opens up more moves – or better moves, like exposing Aces or Kings?
Of course, these considerations could go on and on without any clear choice, so you may want to just leave them for a while, and see what other moves open up as the layout changes.
And rarely… two opportunities open up at the same time
Occasionally in Solitaire you may find yourself with two cards of the same rank and color at the bottoms of two columns, and both of the next cards down available as well. That is, you may have the two red 7s at the bottoms of two columns, and both of the black 6s are also available, either in the hand or one of the columns. The tips above cover generally what to do, but here are a couple considerations unique to this.
If you don’t need to free up too many cards under either 6, you probably don’t want to cover both of the red 7s; you can just cover one, because then, either red 7 can still be moved to its Ace pile – and that’s because, the black 6 can be moved at any time from one red 7 to the other red 7. But if you cover both red 7s, and the opportunity arises to move one of them to its Ace pile, then neither can be moved, until you can get a black 6 out of the way.
If one of the black 6s is alone in an otherwise empty column, usually you’ll want to open up that column for a King. But if all the four Kings already have their own columns, with no unexposed cards below them, then there’s really no need to empty the column by moving this particular black 6; you’ll generally want to move the other black 6. This leaves a free red 7, as covered in the paragraph above.
One last consideration is that although you have both black 6s, you probably won’t find both red 5s, and both black 4s, and so on. You want some compelling reason to cover up both red 7s.
8. Some moves – you just have to try them out
Sometimes, with two similar moves to choose from, just try them both, and see which exposes more cards. The best moves expose low-ranking cards (especially early in the game), Aces (to start Ace piles, where the game is won), and Kings (which fill in empty columns, so you can move more cards off other columns). Low-ranking cards are good to turn up because you want to get the Ace piles going. (If you want a game that will remember all those undos/redos well, here’s one.)
Later in the Solitaire Game
These ideas may take a little time, but they’re worth it when you win.
9. Didn’t I just see one of those?
Did you just have a red 5 show up in a column with unexposed cards under it, shortly after you moved the other red 5 from the hand to another column? It’s going to be a little harder now to move this second red 5 off its column. But you can undo those last few moves, and play that red 5 in the column instead; leave the red 5 in the hand where you found it. This way, you expose more cards. It’s a little back-tracking, but it can make a difference in the outcome of the game.
In the example below, the 6♠ was pulled from the hand a few moves back, and now the 6♣ has been exposed. If we undo those few moves and leave the 6♠ in the hand, then we can see what’s under the 6♣, and maybe win the game as a result.
10. Just how far do you want to take this?
If you notice that you’re building a particular column downwards, but only from cards in your hand, and not from any cards in the seven columns, you may want to hold off a bit. You’re covering cards, but not exposing any in the process – and this is not a good strategy!
I’ve actually undone a whole string of moves to take those cards back into the hand. It takes longer? Well, yeah, but what else am I going to do with my time – lose this game so I have time to lose another?
For example: A black 10 starts it all, exposed at the bottom of a column. Then, maybe after two or three passes through the hand, you’ve added a red 9, black 8, red 7, black 6 … and then it occurs to you – except for the 10, these all came from your hand. You’ve been moving cards, and covering cards, but nothing is getting exposed in the other columns to help you win. (You may even be getting points for putting those cards down, but are you winning the game?!)
And furthermore, at the same time, perhaps you’ve also built up an Ace pile that the black 8 could be moved to. But that would be prevented by the red 7, until it gets moved – if it gets moved.
Now if there’s a red 5 at the top of some column to put onto that black 6, and this is the only way to get it, then okay. But if not – I’ve held the undo button down to put cards back in the hand. I then had to make several of the same moves that I had just undone (not including those I put on that column), but it often works – I got the puzzle put together.
That last tip raises a question: just what will show up below the card you play?
As you’re taking cards from your hand and putting them on the columns, the first thing you look for, naturally, is the next card up: if you pull a black 7 from your hand, you look for a red 8 at the bottom of a column to put it on. But have you thought about what may line up under that black 7? If you don’t have any cards available in another column that could eventually go below that black 7 – like a red 6 to begin with – then you may not need that black 7 from the hand, and in fact, it could just tie up the red 8 later on.
