Most people identify "solitaire" with Klondike, which is easily the most popular and familiar solitaire card game. But the average person often doesn't realize that there's a rich diversity within the family of solitaire games. Some are very casual games that can be played in a very relaxed frame of mind, and can come down to blind luck of the draw and mechanical play. Others require real skill to play well, and can involve strategic placement and careful card counting.
In previous articles I've covered the three most played solitaire card games in the world, namely Klondike, Spider, and FreeCell. This trinity of classics does not represent the best solitaire games of all time, but simply shot to stardom by being included in the software that Microsoft packaged with every Windows system since the 1990s. As a result, almost everyone who has used a personal computer has played one or all these versions of solitaire. Two other classic solitaire games were later added to the Microsoft Solitaire Collection, and are also well-known favourites, namely Pyramid and Golf, with Tri-Peaks being the Golf variant used by Microsoft.
Pyramid and Golf are widely considered to belong to the category of matching games, usually referred to as "adding and pairing games". In these types of solitaire games, the objective is usually to match two cards, either by adding two cards together to reach a certain value (e.g. a Six and a Seven to make 13), or by pairing two cards of the same rank (e.g. two Aces) or two cards of adjacent ranks (e.g. an Ace and a Two). Given how easy these kinds of solitaire games are, they are ideal for children and first-timers to enjoy. At the same time they are also popular with adults looking for something easy, relaxing, and casual to play.
Many fine adding and pairing solitaire games exist, and Pyramid and Golf are a good place to begin if you want to get a taste of what such games are like. But there are plenty of others in this category that you should know about, and which you might even enjoy more, and in this article I'll cover some of the more popular solitaire games of this sort. Most of these are games that I've had personal experience with and found to be particularly satisfying or superior in some way.
NB: You can play these solitaire games on many websites, but I've chosen to use Solitaired for most of them, simply because it's free and easy to use, so the accompanying screenshots below are typically of games on their site. If you're looking for a good solitaire program for your PC or app for your mobile device, I highly recommend BVS Solitaire.
== Pairing Games ==
BeehiveOverview: Beehive has a starting layout much like the Canfield variant Storehouse, except that the ten card reserve is called a "beehive". The goal is to move cards around a six card tableau, trying to build piles of four cards of the same value, which can then be removed. The stock is dealt three cards at a time, and you can only move cards to an empty space in the tableau or onto a card of the same value.
Thoughts: This game is fairly easy to play and to win, but it's still satisfying to play, making it a good introductory level solitaire game for beginners. Despite the frequency of your successes, it still offers a pleasant and relaxing diversion.
Monte CarloOverview: The goal of Monte Carlo is to discard the entire deck, which begins in a 5x5 grid. Any pairs of cards that are immediately adjacent (horizontal, vertical, or diagonal) and that match in rank can be removed. The tableau can be consolidated at any time by moving cards up in the grid to remove the empty spaces, and by dealing new cards to bring the total cards back to 25.
Thoughts: This was one of the very first solitaire card games I ever learned as a teenager, and is still a game I enjoy playing quite a bit. If you remove all the possible pairs before consolidating, it becomes a game of pure luck. But you add interesting choices by giving yourself the option to consolidate the cards at any time, which forces you to envisage where the cards will end up after removing spaces. Sometimes it is a better move not to remove a matching pair in order to open up better options. Careful planning in this way will usually be rewarded, and a large number of games can be won.
More: If you enjoy the spatial and matching elements of Monte Carlo, also take a look at Aces Square. This simplifies things by requiring you to match cards of the same suit that are in the same row or column, and results in a simple matching game that is particularly fun to play. On the other hand, if you want to ramp up the strategy of Monte Carlo, you simply must try Slide. This solitaire game was created by Warren Schwader in 1988, and features 24 cards in a grid that consists of four rows of six cards each. By playing cards to the right or left of a row, the entire row moves sideways, and the goal is to remove cards by aligning three cards of the same value in a vertical column. It is both unique and enjoyable.
NestorOverview: With all cards dealt face-up into a 8x5 tableau and a four card reserve, the object of Nestor is to discard matching cards of the same rank, in this manner trying to clear the entire tableau.
Thoughts: The fact that the entire tableau is visible means that quite a bit of planning is possible. While the luck of the draw still dominates and it isn't easy to achieve a victory, with repeated attempts it is not impossible to win. In the Nestor variation Vertical, there is a 7x6 tableau and a 10 card reserve, making it easier to win; while in the variation Doublets, there is a 12x4 tableau and a 4 card reserve. The Wish is a simplified version of Doublets, and is perfect for complete novices or children.
Pile Up (Fifteen Puzzle)Overview: Pile Up (sometimes called Pile Sort or Fifteen Puzzle) is a very straight forward game to learn and play. An entire deck is dealt into 13 piles of four random cards each, overlapping so you can see all the cards. Two additional empty spaces bring the tableau to 15 piles. The goal is to have each pile consist of four cards of the same rank, but you can only move a card onto a card with a matching value, and you can never exceed four cards a pile, so you have to use the empty spaces (onto which any card can be placed) wisely.
