Klondike (Solitaire)

Late last year in My Notes, I posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tip sheet on playing Solitaire. Solitaire is a pretty simple game. I’ve been playing it in one form or another since I was a pretty simple kid. I play a variant called “Klondike” on a PC game application by Solsuite. Solsuite bundles a collection of over 400 card games into one slick, compact and inexpensive game package. I only play one of them, “Klondike”. At over 1,400 games, I’m forced to admit I take my Klondike pretty seriously.

This image also appeared in my glib My Notes post. Examining it for a minute, this game was lost with very little on the board.

For a person who spends so much time on one game, it took me quite a while to realize I had never really figured out logical strategic guidelines. I’d like to lay out excerpts from the publisher’s Help menu. Then, I’d like to set some high-level priorities, and finally, accumulatived tips I’ve been writing down for a couple of months now.

The basic difference between Klondike and the regular 3-at-a-time Solitaire I learned as a kid is that you get to deal from the waste (deck) one at a time, and you can recycle the pile until you either win the game or run out of plays, in which case you lose. When it’s this simple, you’d think there would be a tremendous advantage. Not so. Games that are won almost always developed a lot of action in the first couple of rounds through the pile.

RULES

Klondike type; 1 deck (52 cards); unlimited redeals
Chance of winning: Medium (about 1 in 5)
Object of the game: To move all the cards to the foundations.

definitions

Foundations (4 piles: complete these piles to win the game)

Build up in suit from Ace to King (for example, a 2 can be played on an Ace ).

Tableau (7 columns)

Build down in alternating colors (for example, a 10 can be played on a Jack ).
The top card of each pile is available for play to another tableau pile or to the foundations.
A packed sequence, or any portion of it, may be moved to another tableau pile.
Spaces may be filled only with a King or a King-sequence.

Stock

Turn up one card at a time from the stock to the waste by clicking.
Unlimited redeals are permitted until the game is blocked or won.

Waste (1 pile)

The top card is available for play to the foundations or to the tableau.

SolSuite Help, Copyright © 1998 – 2001 TreeCardGames.com. All right reserved. No portion of this help file may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of TreeCardGames.com

PRIORITIES

  • I think your absolute top priority has to be to un-bury every possible card from the tableaus (7 piles) as quickly as possible.
  • The entire purpose of doing so is to move cards from the foundations to the top four piles (foundations), so that’s your second priority. If you “bury” a pile (tableau) with a card that can’t be played (say, the three of hearts, but you don’t have your ace or deuce of hearts in the foundation pile yet), you’ve locked up all the other cards in the tableau.
  • Keeping your tableaus “clean” is your third priority – nay, imperative – at all times.

Rule # 3 was the hardest for me. I trained myself to build elaborate ordered tableaus with cards wherever I could get them (from stock). Un-learning this has been the most difficult for me in actual practice. Don’t place a card on the tableau unless you are willing to bet you know what you’ll be able to do with it next. Betting that the ace of hearts will arrive in time to save you turns out to be a losing strategy.

OBSERVATIONS

Avoid the urge to play a card just because you can. Housekeeping and orderliness can freeze your tableaus so you can’t continue and lose the game.

1. Don’t freeze the tableau: Think ahead carefully before you “bury” a Tableau with a new card off Stock that’s in a suit for which you haven’t started a Foundation. If you play the deuce of clubs on the Tableau and haven’t an ace upstairs to start the required Foundation, you’ve frozen the whole Tableau. This is Rule #3 previously stated. I am coming around to the opinion that even medium and high-numbered cards (six, ten) need not be played from stock unless you see a good opportunity in doing so.

I think of it like the Japanese “just in time” inventory philosophy: if you have enough left-front fenders in stock to last to June 23, don’t have 4,000 of them on order to arrive April 15th.

Stock cards will always come back around the next time. If you can’t actually play off that card once you put it down, there’s no good reason for playing it right now.

2. Low cards are dangerous: The lowest numbered cards like the deuce and three, therefore, are particularly dangerous unless you have a specific reason to believe they’ll play back up to the Foundations quickly. Don’t play them until you really need them; they’ll still be there in Stock the next time around. You can build on fours and fives and sixes, so you’ll probably just play them, but you can’t build very far below a deuce or trey. I will play a three to move a deuce (and free up a tableau), but offhand I can’t think of any other reason why I would.

This perspective on Rule # 3 just restates earlier observations. Restating what I noted before, I am getting better results being stricter in this gambit.

