Freecell Solitaire: A Strategy Guide

Freecell Solitaire is a highly popular game, made famous by Microsoft. Freecell is included in Windows, and is considered a classic solitaire game by many. Because you can see ALL the cards right from the start, there is no luck involved, making Freecell one of the few solitaire games which is based totally on the player’s skill.

Freecell is quite a hard game, but despite that, all deals (except for deal number 11982) are solvable in the 32000 deals in Microsoft’s version.

Get it for Windows and Windows Phone here

STRATEGY SUMMARY

– Before moving any cards, at the start of each game, analyze the layout and try to locate problem spots such as Aces and other low cards that are buried deep down in a tableau column. Then develop a plan to free them as soon as possible. In general, games that have low cards dealt near the bottom of columns will be easier than games that are dealt low cards buried deep into the tableau columns.
– Try to keep as many FreeCells open as possible. You can move longer sequences of cards if you have a lot of empty FreeCells. Once you are down to one or two empty FreeCells then it becomes very difficult to progress.
– Clear out tableau columns if possible. An empty tableau column is more powerful than an empty FreeCell as they double the number of cards that can be moved as a packed sequence.
– Fill an empty tableau column with an entire descending sequence of alternating colors. If a tableau column contains nothing but a full packed sequence with no cards above it then you can simply leave it there and forget about it for the rest of the game as it won’t be blocking any cards of lower rank that need to be released.
– Try to create packed sequences of cards in the tableau rather than hogging the FreeCells.

USING FREE CELLS WISELY

The key to finishing Freecell is judicious use of the free cells. They should be used as temporary storage- only storing cards in them for a short time to help you move longer sequences around.
For example, suppose you had a column with the following (taken from deal 14396)
– 5 Hearts
– Ace Spades
– Ace Hearts
– 4 Clubs

In this situation, it is okay to move the 4 of Clubs to a free cell, because we know that right after that, we can move the two Aces to the foundation, and then move the 4 of Clubs back from the free cell onto the 5 of Hearts. See how the free cell was only used temporarily?

SAFE MOVES

There are certain moves you can make at any time in Freecell and know it wont “trap” you later on in the game. You can move the Aces (and the twos when they can be played), at any time, as no other cards depend on them. For the other cards, you can safely move them to the foundation if the cards one less in rank, of the opposite color, are already in the foundation. For example, you can safely move the 5 of Diamonds, if the black 4s have already been moved to the foundation. Better Freecell games will automatically do these safe moves for you (like FreeCell HD for Windows and Windows Phone), so you can concentrate on the moves that matter, rather than having to manually make inconsequential moves.

THE NEED TO EMPTY COLUMNS

Your first goal in Freecell is to empty a column.

Why is this?

Because an empty column allows you to move longer sequences around. The size of the sequence you can move in Freecell is based on the number of available freecells and empty columns. The more empty freecells and columns you have, the longer the sequence is that you can move.

The formula for how many cards you can move is:
(number of empty freecells + 1) * 2 ^ (num empty columns)

For the less mathematically inclined, here is a table showing how many cards you can move in some different scenarios…

Empty Freecells Empty Columns Card Sequence Length

0 0 1

1 0 2

2 0 3

3 0 4

0 1 2

1 1 4

2 1 6

3 1 8

0 2 4

1 2 8

2 2 12

3 2 16

As you can see, empty columns are particularly valuable, as they allow you to move considerably longer sequences. By the time you have two columns free (particulaly with two or more freecells free), you can move very long sequences, and the game is usually quite easy to complete from there.

HOW TO EMPTY COLUMNS

So what is the easiest way to empty a column?Start by emptying columns that don’t have any Kings in them. A column with a king can’t be emptied initially, because there is nowhere for the King to go.

Don’t just make moves because you can. Have some mini plan in mind, and only move cards if they help empty the column you are aiming for.Another popular strategy is just to go straight for releasing the Aces, and then the 2’s, etc. This strategy is easier, and requires less thought. It will work for the easier games, but won’t help on the hard deals (such as deal 1941).

The most important strategy of all though, is to try and keep the freecells empty. If you can do that, and empty a couple of columns as well, then you should find it very easy to finish the game.

Enjoy playing FreeCell!

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