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Ultimate Guide to Klondike Solitaire

Nowadays, it’s easy to play card games like Rummy or Classic Solitaire online, leading many players to discover new versions of classic games that they might never have heard of. When it comes to Solitaire, many players are surprised to learn there are seemingly countless variations.

Often, when people refer to “Solitaire,” they may be referring to many different variations, and Klondike is the most popular. To clear up the common confusion behind the names, Solitaire and Patience are general names for any single-player card game. The term “Patience” is primarily used in the United Kingdom, with American players preferring the term “Solitaire.” Regardless of the name they use, when most people think of Solitaire or Patience, they’re thinking of Klondike’s specific set of rules.

Many other variations, like Aces Up, feature more difficult rules that pose a serious challenge for veteran Solitaire players. Casual players love Klondike for its simple structure and versatility. It’s not always easy to win a game of Klondike, but it is easy to understand. In this regard, Klondike and Solitaire in general can be thought of like chess—it takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.

The Rules of Klondike

To start a game, a standard 52-card deck is shuffled. Jokers are not used, although they can be a great replacement for a missing card.

Setting Up Klondike

Once properly shuffled, the cards are dealt into seven tableaus or columns, which are built from the left to the right. The very first card must be placed facing down in each column, with the exception of the first card. Thus, in a row, it will be one card face up followed by six face down cards, going left to right.

Next, a single card is placed on each of the cards that are facing down. Again, the first card placed should be face up. Thus, there should now be two face-up cards, followed by five sets of two face-down cards. This process is repeated until the columns range from one single face-up card on the far left to seven cards on the far right. Each column will have one card facing up.

It’s customary to spread the cards so that the top of each can be seen, but they can also be squared into piles for added difficulty. The remaining cards are called the reserve, or deck. They may be placed beside the tableaus or held in the hand.

The Rules for Moving

Cards in tableaus must be placed in descending order, in alternating colors. Thus, a spade or club may be placed on a diamond or heart, or vice versa, so long as the card being placed has a lower numerical value.

In Klondike, cards may also be moved as groups—for example, a 4, 3, and 2 may be moved together on top of a 5. Cards may be moved between tableaus at any time as long as these rules are adhered to.

Whenever an Ace is uncovered, it may be moved to what is referred to as the foundation. Foundations are piles that begin with the ace and are set above the tableaus. However, only one card may be moved to the foundation at a time in ascending order, and they must match in suit. If an Ace is at the bottom of a tableau, it must first be uncovered, as the cards above it cannot be moved to the foundation.

For example, an Ace of Hearts may be placed, followed by a Two of Hearts. However, if the Ace or the Two are covered by other cards, the cards covering them must be removed first.

In doing so, tableaus may be completely emptied. When this happens, King cards may be moved to the empty tableau to uncover others, and any cards atop the King must follow it. Lastly, the reserve or deck can be played at any time, but they must be played in accordance to all the other rules, and cards cannot be returned to the reserve.

The Object of the Game

Ultimately, the point of Klondike is to remove all the cards from the reserve and tableaus and have a full set of four foundations. How the player plays their cards to reach this point is a matter of strategy, as any legal move can occur at any time from the reserve or tableaus.

How to Play Klondike

Given that the rules of Klondike are simple, Klondike can be played any number of ways. Commonly, players will focus on two key goals: establishing the foundations and clearing the tableaus. These two goals work in tandem, as clearing the foundation provides the cards necessary to establish the foundation but building the foundation too fast can leave the player with too few cards to maneuver between tableaus.

A general strategy for Klondike is to try to keep the cards on all the tableaus at about the same face values, with a bit of a spread. This allows for most cards eligible to be moved to have a potential destination.

The inherent risk—and the only way Klondike ends in a loss—is establishing a set of tableaus and foundations wherein no card, including cards from the reserve, can move. As there is no way out of this gridlock, the game ends unless the player allows his or herself to “go back.” Thus, it is important to be sure before moving any card or cards that the move keeps other potential moves open.

As in chess, thinking a few moves ahead helps avoid traps. For example, it is possible to make a move that allows another subsequent move, but the subsequent move does not open other potential moves.

How a player develops their Klondike strategy is critical to the success of their game. Building the foundation or clearing the tableaus too soon can quickly lead to a loss, even in spite of the relatively generous rules of Klondike.

Origins of Klondike

Perhaps because it is such a simple game featuring cards, and perhaps subconsciously because of its employment of regal figures, many players assume Solitaire to be a very old game. In fact, it is relatively recent, dating back to sometime in the 1800s.

The specific origins aren’t exactly clear, but it is thought to have derived from divination through cards at this time, commonly known as tarot. Adding to this origin story’s legitimacy is the fact that the game is referred to in Scandinavian countries as “Cabale,” a form of Judaic mysticism.

