FreeCell is a Solitaire-type game which can be downloaded from the Internet from the address: http://www.goodsol.com/freedown.html

FreeCell is becoming increasingly popular because, unlike standard Solitaire, it is purely a game of skill. With perfect play, the player can win every game of FreeCell. At the start of the game, all the cards are placed face up, so it is theoretically possible for a player to calculate the solution from the starting position without moving even a single card.

On the other hand, the game is hard enough that there are probably few people who can actually do that in their head.

At the beginning of the game, all 52 cards are dealt face up, in 8 columns. There are 4 columns with 7 cards each. The other 4 columns have 6 cards each, for a total of 52 cards in all.

Above the cards, to the left, are four empty cells. There are another four empty cells above the cards to the right.

The four cells to the left are the "free cells". Any card on the bottom of the columns can be placed in and one of those cells, provided that the cell is empty.

As to the four cells on the right, from the starting position, only aces may be placed in those cells in the starting position. After an ace has been placed in the cell, a duce of the same suit may be placed on top of it, then a three and so on, up until a king. The game is won when all 52 cards are stacked up in the four cells on the upper right.

Once a card is placed in one of the cells on the upper right, it is out of the game and cannot be moved again.

Regarding the cards on the bottom of the columns, the rule is that a red card on any of the bottom rows may be placed on a black card on another bottom row one rank higher. Similarly, a black card may be placed on a red card one rank higher. Thus, a red 7 of diamonds or hearts may be placed on a black 8 of spades or clubs. Also, a black Jack of spades or clubs may be placed on a red Queen of hearts or diamonds.

In short, the game is conceptually similar to standard Solitaire, except that all the cards are face up.

A card on a freecell may be brought down and placed on a card of the opposite color one rank higher. Cards on the freecells may also be placed on a card one rank lower of the same suit on the cells to the upper right.

When a column is empty, then any card from the freecells or from the bottom of the other columns can be placed in the empty space.

When a move is virtually forced, in that there is no reason not to make such a move, the computer will sometimes do it for you. For example, let's say that in the starting position, you have on the bottom row, an ace of spades, an ace of hearts, a 2 of hearts and a 3 of hearts. After you have made the first move to start the game by putting up the ace of spades, the computer by itself will move up the ace of hearts and the 2 of hearts. However, it will not move the 3 of hearts by itself, because you might possibly want to leave the 3 there and place a black 2 on it.

As the game nears the end, the computer will at some point see that all the cards are in ascending order and you have a forced win. In that case, the computer will make all the remaining moves for you and declare you the winner. This speeds up the game considerably.

As the game progresses, columns will be created with alternate black and red cards of progressively higher rank. Now, suppose you have a red 5 on a black 6 on a red 7 on a black 8 on a red 9 and, on the bottom of another column, you have a black 10. You will probably want to move all the cards in the sequence on the first column over to the second column. How do you do that?

The answer is through the freecells. First you take the red 5 on the bottom and place it on a free cell. Then you take the black 6 which is now on the bottom and place it on another free cell. Then you take the red 7 on the bottom and place it on a third free cell and finally you take the black 8 which is now on the bottom and place it on the fourth free cell.

Now all four free cells are occupied.

Now you take the red 9 which is now on the bottom and place it on the black 10. Then you take the black 8 on the freecell and place it on the red 9. Then you take the red 7 on a free cell and place it on the black 8, following which the red 7 goes on the black 8, the black 6 goes on the red 7 and the red 5 goes on the black 6.

To shorten this time consuming process, the computer will do it all for you. First, just click on the column which has the red 5 up to red 9. Then click on the black 10. Then the computer will make all the moves for you automatically.

However, the above maneuver will be illegal if even one of the free cells is occupied. You will need for all 4 free cells to be free to make the above transfer. If even one freecell is occupied, the computer will tell you: "That move requires moving 5 cards. You have only enough free space to move 4."

Thus, it can be seen that it is of vital importance to keep the free cells free. As the game progresses, it will eventually become necessary to put a card more or less permanently in a free cell to free up a card below it. However, each time a free cell is filled, you have less room to maneuver. Once all four free cells are full and you still have no move, you lose the game.

Under "options" at the bar on the top of the screen, there are "statistics". This will keep track of how many games you have won and lost and the length of your longest winning and losing streaks, so you can mark your improvement in playing FreeCell.

I had to lose nearly 100 games of FreeCell before I got to be any good at it. I now win about 90% of the games I play. I would win 100% if I concentrated deeply and took my time, as all FreeCell games are a win with correct play. During the week ending August 1, 1997, I won 26 games of FreeCell in a row, without a single loss.

When starting a game of FreeCell, before making any moves at all, you should survey all the cards in the position. You may find clusters, a column where big cards like kings, queens or jacks are clustered, and another where aces, duces and threes are clustered. You will probably want to attack the column with a lot of small cards. However, be careful. You can get trapped making hasty moves without planning ahead.