In the diagram below, you’ll notice that there are no red 6s, black 5s, red 4s, or others at the tops of any columns that could be seen under a black 7. (We’re only looking at the top cards in the columns because moving any others is unproductive – only moving the top cards can expose face-down cards below them.)
It won’t hurt to leave the 7♣ where it is, in the hand; you can always get it in a later pass through the hand, if the need arises.
An approach I take very late in a Solitaire game is to check and see, among the seven columns (or those that are left), what is the lowest ranking card at the tops of those columns? Then I just skip over any cards in the hand of a lower rank than that. For example, in the diagram above, I wouldn’t spend time considering anything 7 or lower.
To sum it all up: Late in the game, move a card if, in doing so, the chances of useful future moves showing up will increase; or at least, useful moves are not needlessly prevented. You can always (eventually) get back to a card if it’s in your hand, but you can’t always get to a card once you put it in one of the columns.
11. Just one left
Sometimes, there’s just one card left that you can’t move off a column to expose the cards underneath it. Take a look at the diagram below, especially the two red 10s.
There are no openings for the 10♦, but there are unexposed cards under it. You just went through the hand, and there’s nothing there that helps. The 10♦ can’t be moved, so it looks like you’re stuck.
But this is what computers are for, specifically memory. At some point, that 10♥ was moved onto the J♠. It can take a while, but I’ve won games this way: I held down the undo button (or tapped it repeatedly) until I got back to the point in the game at which the 10♥ was originally put on that black Jack. Could I instead have put the 10♦ there? Or was it close; could I have waited for the 10♦ to become available, and then played it, instead of the 10♥? It doesn’t always win the game, but it’s fun when it does.
The Ace Piles
Okay – this is the place – a Solitaire game is won here, in the Ace piles – so now we have to get it right.
12. The Plus-Two Strategy
Not every card belongs on its Ace pile as soon as the opportunity arises. Here’s a little simple arithmetic, and it will help keep cards available that you may need for a column.
Take note of the lowest-ranking card of each color on the Ace piles. Then, avoid playing any card of the other color that is more than two ranks higher than it.
For example: suppose you have only the A♥ on its Ace pile (as in the diagram below), and the diamond cards are up to 3 on their Ace pile. So the lowest ranking RED card is an Ace.
The 3♣ is at the top of its Ace pile, and the 4♣ becomes available (in either a column or the hand). But looking ahead, might we want this 4♣ while working in the columns? Yes we might, as follows:
If you put that 4♣ on its Ace pile, and later the red 3♥ shows up at the bottom of a column, you may want that 4♣ available in a column to move the 3♥ onto, so that you can expose any cards under the 3 of hearts. So hold off on playing that 4♣ to its Ace pile.
Many Solitaire programs allow you to move the 4♣ back down from the Ace pile. But the way I see it, not only will I forget and put the 5♣ up there (making it harder to get to both the 4♣ and the 3♥), but I simply find it easier to just remember the simple calculation: look at the other color, and add 2 to the lowest rank.
Here are a couple other useful examples:
- If there’s nothing on either red Ace pile yet, then that’s at zero. Therefore, you can put any black Aces and 2s in their respective Ace piles; you have not gone more than two ranks higher than what’s on the red Ace piles, that is, zero. (This is one reason why elsewhere I say, play the Aces and 2s to their Ace piles, but others can wait.)
- If the two black Ace piles are built up to 4 on one, and to 5 on the other, don’t build either of the red stacks higher than 6 (4+2; the rank of the lower card, plus 2). So 6 is the highest rank you should play to either red Ace pile.
13. Build the columns with the Ace piles in mind
Once you’re building up the Ace piles, you may look at what you put in the columns a little differently.
When all four Aces are in place, then the 2s should go straight to their respective Ace piles – and this also means that you don’t need 3s in the columns any more, so don’t take any 3s from the hand to put on the column. The only reason to put a 3 on a column is to put a 2 on it; right? This way, the 4 you would otherwise put the 3 on is still free for its Ace pile.
(This applies beyond just 3s. For instance, if all the 5s are on their Ace piles, there’s no longer any need to take a 7 from the hand to put on a column, because any 6 that shows up should go straight to its Ace pile.)
