Solitaire History

Solitaire History

Whether you know the game as Solitaire, Patience or by any other name, you will recognize it for its entertaining qualities and the obvious benefit that you don’t need to wait around for other players in order to have a game. Classic Solitaire is played by the player alone and yet is considered to be one of the most popular card games around.

Solitaire is the general name given to a pastime that involves playing with a deck of cards (sometimes two) in its standard form (ie. King, Queen, Jack, Ace and numbers from one until ten).

All the suits and numbers are represented in the deck. Solitaire variations differ from game to game; but it essentially involves arranging the cards in a particular way or order until the player reaches the desired sequence. Rules and restrictions of the game also vary according to the type of Solitaire being played. So where does this card game originate and where do its roots lie?

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The French Connection

The word ‘Solitaire’ means lonely or solitary in French, probably referring to the fact that the game is played by one player alone. It is believed that variations of Solitaire were played since the time that card games became popular, however there is no written evidence of this fact. It is widely accepted that the first evidence of the rules and format of Solitaire originated during the Napoleonic era.

The French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, was exiled to St. Helena and it is believed that there he spent many years playing the game to while away the time. Some historians have gone so far as to say that Napoleon actually invented the game itself, although there is no evidence to prove it. In all events, various versions of Solitaire around that time were with direct reference to the Little General, including ‘Napoleon at St. Helena’ and ‘Napoleon’s Square’. Of course there are some that dispute the link between Napoleon and Solitaire. They state that it was simply a popular game at a time that the General himself was a popular figure and it is only natural that activities of that time were named for Napoleon. We will never know how much impact this Frenchman had on the creation and development of the game, but it certainly makes for an interesting historical debate.

French literature of that era also makes wide reference to Solitaire, and it was known as ‘ La Belle Lucie’ (the most common name), as well as Le Loi Salique, Le Cadran and others. Today, the French and English call Solitaire ‘Patience’, while the Americans have adopted its original name.

Solitaire in Game Book Literature

Since the 17 th century, there have been many books written about common games of the era and their rules. The earliest is probably Joseph Cotton’s 1674 “The Compleat Gamemaster”, although Solitaire is not mentioned in this directory. The first mention of the game is arguably found in the 1826 book published in Moscow, entitled “ Sobranie kartochnykh raskludok, izvestnykh pod nazvaniemn Grand-pasiansov” (A Collection of the Card Layouts Usually Known as Grand-Patience). Many scholars argue that because of this book, the origins of Solitaire are perhaps not French, but actually Serbian or other regions in Eastern Europe.

Perhaps the most well known early game book about Solitaire is “The Illustrated Book of Patience”, written in around the 1870s by Lady Adelaide Cadogen – an impressive volume that explains the rules of many different game variations. The second edition of the book was already published in 1874 and several other publications and collections followed suit over the years.

Following on this book’s heels were a number of other successful texts relating to the game, including Annie B. Henshaw’s “Amusements for Invalids” (written in the same year as Cadogen’s book), as well as books by Angelo Lewis, Basil Dolton and H.E. Jones in later years.

Solitaire in Popular Literature

The game of Solitaire has been mentioned for centuries in popular literature of the era, pointing to the fact how well known it was among the general public. Different variations of the game are always mentioned, depending on the years, the country and the language, however it is generally surmised that all the literature is referring to the same kind of card game.

Perhaps the most popular reference to the game of Solitaire comes in the classic book, “War and Peace” written by Leo Tolstoy. It is also mentioned in John Steinbeck’s popular contemporary novel, “Of Mice and Men”. Another Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, had his protagonist playing ‘Fools’ – another version of Solitaire – in his novel, “The Brothers Karamazov”.

Spider Solitaire

The version of Solitaire that impacted the course of this game the most was undoubtedly Spider Solitaire, a relatively recent invention. Spider Solitaire is played by creating eight sequences of thirteen cards. The name probably refers to the eight legs of a spider corresponding to the eight required sequences. Spider Solitaire was first referred to in game manuals around the mid 1900s and is similar to a game that was developed beforehand, Scorpion. Spider Solitaire has been the inspiration for the creation of many new versions of the game, including two suit and even one suit versions in order to increase the odds of winning.

The game was made especially famous by the then President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt who was said to have been a keen fan of this pastime. FDR was also known to have played other versions of the game until his death.

Spider Solitaire is mentioned in at least one famous literary text – “The Gentleman in the Parlour” by Somerset Maugham.

Anecdotal Events in Solitaire’s History

  • Bill Peers, an inmate in a mental asylum, created a new variation of Solitaire, called ‘Cribbage Solitaire’. Unfortunately for him, he and his fellow patients were not able to play the game as comfortably as they would have liked – the asylum management considered traditional playing cards to be hard edged ‘weapons’ and they were thus reduced to playing Cribbage Solitaire using thicker tiles that were difficult to handle and considerably more bulky.
  • Another popular version of Solitaire started out with the name Klondike and was invented by a casino owner called Canfield. The game was very difficult to win and had incredibly high odds. For this reason, it eventually lost some of its popularity. However, the name Canfield stuck and his version of Solitaire is still known by this name.

Solitaire in Contemporary Times

When personal computers came onto the scene in the later part of the 1900s, solitaire was a popular game that could be found in the early series of computer games. This changed the way in which the game was played since people did not have to rely on a pack of cards.

With the advent of the internet, Solitaire has become one of the most popular pastimes in the world. Millions of people have instant access to this game and use it as an opportunity to have a fun break from work or other daily chores. Solitaire can be played by using downloaded software, or it can be played directly off the browser.

There are many free Solitaire sites online that allow players to play literally around the clock – at any time of the day or night. Some sites list the scores of all their players and have others try and beat their records. Other sites go one step further and provide chat features so that Solitaire players can connect with other like-minded game fans and talk about their favorite pastime, or anything else for that matter. An extremely popular online activity is Solitaire tournaments where players stand in line to win real cash prizes.

Online Solitaire is the classic example of a game that has successfully evolved from being a traditional card game to one that is played by millions of people from around the world from the comfort of their own home, with very little effort.


The actual origins of Solitaire are a little murky in the grand scheme of things. It is impossible for historians to pinpoint exactly where the game was born, in which region of the world or during which era. There are, of course, many theories that abound and a lot of evidence points to the fact that the French had a considerable impact on the development of the game, if not in its actual invention. In any event, it is generally considered that Solitaire originated somewhere in Europe and its popularity spread over time.

The fact that Solitaire appears so many times in popular literature from around the world indicates that it was a game enjoyed by the masses and aristocracy alike. Before the modern age, when television and the internet were unheard of, card games were a hugely popular form of entertainment and we can be sure that Solitaire had a place of honor among the games that were played over the years. Today, however, thanks to the internet, Solitaire continues to be as popular as ever and shows all signs of remaining that way for years to come.

Posted by CCJ Team

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