3. Play it later if you don’t have to play it now. Leave all such “playable” dead-end cards in the stock (or waste) until you need them. Getting it on the tableau serves no purpose if you can’t do anything with it when it gets there! It’ll come around again. If you can play it the next time around, now harm done. And, if you still can’t play it when it next comes around, you made the right decision, didn’t you?

4. The fat lady really does sing. Sometimes the system will just hand you a win, and all you have to do is play it. Mostly, it will bring you to a point where you are sorely tempted to just quit and deal a new hand. Many of my games look hopeless but are won by fighting “tooth and nail” out of stagnant situations.

Extract the very last possibility of progress out of the game, even if you don’t see a breakout path exactly yet.

5. Un-do: You’ll make mistakes no matter how fresh your eyes are. Most games will allow “undo” (Control-Z) if you catch it right away.

6. “Reverse” is a gear too: Don’t be afraid to take a card back off the Foundation if you can use it to build a better situation on your Tableau.

7. Lopsided builds: Generally, your first priority is to build Foundations, even if you can also use the card to build a Tableau. But, an over-representation of a single suite in the four Foudations may also cause problems building and moving the Tableaus. For example, if you have Tableaus in all four suites Club-(4 each), Spade-(4), Heart-(4) and Diamond-(4), that’s as evenly proportioned as you can get. But, if you have Club-(2 each), Spade-(1), Heart-(0) and Diamond-(9), you’ve got a shortage of medium-numbered red cards to build your Tableaus. You might get away with it, but you might regret it. Don’t play the Foundations TOO far ahead of the Tableaus!

You can sometimes un-build a Foundation in order to play a Tableau card (usually to get at a new face-down card), but you gain a slight tactical advantage in building your tableuas “just in time” – unless you bury good foundation cards with unplayable ones!

8. Consolidating piles: Even in moving cards around on the Tableaus, don’t consolidate two piles into one until you need to. Doing so reduces the number of Tableaus in play. Again, tidiness for its own sake can ruin your day. If you can move a “packed sequence” onto another tableau pile, freeing a blank space for a King when you get one, resist the urge to tidy housekeeping. Just wait until you get that King. You may find a better opportunity for those two playable tableaus in the meantime.

9. Blank tableaus: suppose you have a blank (empty) tableau. The rules say this can only be populated with a king. Supposing also you have a red quenn high on another tableau. A red king comes up on the stock pile. Should you play it? I would wait and see if you have a black king, and then play that if you do.

10. Musical Chairs: Be aggressive about shuffling parts of the tableaus around to get at cards you can use to build the foundations.

11. If your game has an autoplay, turn it off. You should make the decision where each card is most needed and when it should be moved. Cards on the foundations, or eligible to go there, can still sometimes be just what you need to break up a logjam in the tableaus). You can use autoplay to quickly wrap up the game after all the face-down cards in the tableaus have been used up in play. Congratulations!

12. Accept your losses when you run out of plays: Some deals will be just awful and your game will get stuck before you really thought you’d begun. There’s probably nothing you could have done about those games. I find I can only predict a loss about half the time, so don’t toss in the towel early.

13. When you’re ready to toss in the towel, you have about an even chance of busting. So pay attention. You will win the hand the other half of the time – and the very “last chance card” is where I find at least half of all my wins. (3-4-2008)

14. Plug-Ugly Corollary: Very often I find that the really ugly game, the one you just can’t wait to bust on so you can start a new game with a decent deal … will string you along until all of a sudden your luck changes and the ugly game is a WIN. So just be patient and watch for openings like a hawk. (4-22-08)

IMAGES

Solitaire_Breakthrough.jpg – Here I broke a big losing streak with a bit of luck. The one remaining buried card, under the Ten of Hearts, has to be the Five of Diamonds. After cycling through Stock a couple of times, I was ready to give up, but found one last move in the tableaus which triggered a cascade of moves up top to the foundations. Here, I need to play the Nine and Ten of Hearts, and I’m home free. Once all cards in the tableaus are unburied, a win is guaranteed. You can now allow Autoplay to finish, saving you time. (Though the game is timed, those times aren’t recorded and don’t improve your points.)

Solitaire_Promising.jpg – This moribund game looked like it was going nowhere fast. Suddenly the tableaus (piles) opened up. I had all the covered cards un-buried in a few plays. Note the under-developed Foundation piles at top. It’s rare to be guaranteed a win with such a poor initial showing upstairs.

Alex Forbes © July 16, 2007

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