To add some more order to the game
I’m not saying that Klondike Solitaire lacks order to begin with, but I find it helpful to always put the Ace piles in the same sequence. I place, from left to right, the Clubs, Spades, Diamonds, and Hearts. This helps me see better what I need – or don’t need – when making moves. It’s also a little easier to keep track of where I stand using the Plus-Two strategy. (What sequence you use isn’t important, although I’m sure it’s easier if you use the same sequence every time you play. Also, I think one would generally want red next to red, and black next to black.)
Using the right royalty cards in Solitaire is important; it helps make the right cards available to move up to the Ace piles. Choosing the wrong cards can slow you down or cost you the game.
14. The Kings only need four Empty Columns
Once all four Kings are in their own columns and not covering any cards (or you will have enough empty columns for all of them when they do show up), then emptying any more than those four columns isn’t necessary, and in some cases, it may present a bit of a problem, as in the following diagram.
Here, three of the four Kings have their own columns, and the K♦ will have his column, once it becomes available, since nothing else can go in that one empty column. Then, moving that 7♦ onto the 8♣ looks like a logical move, but the clubs foundation just needs one more card – the 7♣ – and then you’ll be able to move that 8 up there – unless – the 7♦ is put there. So in this case, leave things as they are; the last King will have a home, the 8♣ is free to be moved up when it’s needed, and the 7♦ will be perfectly content to stay where it is.
About even- and odd-numbered cards: think of a Queen as even-numbered (12), and the King and Jack as odd-numbered (13 and 11 respectively). That’s nothing earth-shattering, but this bit of knowledge comes in handy every so often. For instance, suppose you have an empty column, and a red King to put in it. Knowing that a red King is an "odd-numbered" card, but that all the red cards at the tops of your columns happen to be even-numbered cards, it will often make sense to wait and see if a black King shows up.
15. When should you empty a column?
On a couple sites, I’ve seen it said that you shouldn’t empty a column until you have a King ready to “immediately” put in it. It’s true that there’s no rush to empty columns. But if all that’s left in a column is a card that can be moved up to its Ace pile, and if it’s otherwise a good move, put it there; there’s nothing wrong with leaving that column empty for a while. What is important is that you put the right King there; see tip #16 on that subject.
16. Find the right King
It’s important to put the right King in a column, especially when you only have one or two empty columns. A fairly simple example would be as follows: Say you have a red Queen all alone in a column (no black Jack on it, and no unexposed cards underneath it), and you also have only one empty column. If you put a red King in that empty column, you will then have NO empty columns. But if you wait for a black King, and put that in the empty column, and then put the red Queen on it, you still have an empty column, which can help later on, of course.
Now if you really take winning Solitaire seriously, try this little routine. You can do it on a scrap of paper, but it’s easy to do it in your head, and you’ll find the right King to use.
Midway through the game or so is when columns usually begin to free up. If, at the tops of the remaining columns, you have a black Queen, a red Jack, and a black 10 (and no red Queen), then it doesn’t make any sense to put a black King in the first empty column that shows up. (Oh and btw, was that really a red Jack you remember seeing in your hand…?)
So create (or envision) a small table of six cells – something like a block wall, with two columns and three rows. Put black in one column and red in the other; the three rows are for the ranks of King, Queen and Jack, as in the diagram below. What belongs in each cell is shown, but grayed out.
To make sure you check all your cards, you may want to wait till you start a new pass through the hand (right after you turn over the waste pile). Then, make that pass all the way through without making any real moves; just pay attention to the royalty. (If you want, you can then undo all these moves.)
This is pretty much the example I started a couple paragraphs up, but with the whole picture in place – Kings of both colors, red and black; a black Queen (only); and a Jack(s) of each color. This is what you end up with (checkmarks in the cells work fine, of course):
In other words, you have all the court cards in your hand except a red Queen. (We’re ignoring suits because this has nothing directly to do with the Ace piles.)
So, it looks like you either want to start with the red King (so you can get the black Queen and red Jack), or, if that just won’t cut it (maybe you only see a couple red 10s and a black 9 at the tops of the columns), perhaps you can just hold on a bit longer, and leave the royalty in your hand for now.
I’m usually not at my desk or a table, so I do this from memory. When I see any King, Queen or Jack card while making that single pass through my hand, I pause and imagine what the 6-cell block wall looks like with that card added. No detail, just which cell gets filled in. In the case above, I would end up with a picture of either a left square brace, or a capital C. That image translates pretty well into what royalty I should use going forward.