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Ultimate Guide to Forty Thieves

Forty Thieves is a Solitaire card game that goes by many different names. It is also called Roosevelt at San Juan, Napolean at St. Helena, Big Forty, and Le Cadran. The name Forty Thieves refers to the forty cards originally dealt on the tableau, thus being a reference to the story of Ali Baba and the forty thieves.

This game is among the more difficult solitaire games and relies a great deal on the “luck of the draw”. How the cards are first laid out on the tableau and what order they appear in the stock pile has a heavy influence on the difficulty of the game.

The Rules of Forty Thieves

Forty Thieves is played with two standard fifty-two card decks. At the beginning of the game, ten columns of four cards each are laid out on the tableau. Above these columns, there should be eight blank spaces for the foundation piles. The remaining sixty-four cards are all in the stock pile.

Cards can only be moved onto the next highest sequential number in the same suit. Only one card can be moved at a time.

As the game is played, cards are drawn from the stock pile one at a time.

The object of the game is to place all cards in the foundation piles, beginning with the eight Aces. These foundation piles are built by suit in standard sequential order.

You may only move the bottom free card of any column. In order to access the other cards of the column, this card must be moved.

If a card from the stock pile is not used immediately, it goes into the waste pile.

If a column has been emptied, any available card can be moved into this column.

The game is over when all cards from the stock pile have been dealt and there are no more available moves. There is no redeal.

If all the cards are in the eight foundation piles at the end of play, the game is won. Otherwise, the game is lost.

How to Play Forty Thieves

The object of the game is to move all the cards into the eight foundation piles, beginning with the Aces. The difficult part of this game is that all moves are done entirely by suit. This makes moves extremely limited. For example, a Seven of Spades could only be moved into a foundation pile that has its top card as the Six of Spades, or onto a column where the open card is an Eight of Spades.

Furthermore, only one card can be moved at a time. If you have multiple cards in a descending sequence within a suit, only the open card at the bottom can be moved, either to an empty column, to another column ending with the card next sequentially higher in that suit, or into the foundation pile if the foundation pile is topped with the card next sequentially lower in that suit.

Because of the restricted moves, there is a great deal of luck involved as to how the cards are originally dealt and shuffled.

You may only go through the stock pile once, so any card that goes into the waste will remain there until all cards put into the waste after that card have been played, either on the tableau or into the foundation piles. Many cards will have to go into the waste pile, at least for a while, due to the restricted number of moves allowed in the game.

The only cards that go into the waste pile are those “rejected” from the stock pile. You cannot place cards from the tableau into the waste pile. Once a card is on the tableau, it will remain there until it is placed in a foundation pile. There will be many points in the game where there are no valid moves other than to pull another card from the stock pile, thus putting the current card into the waste pile.

Many versions of the game do not allow you to remove a card once it is placed in the foundation pile.

You can pull a card from the top of the waste pile one at a time. Playing the cards from the waste pile one at a time is the only way to access the cards lower in the pile, placed there earlier in the game.

As you get further into the game, empty columns can be used to move cards around.

Common Strategies for Forty Thieves

Planning is important to winning this version of solitaire. That being said, you can only plan so much, as you do not know what order the cards will appear in the stock pile.

At the beginning of the game, take note of all the cards laid out on the tableau. Notice if there are any Aces or Twos in the columns, and where in the columns they are.

As you go through the stock pile, try to remember which cards are in the waste pile. You will have to go through the entire waste pile to get back to these cards. In addition, it will help your strategy to know whether you are still waiting for a card to appear or if it is in the waste pile.

After every move, take note of the tableau once again. Did your moves allow other cards to be opened up that you can now use? Often, some of the worst mistakes in this game are made by not keeping track of where the cards are on the tableau.

Try to empty columns as quickly as possible. These empty columns are extremely useful. You can place a card from the stock pile in an empty column to “save” it, such as moving a Three down knowing that you don’t want to lose it at the bottom of the waste pile. You can also use these empty columns to move cards out of the way of other cards. For example, if your column has a King blocking an Ace, you can move the King to an empty column to get to the Ace. Empty columns can be used similarly to move cards out of the waste pile to get back to cards you had to pass up before. Finally, you can use empty columns to help you move full sequences between columns.

