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A Comprehensive History of Solitaire

What is Solitaire?

Solitaire, also called patience or cabale, is a term that describes games played by one player. In some countries like England, Poland, or Germany, it’s still called patience, while individuals in Scandinavian countries call it cabale. Regardless of the name used, these card games are gaining popularity worldwide.

Any card activity that involves one player is called solitaire. These can be building houses using cards, flipping them into hats, or laying them into mathematical magical squares. However, the most common and universal understanding of solitaire is any activity in which a player starts with shuffled cards and tries arranging them in numerical order following the rules of a particular game.

How Did it Start?

It is not exactly known when solitaire or patience started. However, it’s said to be first recorded across Europe and Scandinavia countries in the 1700s. Cards were used in fortune-telling, where if the game came out, it meant that a person’s wishes would come true. At that time, there was an increasing interest in cartomancy where cards were laid out in a tableau or following a specific pattern. These cards were used to seal a vow. Successful games represented a favorable answer. It’s why in France they still call solitaire réussite, which means success.

A German book called Das Neue Königliche L’hombre that appeared in 1798 was the first to include the word Patiencespiel, which means competition between two players, each playing a patience game while bystanders bet on them. The book also describes single and double deck solitaire versions similar to a Grandfather’s patience game recorded in an English book later on. Some people say that this version originates from Russia or Sweden.

In 1826, Russia published the first collection of patience games, followed by Germany and France. Later in the 1860s, they were published in English with most being translated from German or French. Most of the authors were women. For instance, the third edition of Le livre des patiences, par madame de F was published in 1842 and was later translated into English. Most games on this publication have titles that commemorate Emperor Napoleon, for example, Napoleon’s Square, Napoleon at St Helena, etc. The assumption is that Napoleon, while in exile, entertained himself by playing solitaire games. However, there is no evidence for this, and most records show that he played Whist and Pique.

In the year 1861, Great Expectations was published featuring the character Charles Dickens. During this year, Albert, who was the husband of Queen Victoria and a great player of this game, died.

The first solitaire book (Patience) was published by Ednah Cheney in 1870 in the United States. Then still around this time, Lady Adelaide Cadogan from Britain published a book called Illustrated Games of Patience. Mary Whitmore Jones, in the last decades, compiled a collection of patience games.

From then, solitaire became popular not just in literature but also in print media and movies. However, most people interested in card games only knew of Klondike and Spider solitaire. Collections that were recorded in print were mostly rehashes of classic titles, and many didn’t acknowledge the original inventors or authors.

In 1950, Albert Morehead and Geoffrey Mott-Smith published a Complete Book of Patience, which classifies the patience games and their rules. Throughout solitaire history, this game was mostly considered a pass time and not physically active for players. However, this perception changed in 1990 after Microsoft included it as its digital collection. The purpose was to teach individuals to use a computer mouse. As such, it made Spider and FreeCell popular as they appeared in Windows.

Solitaire Today

Today, solitaire is the most played card game. A news article published in 2020 revealed that more than half a billion people have played this game in the last decade. And, players nowadays don’t arrange cards in the old-fashioned way that took a lot of space, making the game more interesting and easy to play. After decades of developing, there’s no better time than now to play this historical card game.

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