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Solitaire terminology

There are a number of common features in many solitaire (patience) games, such as 'building down' and the 'foundations' and 'tableau', used to simplify the description of new games. Here is a partial list.

  • Foundations

Most Solitaire games feature Foundations - the aim of these games is to clear the Tableau and move all the cards to the Foundations. Usually they are built up by suit from Ace to King, but some games have different rules. Usually only thirteen cards are allowed in each foundation.

  • Tableau

The Main area of play, the tableau consists of a number of piles of cards where cards can be moved from one area to another, under varying rules. Some allow stacks of cards which match the building requirements to be moved, others only allow the top card to be moved, yet others allow any stack to be moved.

  • Deck

A pile of cards, face down. These can be turned over into the waste, usually one-by-one, but sometimes in threes, when the player wishes.

  • Waste

The area where the cards from the Deck go when they are brought into play. Only cards from the Deck can be played to the waste. Only the topmost card is available for play.

  • Cells

Common to 'FreeCell' type games, Cells allow only one card to be placed in them. Any card can be put in a cell. These act as manoevering space.


There are many different types of building rules:

  • Building up

Cards can only be placed on lower value cards

  • Building down

Cards can only be placed on higher value cards

  • Building in sequence

Cards can only be placed on the card one higher or lower (usually one or the other, not both).

  • Building in twos, threes or fours

Cards can only be places on the card two, three or four higher or lower: a Jack is considered as an eleven, a Queen as a twelve and a King as a thirteen. Modular arithmetic is often applied - eg: an Ace can be placed on a Queen if building up by two is required.

  • Building by suit

Cards can only be placed on a card of the same suit

  • Building by colour

Cards can only be placed on a card of the same colour (Diamonds and Hearts are considered Red, Spades and Clubs are Black).

  • Building by alternate colour

Cards can only be placed on a card of the opposite colour

  • Building by any other suit

Cards can not be placed on a card of the same suit.

These are usually intermixed: Foundations are often built up sequentially by suit, Tableau piles are often built down sequentially by alternating colour. 'Black Hole' builds by sequence, but neither up nor down, nor with regard to colour.

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