How it derived isn’t fully known, but it seems to have developed originally in France. Around this time, the Industrial Revolution centralized living areas and left individuals with less time to spend with family. With increased solitary time, it appears that many factory workers took to pastimes that could be done alone, and it’s no surprise then that Solitaire made a big splash and spread quickly through dense urban areas.

Interestingly, it would appear likely that the meteoric rise of Solitaire combined with the sudden influx of migration around the world is what provided for so many sudden variations. While Klondike remains the most popular, it would seem that variations quickly spread as the new, easy-to-play game was modified by different groups around the world.

This would explain why most variations of Solitaire are derived from Klondike in one way or another, as well as its popularity. The most simple form of Solitaire, it seems destined to remain the common favorite.

Klondike Strategies

Just because Klondike is simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy to master. Often, beginners are capable of stumbling into success, but understanding strategies of how to win a game can make playing a lot more fun. Additionally, mastering the strategy behind Klondike can open the path to learning and mastering more challenging variations of Solitaire.

The first thing to understand is that just because cards can often be moved just about anywhere doesn’t mean that they should. In addition to thinking a step ahead, players would be wise to keep empty spaces.

For example, a tableau that has been cleared tempts many novices to immediately transfer any available kings, including kinds from the reserve. This is a huge mistake, as this empty space can be used to quickly get the player out of a potential jam. For example, a king that is currently covering other cards could immediately move to the empty tableau but waiting until other options have been exhausted prevents this move from being unavailable later.

Likewise, cards should only be removed from the reserve as a last resort. Perhaps because they are accustomed to dealing-oriented games, novices often stick to the reserve, placing as many cards as they can right away. Instead, players should focus on organizing tableaus and building foundations. Once a card leaves the reserve, it cannot go back.

Lastly, building the foundation too fast will take cards out of play. As it’s the end goal, players are quick to move cards to the foundation, but it’s wise to do so slowly and evenly to keep tableaus flexible.

Klondike Terms

The terms behind Klondike are the terms many associate with solitaire, including:

  • Cells: This is any spot you may move a card to legally

  • Fanned: The style of placing piled cards in a visible but overlapping pattern so that suits and values can still be seen

  • Foundation: Squared cards placed in ascending order, starting out with the Ace in Klondike

  • Reserve: The cards leftover after dealing the tableaus, often called the “deck,” which can be played at any time but leave the reserve permanently once played

  • Squared: Placing atop each other, contrasted to fanned cards; the foundation is a squared pile

  • Tableau: The seven columns of fanned cards where most strategy and movement happens

The terms “by suit”, “by suit sequence”, “by color”, and “by alternating color” are employed when revering to how cards may be moved. For example, an 8 of Hearts may be moved to cover a tableau ending in a 9 of Spades, as it is the next in sequence, and alternates by color. Suits are only relevant when building foundations, as all cards must match by suit.

Terms used during a game include:

  • Available Cards: Any cards that may be played, including cards in the reserve or any card or sequence of cards in the tableaus that may be moved to another location

  • Released Cards: Previously covered cards that are now available cards

  • Suitable Cards: Cards that are open and eligible to be covered by others, i.e., a potential destination for available cards

  • Base Cards: The face-down Cards at the base of a tableau, which may be flipped when uncovered

Variations of Klondike Solitaire

Because most versions of Solitaire are variants of Klondike, there are almost unlimited varieties of Klondike, including:

  • Freecell: A more forgiving form of Klondike that is virtually impossible to lose, wherein cards are always visible and can be moved much more freely

  • Spider: A favorite of serious Solitaire players, Spider has its own rules but is mostly known for an expansive ten tableaus with most of the cards face-down

  • King Albert: This challenging variant of Klondike allows only a single card to be moved at a time, instead of whole sequences

  • Double Klondike: A two-player version of Klondike that uses two decks of cards and is designed to be competitive

Klondike FAQ

Here are some of the most asked questions about Klondike solitaire:

  • Are jokers used in Klondike solitaire?

No, jokers have no use in most forms of Solitaire, but they can serve as a replacement for a card that’s been lost from the deck.

  • Is it possible to play Klondike with another person?

Yes! There are many ways to play a two-player version of the game, including racing to see who can finish their game first, or by playing Double Klondike, which is a shared game.

  • Can cards be removed from the foundation?

In the typical rules, cards cannot be moved away from the foundation, and only can be moved from the reserve or the tableau. Of course, players can modify the rules as they see fit.

Final Thoughts on Klondike Solitaire

Solitaire in general has been a favorite pastime of many for centuries. Klondike is the most popular form of Solitaire, and it is easy to learn and also win quite quickly. A mastery can open the gate to many more challenging modes of playing, like Aces Up, which change the rules quite a bit.