Thoughts: Despite the ease of game-play, the limits you're working with make this a real challenge to complete. The fact that the information is completely open gives real room for skill, and makes it very rewarding to play. Playing a digital version and using "undo" should enable you to win quite often. The game-play has the feel of a pairing game since you're arranging cards by value rather than suit, and because you'll need to match pairs to determine legal moves. If you enjoy this game, chances are good that you'll also like the game Beehive covered earlier in this list.
GolfOverview: Golf isn't a pairing game in the strictest sense, which is why I've left it to last in this section. But has a similar feel so it deserves at least some mention here. A total of 28 cards are dealt in seven columns of four cards each. You deal a card from the stock, and then can remove any available card that is one higher or lower in value. Proceeding through the stock once, the aim is to remove the entire tableau this way.
Thoughts: This is a super quick game that only takes a couple of minutes to play, and is easy and fun. There are many common rule variations, the most common ones making the game easier by allowing turning the corner from Ace to King (e.g. Putt Putt). Tri-Peaks is a very popular variation included in Microsoft Windows, and is easier to win due to its altered starting layout. Other variations that change how the tableau is organized by play in a similar way include Golf Rush and Cheops. If you enjoy the idea of removing cards one higher or lower in value, you should also try the games Black Hole and Eliminator.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all pairing games. I've already mentioned several variations and games related to the above ones, and there are others as well. Due to the simple mechanism employed by matching games involving pairs, a number of very simple pairing games exist, which I'll save for coverage in a separate article devoted to very simple solitaire games more suited to children.
== Adding Games ==
Blackjack SquaresOverview: In Blackjack Squares (also called Blackjack 21s), cards are dealt into a 3x3 grid, and you can remove any combination of cards that totals 21. Kings, Queens, and Jacks are considered to be worth 10, and Aces are worth either 1 or 11 according to what you need. Cards removed are replenished from the stock, and you win if you successfully manage to work your way through the deck until no cards remain in the stock. There are several variations which adjust the rules for Blackjack Squares in one or more ways.
Thoughts: This game will naturally appeal to those who enjoy the classic game of Blackjack. But besides Blackjack Squares, there are also a number of other solitaire games which turn the concept of the traditional casino game of Blackjack into a solitaire game. So there are others to try, but I found this one particularly easy to learn and satisfying to play.
FifteensOverview: Fifteens is set-up by dealing cards into a 4x4 grid, and cards are then discarded and replenished if two or more add up to exactly 15. Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Tens are only discarded in sets of four of the same rank. The goal is to get through the entire deck in this fashion.
Thoughts: This is a relaxing game, where the real challenge comes as a result of only being able to remove court cards and tens as a quartet. These will start clogging up the grid until they get removed, thereby increasing the tension as you play. In the easier variation Straight Fifteens the court cards and tens can be removed in a group of one of each, rather than a four-of-a-kind. Fifteen Rush has the goal of removing cards that add to 15 (or a pair of Aces), but applies this concept to a Klondike style set-up and deal. You only have partial information to work with due to most cards being face-down, but having seven piles and a stock dealt three cards at a time makes it significantly easier to win.
More: Several games work in basically the same way as Fifteens and its immediate siblings, but involve adding to totals other than 15. Similar to Straight Fifteens is Elevens, where the layout is a 3x3 grid, and pairs adding to eleven are removed, as well as triplets consisting of a King, Queen, and Jack. Block Ten also uses a 3x3 grid, and requires you to remove pairs adding to 10 (court cards are paired with the matching rank), while 10s remain to block the grid; this can be frustrating due to the high luck element. Tens is a game of luck that works more like Fifteens, with removed cards immediately being replenished, but has 13 tableau piles, and at least you will occasionally get a win. The common game Thirteens (also called Simple Addition) has a layout of ten cards, and cards need to add up to 13 to be removed. There are even games like Eighteens which require you to remove groups of three cards adding to eighteen, each time along with a court card.
Five Piles (Baroness)Overview: The goal of the game of Five Piles (commonly also called Baroness) is to remove pairs that add up to 13 just like in Pyramid. But instead of replenishing cards as they are removed, five cards are dealt at a time. As the game progresses and cards can't be played, these will become five columns of overlapping cards (hence the alternative name Five Piles), with only the top card playable.
Thoughts: Five Piles is a very difficult game to complete successfully, and you're often dependent on luck of the draw. But much like Pyramid, it is something that plays very quickly, and it's a challenge to just play again and again in an attempt to eke out a win.
Fourteen OutOverview: Alternatively called by a variety of names including Fourteen Off, Take Fourteen, and simply Fourteen, Fourteen Out is an adding game in the style of Pyramid but with 12 columns of four face-up cards each (four get an extra card). The idea is to remove cards that add up to 14, with Jacks, Queens, and Kings having a value of 11, 12, and 13.
