Solitaire has such a rich and varied history this long article can only touch upon it.
Solitaire games has a long and controversial history.
For most of its life solitaire was called patience. In most of Europe it is still referred to as patience. In Spain it is called ‘Solitario’.
The reference to the word solitaire in place of patience has only been around relatively recently.
It is believed that solitaire games were first played with tarot cards, which would indicate that solitaire most likely preceded traditional multiplayer card games.
In its early days, solitaire was most prevalent in Europe.
Playing cards were first introduced in Italy in the 1300s. During that time they also became popular in Northern Europe.
There is a card game called Tarok that was invented around that time that is still played to this day.
The first known solitaire game rules were recorded during the Napoleonic era. During his exile at St Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte played patience in his spare time.
Around that same time, the author of War and Peace, Tolstoy, enjoyed playing solitaire and mentioned it in a scene from his famous novel. Tolstoy sometimes used cards to make decisions for him in a somewhat superstitious way.
Most early literature mentioning patience is of French origin. The names of most early solitaire games are French names as well, with the most well known being La Belle Lucie.
It is not known whether Napoleon invented any of these solitaire games or someone else around that same time period.
The end of the sixteenth century was an active period for the invention of various card games.
This was when the ace first appeared as high instead of low in the rankings of the cards.
Several new card games were invented during this time and new variations were added, so this is likely a time when solitaire games were invented and named as well.
Publications about solitaire began to appear in the late nineteenth century.
Lady Adelaide Cadogan is believed to have written the first book on the rules of solitaire and patience games just after the Civil War, but is still reprinted occasionally even today.
Other non English compilations on solitaire may have been written before that, however. In England ‘Cadogan’ is a household word for solitaire in the same manner that ‘Hoyle’ is for card games.
Several other authors wrote books on solitaire around the same time. E.D. Chaney wrote a book on solitaire games called ‘Patience’ and Annie B. Henshaw wrote a book with an interesting title ‘Amusements for Invalids’.
Several years later Dick and Fitzgerald published ‘Dick’s Games of Patience’ followed by a second edition a few years later.
Author, Henry Jones, wrote a fairly reliable book on solitaire called ‘Patience Games’. Another Jones, not related to Henry, Mary Whitmore Jones wrote a series of solitaire books over a twenty year period around the turn of the century.
Several other publishers of various game books also added solitaire to their long lists of games in their titles. One of the most complete solitaire books was written by Albert Morehead and Geoffrey Mott-Smith.
Their latest edition contains rules to over 225 solitaire games and was used in this writing.
Some solitaire games were invented in unexpected places.
A notable inventor of solitaire games was Bill Beers. He was in a mental asylum when he invented a variation of Cribbage Solitaire.
Prisoners had plenty of time to play solitaire, but were unable to use traditional cards because they could be used as an edged weapon. They were forced to use thicker tiles for cards that were bulky and hard to handle.
Several solitaire games have gained fame through literature and other avenues.
A very popular solitaire game, spider solitaire, was played by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Spider solitaire is also mentioned in ‘The Gentleman in the Parlour’, by Somerset Maugham. Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ mentions solitaire in its story.
In ‘The brothers Karamazov’, by Dostoevsky, a character in the story plays a solitaire game called ‘Fools’, a Russian equivalent of ‘Idiot’s Delight’.
A famous casino is responsible for the invention of a very popular solitaire game. Mr. Canfield, who owned a casino in Saratoga, invented a game where one would purchase a deck of cards for $50 and obtain $5 for every card played to the foundations.
He gained an average of $20 per game. The actual name of this popular game was Klondike, but Canfield has ‘stuck’ and is almost as commonly used as the word patience. Today most people refer to Klondike as simply ‘Solitaire’.
Due to its difficulty to win, the time needed to play and the lack of choices along the way, Klondike has lost some popularity to other popular solitaire games. Even some movies have sported bouts with solitaire.
In the movie ‘The Manchurian Candidate’, a character under a queen’s spell asks for a deck of cards at a local pub and proceeds to play solitaire.
Sources for this article
MOREHEAD, ALBERT, and MOTT-SMITH, GEOFFREY: The Complete Book of Solitaire and Patience Games, Bantam Books, 1956.
PARLETT, DAVID: Solitaire: Aces up and 399 other card games, Pantheon Books, 1979
About the Author
Trisha Ellington works for Softgame Company, maker of card games, video poker and puzzles
. She works on web sites, designs games and does graphic work.
Softgame Company also makes solitaire card games