Obviously, if there is an ace at the bottom of a column, you move it up to where the aces are placed on the upper right hand side.

Before making any other moves, move your eyes up each column of cards. Look at each card in each column and see where that card could possibly be moved now or later in the game. For example, if a red 7 is at the bottom of a column, look to see where both black 8s are. Go up every card in the column. You may find a column in which every card can be moved somewhere immediately and you can reach the top. If you can clear a column entirely, this gives a lot of additional room to maneuver, because you can start putting down a whole column of cards with alternating red and black colors, preferably with a king at the top.

After that, look for moves which do not cost anything. For example, suppose that in one column there is a red jack and above it an ace and above it a black queen.

Now, you can move the red jack to a free cell. Then, put the ace in a cell in the upper right hand side, and now bring the jack down and place it on the queen.

Now, you have freed up one card at no cost. All four of your free cells are still free.

You should make any moves like this you can find. Also, it generally does not hurt and usually helps to make any other moves which do not tie up a free cell. For example, if you see a red 4 on the bottom of one column and a black 5 on the bottom of another, it is probably safe to place the 4 on the 5. However, before doing this, look to see if this move will prevent any other move you are likely to want to make later on.

Sometimes you can free up an entire column with one maneuver. For example, you might find a column with a red king on the bottom. Above it are a random assortment consisting on a black queen, a red jack a red ace, a black ace, a red 4 and a black 3. Also, you might see a black 5 at the bottom of the other column.

In such as case, you need to calculate the moves in order, but you might be able to move the king, queen and jack plus the black 3 to the free cells. Then, put the red 4 on the black 5 and the black 3 on the red 4, put the two aces on the cells to the upper right, and then place the king, followed by the queen followed by the jack on the now empty column.

Now you have freed up two aces plus improved your position by having a king, queen and jack at the top of one column plus a 5, 4 and 3 in the proper order in another column.

You will need to see combinations like this and to be able to plan ahead to win consistently at free cell.

However, it is usually not so perfect. Suppose that there was no black 5 in another column. Then, if you completed the above maneuver, you would be left with two cards, the red 4 and the black 3 in the freecells. This is a dangerous position to be in. You have only two more free cells left. Nevertheless, it is sometimes necessary to take risks like this to win the game. As you gain experience playing freecell, you will develop an idea of what risks are worth taking.

Before leaving a card in a free cell, look around for future opportunities to move that card out of there. For example, suppose you are thinking of placing a red 10 in a free cell. Look around for the two black jacks. If it appears that they might soon be at the bottom of a column, it might be safe to place the 10 in a free cell. However, if the jacks are buried at the top of columns, it might take a long time to get the 10 out.

Here are some principles based upon my experience:

Do not be afraid of building big towers. Suppose you have a column with an ace at the top. Below that is a red king, followed by a black queen, followed by a red jack, followed by a black 10 and so on down to a black 2 at the bottom.

You will think that your game is lost. How will you ever get the ace at the top out?

Actually, if you have this you will have virtually won the game, because by having 12 cards in proper order, you have enough room left on the rest of the board to organize the remaining cards. Finally, when the board opens up, you will be able to move that big stack of cards 5 at a time and free up the ace on the top.

In short, big towers are good. Build them as much and as high as you can. When given a choice, always put a card on the highest tower you can. If you have a red 6 on a black 7 on a red 8, but you can move the six to a black 7 which is on a red 8 which is on a red 9, make that move. The higher the tower, the better it is for you.

The best place to move a card is to a column which has a king on the top. Always try to pile your cards on a column which the top card is a king. There will be plenty of opportunities to do this near the end of the game.

Next priority is to put cards on a column in perfectly ascending order. For example, if a column has a red 10 at the top, and below it a black 9 and below it a red 8, that would be a good place to put a black 7.

Failing that, put your cards on a column with the largest sequence of ascending order, even if unordered cards are at the top..

If given a choice between two otherwise equal places to put a card, always put the card on the column which has the largest sequence of ascending cards with alternating color.

My experience has been that once you have 12 cards safely on the cells on the upper right hand side of the board, you always win, no matter how bad your position may otherwise be. So, when the computer says "Cards left: 40" or less, you can be confident of winning. However, it is not always easy to see the way to win. Sometimes I look 5 or ten minutes or even longer thinking that I am hopelessly stuck and there is no way out. Then, in a flash, I see the way to make progress and the game is solved. If you think you have a lost position, do not give up until you have considered all the possibilities. More often than not, there is a way to keep the game going and to win.

If you lose a game, the computer gives you a choice either to replay the same game again, or play a new game. Personally, I always play the same game again to see where I went wrong. I will play the same game over and over again until I finally get it right. Remember, there is a solution to every game.

However, I recommend that new players keep playing different games. Some positions are just too hard to solve and it might be better to try something easier for starters.

In standard FreeCell, the hardest game to solve I have found so far is #28118. I had to lose at least 10 games and then sleep on it before solving it. I finally solved it by the exhaustive trial and error method. I attacked the first column and, after losing, started again and attacked the second, and so on.

