All you need to know about Freecell Solitaire

Freecell Solitaire is a variation of the classic single deck, single player card game Solitaire. It is a game of strategy and while the basic tenets of the game are simple, it requires the player to think ahead and plan out multiple moves in advance to win. It is called Freecell after the four temporary (or free) card places above the tableau. The free cells differentiate the game from other variations of solitaire and are its defining feature.

How to play – The Basics

The game is played with a single 52 deck of cards. The deck is dealt face-up into eight piles.

The foundations are the four piles on the upper right hand side of the tableau onto which you stack your cards to complete the game. The foundation piles are stacked according to suit in ascending order, for example: 5,6,7.

The free cells are the four empty spaces on the upper left hand side of the tableau. They act as temporary storage space for one card at a time and allow the player to manoeuvre the deck. There is no limit to how many times you can move cards in and out of the free cells, provided there is enough space.

The tableau is your working deck. It refers to the eight piles of face-up cards from where you stack your foundation piles and move cards in and out of the free cells. Cards can be moved within the tableau and are stacked in alternating colours in descending order, for example: 7,6,5.  This process is called ‘building tableau’.

You can move any card you like onto an empty tableau pile to begin a new sequence. An empty tableau pile also functions as an additional free cell.

The game counts the number of moves you make and the time it takes to complete the game, so it’s possible to try and beat your average and achieve a new personal best.

Undos are allowed for the last move only. You can undo your last move an unlimited number of times but each undo counts as a move.

freecell solitaire


The aim of the game is to clear the tableau and move all the cards onto the foundations. You win the game when you have four foundation piles in ascending order from Ace to King in each suit.

You can move only one card at a time. You can move single cards onto the foundation piles, onto another tableau pile, and back and forward from the free cells.

You can also move stacks of tableau provided they have been built in alternating colours in descending order. For example, if you have a red six, a black five and a red four built onto the top of a tableau pile you can move all three to a black seven on the top of another tableau pile. However, you can only move all three if you have enough free cells to temporarily hold the additional cards in the sequence you are trying to move. In this case, you would need at least two free cells to move your sequence onto a different tableau pile.

If you have an empty tableau column you can move a built tableau sequence or single card into that space to start a new tableau pile. The same rule about free cells applies if you are moving a sequence to an empty tableau pile.

Move the cards around, building tableau and moving the cards in and out of the free cells until you have access to the Aces and are able to start stacking your cards on the foundations.

Tips and tricks for improved strategy and clever play

Make good use of your free cells. Never move a card onto a free cell unless you know where you will put it later. As the game progresses, keeping those cells as free as possible is going to be a big help.

Aim to clear out tableau piles. An empty tableau will function as an additional free cell so cleared out tableau piles are a big helping hand.

If you start a new tableau pile, try to begin with as high a card as possible. It’s likely to give you more room to manoeuvre later.

Plan ahead. Seasoned players are able to predict multiple steps before they move a single card. Sometimes the most obvious move is not the best strategy.

Try to limit the sequences of built tableau. If you need to move the pile later things can get tricky if the sequence is made up of too many cards, especially if you don’t have enough free cells.

Learn to identify problem areas. Double numbers in the tableau pile, for example, can be more difficult to move so make sure you identify the potentially problematic areas before you move the cards around.

History of Freecell Solitaire

Solitaire is a genre of card games that dates back to the mid 18th Century. Freecell is thought to have been developed from an earlier version called Baker’s Game, or Eight Off. The story goes that C.L Baker learned the game from his father, although other similar variants of Solitaire were being played at the time.  The modern variation of the now recognisable Freecell Solitaire was developed by Paul Alfille who changed the rules within the tableau to alternating colours and developed the first computerised version for the PLATO educational system in 1978. This version finally become part of the games bundle for Microsoft Windows.

Getting good at Freecell Solitaire requires patience, perseverance and good strategy, so keep at it. Nearly every dealt hand can be won. From Microsoft’s approximately 32,000 hands, only one has been identified as unsolvable.