Thoughts: Because this is an open information game with the entire deck laid out, you can plan carefully, and it is possible to accomplish a win at least half the time by making careful choices. Fourteen Out has the feel of Pyramid, but is much less restrictive and more rewarding, and is a very fun casual game. Tens Out is a variant in the same vein, but where pairs adding to 10 are removed. Also similar is Juvenile, which uses two decks, has a starting tableau of 16 columns with six cards and one column with eight cards, and pairs adding to 14 are removed.
Gay Gordons (Exit)Overview: Created by famous games scholar David Parlett, Gay Gordons (alternative name Exit) is one of the best in the adding and pairing genre. Cards are dealt into a tableau consisting of ten columns with five cards each and one column with two cards. Pairs adding up to eleven are removed, with Jacks matching other Jacks, and Kings matching any Queen of a different suit.
Thoughts: This is a terrific solitaire game with a lot of room for planning ahead, given that all the cards are dealt face-up. Chances of success are good, especially if you plan carefully and make good decisions about which cards to remove, watching to ensure no essential cards prove blocked in the late game. This game could arguably be grouped together with the similar games listed under Fourteen Out, but is such an excellent game that it deserves separate mention.
Kings in the CornersOverview: Slightly more difficult than the previously mentioned Fifteens is Kings in the Corners (or simply Kings Corner, but not to be confused with another game also called Kings in the Corners). This has you play cards to a 4x4 grid with the goal of getting the court cards to the outside spots: the Kings in the corners, the Queens on the sides, and the Jacks at the top and bottom. Each time the square is full, you can remove cards adding to ten. You lose if you draw a court card that cannot be placed, or if the grid is full and you cannot remove cards.
Thoughts: This solitaire game is best played digitally, because it requires liberal use of the "undo" button if you're going to avoid frustration. But with persistence it can be completed successfully on a regular basis, making it an easy game that has enough choices and push-your-luck elements to make it satisfying to play. The tactical and positional element of the game, where you have to place court cards in specific spots, makes it especially interesting, and adds an enjoyable aspect of tension.
Monte Carlo 13sOverview: Gameplay in Monte Carlo 13s is identical to the game Monte Carlo, but turns it into an adding game where you remove pairs of cards that total 13. As the name suggests, in the closely related game Monte Carlo 14s, cards totalling 14 are removed.
Thoughts: The overall feel of game-play is much like standard Monte Carlo, and similar decisions are involved. The game Fourteens uses the same concept as Monte Carlo, but makes the game significantly more difficult because only cards in the same row or column can be discarded. Even so it can be a fun challenge to select the right pair, in order to increase your chances of winning as the game progresses.
Ninety OneOverview: Ninety One is very achievable and fun adding game with a very different feel to the previous adding games. A single deck is dealt into 13 piles, each consisting of four cards, with only the top card visible. Cards can be moved from the top of any pile to the top of any other pile. With Jacks worth 11, Queens 12, and Kings 13, the goal is to make the top cards of all 13 piles total exactly 91. A sequence of cards from Ace through King will accomplish this, but any other combination of cards adding to 91 satisfies this requirement, in which case all these top cards are removed. Accomplishing this four times will remove all the cards and win the game.
Thoughts: This game is easier than it sounds, and can be a lot of fun to play. Trying to achieve a complete set of cards from Ace through King is one way to win, but won't always be the easiest method. Ninety One is best played digitally, where the computer tracks the cumulative total as you play, and where you can move cards accordingly.
PyramidOverview: Arguably the most well-known solitaire card game that uses adding is the classic Pyramid. Cards are dealt in a pyramid shape consisting of 28 in total, and the aim is to clear this whole pyramid. You can remove any two available (unblocked) cards when their total adds up to 13. Jacks and Queens count as 11 and 12, and Kings are considered as 13 and can be removed on their own. The deck is dealt one at a time, and you may add the face-up card to an available card in the pyramid to remove it.
Thoughts: The odds of winning the basic game are very low, and so there are many common rule variations that make things easier by adjusting how cards are dealt (e.g. King Tut), or increasing the number of waste piles (e.g. Apophis). For a harder game you can also make it mandatory to clear the entire deck as well as the pyramid. Other variations that change things up more include Giza, Triangle, and Double Pyramid.
The genre of adding and pairing games covers a large number of solitaire games. But what they all have in common is very simple mechanics, and rule sets that are easy to learn. That makes them very approachable for new players, or for anyone that just wants a relaxing game to play. Typically they aren't very taxing on the brain, so they are good choices for casual play.
Many of these games are quite luck dependent, but they also play quite quickly, so they lend themselves well to be played speedily and with multiple games in a row, in an effort to win. And there certainly are some that are quite rewarding and enjoyable to play, and I'd especially single out Gay Gordons (Exit) as a lesser known game that is well worth trying. But all the games I've included here are rewarding in some way; I've left off the much simpler adding and pairing games that are more luck based and suited to children, and will save those for a separate list.
Like me, you may enjoy the challenge of exploring the diversity of games of this type, trying each in turn a few times, and then moving on to the next. There's a rich variety of solitaire card games that exist, and the many games in the adding and pairing genre alone is proof of that!
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.