Here is the solution: Start by attacking both the second and fourth columns. Move the four of spades and the king of hearts on the second column to the freecells. This frees the ace of diamonds, which moves automatically to the top. Next, move the 4 of diamonds and the 8 of spades in the 4th column to the freecells. Now, move the queen of spades in column 4 to the king of diamonds in column 5. Move the jack of diamonds in column 7 to the queen of spades in column 5. Move the 5 of clubs in column 7 to the 6 of diamonds in column 2. Move the 6 of spades in column 3 to the 7 of diamonds in column 7. Move the 5 of diamonds in column 4 to the 6 of spades in column 7. Move the 4 of spades in the freecell to the 5 of diamonds in column 7. Move the queen of clubs in column 4 to a freecell. Move the 2 of spades in a freecell to the 3 of diamonds in column 7. Move the king of hearts in a freecell to the empty 4th col. Move the queen of clubs in a freecell to the king of hearts in column 4. Move the jack of diamonds in column 5 to the queen of clubs in column 4. Move the 4 of diamonds in the freecell to the 5 of clubs in column 2. Move the king of spades in column 8 to a freecell.

Now, click on column 2 and then click on column 8. This will simultaneously move the 6 of diamonds, the 5 of clubs and the 4 of diamonds on column 2 to the 7 of spades on column 8.

Next, move the queen of diamonds in column 2 to a freecell. Move the 10 of diamonds in column 2 to the jack of spades in column 3. Move the 3 of clubs in column 2 to the 4 of diamonds in column 8. Move the king of spades in the freecell to the empty column 2. Click on column 3 and then on column 2, which will move the jack of spades and the ten of diamonds in column 3 to the queen of diamonds in column 2. Move the 9 of clubs in column 6 to the 10 of diamonds in column 2. Move the 10 of clubs in column 3 to the jack of diamonds in column 4. Move the queen of spades in column 5 to a freecell. Move the king of diamonds in column 5 to a freecell. Now, the 2 of diamonds automatically goes on the ace at the top.

Move the 8 of hearts on column 5 to the 9 of clubs in column 2. Now, the 2 of clubs automatically goes on the ace. Move the 9 of diamonds in column 5 to the 10 of clubs in column 4. Move the 7 of hearts in column 5 to the 8 of spades in column 4. Move the king of diamonds in the freecell to the empty column 5. Move the queen of spades in the freecell to the king of diamonds in column 5. Move the 6 of clubs in column 6 to the 7 of hearts in column 4. Move the 9 of spades in column 6 to a freecell. Move the 7 of clubs in column 6 to the queen of hearts in column 2. Move the jack of hearts in column 6 to the queen of spades in column 5. Move the jack of clubs in column 3 to a freecell. Move the 6 of hearts in column 3 to the 7 of clubs in column 2. Move the queen of hearts in column 3 to empty column 6. Move the jack of clubs in the freecell to the queen of hearts in column 6. Move the 10 of spades in column 3 to the jack of hearts in column 5. Click on column 8 and then on column 3. After that, the computer will ask you, "Move column" or "Move single card". Click on "Move column". This will move the six of diamonds, the five of clubs, the 4 of diamonds and the 3 of clubs all from column 8 to the empty column 3.

Next, move the 7 of spades in column 8 to the freecell. Move the 9 of hearts in column 8 to the 10 of spades in column 5. Move the 10 of hearts in column 8 to the jack of clubs in column 6. The 3 of clubs in column 3 will automatically move up to the 2 of clubs on top. Move the 9 of spades in the freecell to the 10 of hearts in column 6. Now, the 3 of spades in column 1, the 4 of spades in column 7 and the 5 of diamonds in column 7 will automatically move up.

Now, click on column 7 and then on column 5. This will move the 8 of clubs, the 7 of diamonds and the 6 of spades in column 7 to the 9 of hearts in column 5.

Now, anything wins. Move the 5 of spades in column 1, the 8 of diamonds in column 1 and the king of clubs in column 1 to the freecells and all the remaining cards will be automatically moved by the computer to the concluding position.

This is by far the most difficult game of FreeCell I have encountered. It took me more than ten tries to get it. Then, I forgot the solution and it took me ten more tries to get it again. Perhaps what makes it so difficult is the need to use up all the freecells on the first moves and later to bury two aces simultaneously under towers in columns 7 and 8. There are also other promising looking possible solutions, but these do not seem to lead anywhere. I believe that this is the only solution to this problem. If anyone can find another solution, please let me know.

Good luck playing FreeCell and remember, you may have to lose a lot of games before you start winning regularly.

To download FreeCell

Here are some other games you can play:

For the Rules of Japanese chess or Shogi, see: Basic Rules of Shogi . For the Rules of Chinese Chess or Xiangqi, see: Basics of Chinese chess . For the Rules of Thai chess or Makrook Thai, see: Rules of Thai chess . For How to Play Minesweeper, see: Minesweeper for Beginners .

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