Because you can only move one card at a time, if you wish to move an entire sequence from a column in the tableau, you either must move the entire sequence in order to a foundation pile or you must have enough columns open that you can move cards one at a time in and out of the columns until the entire sequence has been moved.

Make sure that you don’t build long sequences blocking lower cards. You will not be able to move them later.

Because there is two of every card, you may sometimes have options on which cards to move or which sequences. Take note of which move will open up other cards.

Try to get the lower cards into the foundation piles as quickly as possible.

Because empty columns are so useful, it is often strategic to leave them alone until they are needed. Don’t move cards into them too quickly. Once you have moved a card into the empty column, you no longer have an empty column to work with.

As you get towards the end of the game, the empty columns will be most useful in emptying the waste pile.

Forty Thieves Terms

The terms used in Forty Thieves are identical to the terms used in classic solitaire. These include:

  • Foundation Cards: The foundation cards are the aces. Because there are two decks used in this game, there are a total of eight aces. At the beginning of the game, they may be somewhere in the stock pile or on the tableau.

  • Foundation Piles: Foundation piles are made by putting cards sequentially by suit on top of the respective ace. They follow the standard sequential order: Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King.

  • Stock: The stock is the pile from which cards are dealt. At the beginning of the game, this includes all cards not in the ten columns on the tableau.

  • Tableau: This is the area where the game is played, including all ten columns, the stock and waste piles, and the foundation piles. It is also sometimes called the “board”.

  • Waste: Once a card has been pulled from the stock pile, if it cannot be used, they go to the waste pile. Once in the waste pile, a card can only be retrieved if all other cards put in the waste pile afterwards have been used.

Variations of Forty Thieves
There are many different versions of Forty Thieves, many of which have been adapted to make the game a bit easier. These variations include:

  • Indian: Rather than ten columns of four cards, there are ten columns of three cards, and the last card of each column is face down. In addition, sequences on the tableau are built by putting a card on the next sequentially higher card of any suit that is not the same suit. For example, the Eight of Diamonds could be placed on the Nine of Clubs, but not on the Nine of Diamonds.

  • Josephine: The only difference between this version and the original is that sequences can be moved together; you are not limited to moving only one card at a time.

  • Limited: The play of this version is the same as forty thieves, but instead of ten columns of four, the game begins with twelve columns of three.

  • Lucas: In this version, the aces are removed at the beginning of the game and set immediately into the foundation piles. The dealer then lays out thirteen columns of three cards on the tableau.

  • Maria: In this version, nine columns of four cards are laid out on the tableau. In addition, the cards can be made into sequences of alternating colors rather than only by their own suit.

  • Number Ten: Ten columns of four are dealt, but the last two cards of each column are face down. Sequences are made by alternating color, and sequences can be moved together (you are not limited to moving only one card at a time).

  • Rank and File: This version, also known as Dress Parade, involves all cards in the original ten columns to be face down other than the bottom free card. Sequences are made by alternating color, and sequences can be moved as a whole (you are not limited to moving only one card at a time).

  • Sixty Thieves: This game uses three decks of cards. In addition, rather than ten columns of four, the game begins with twelve columns of five cards on the tableau.

  • Streets: The cards on the tableau can be made into sequences of alternating colors rather than only by their own suit.

Forty Thieves FAQ

Q: Do you use the jokers in Forty Thieves?

A: No, forty thieves uses two standard fifty-two card decks and does not use the jokers.

Q: Are there unsolvable games?

A: Yes, there are. In fact, a lot of playing Forty Thieves depends on luck. If the cards are laid out on the tableau badly, or the cards are in a bad order in the stock pile, the game is often difficult, if not impossible, to win.

Q: Oops! Is there an undo?

A: If you’re playing at home alone, we won’t tell. Online versions often don’t let you undo a mistake.

Q: I want to try it! Where can I play Forty Thieves online?

A: You can find Forty Thieves and many other versions of Solitaire at www.playsolitaire-online.com

Final Thoughts on Forty Thieves

Forty thieves is a fun version of solitaire to play that provides quite the challenge. It requires quite a bit of luck, but as the game goes on, you must pay attention to the entire tableau to be able to win. If you’re up to the challenge, try your luck here.