Autumn Leaves

I wish there were an annual award for the best new solitaire game: my nominee for 2007 would have been Toby Ord's recent game Autumn Leaves. In this game, Toby has added one brilliant new mechanism to Spider-like games to create an original one-deck game with a pleasing mixture of skill and luck. The rules have been carefully thought out: while many games can be played with various sizes of tableau, Autumn Leaves uses a tableau of six columns almost by necessity: five would create an excessively hard game and seven far too easy. Unlike conventional Spider, completed suites are not removed; this makes the endgame a little more challenging (it would be almost impossible to lose once one suite was completed, if they could be removed). Ord named the game Autumn Leaves "because of the way the cards flutter back and forth between the piles, which can be quite hypnotic after a while". With his permission I am presenting the game here, with a sample deal played through and some notes on basic strategy.

Autumn Leaves 1

This is deal number 17115 in my demo version. You can play it out with a real deck of cards, but you will have to prearrange the deck in the following order:

JS QD KC 4D 4S 4C 3H 7S 3D AH KS QC 4H 3C 2H 5S 5H AC 6H KH 6S 5C 9D 8S TS JD
AD 8C 7D JC 5D JH 7H 7C 9S TC 8H QH 8D TH KD 2S 9H QS AS 9C 2C 6D 3S TD 2D 6C

Note that the tableau consists of six columns of four cards each, except that the two central columns have only three cards each. The top card of each row is face up; the remainder are face down. The remaining 30 cards form a stock, which is dealt six cards at a time, Spider-style, one to each column. Cards may be moved column-to-column, packed downwards in suit, but not necessarily consecutively: that is, a card may be placed onto any higher card of the same suit. In the initial position above, the two of hearts can be moved onto either the six or king of hearts, or the five of spades may be moved onto the six. But there is a benefit to packing consecutively: as in Spider, consecutive groups of cards of the same suit may be moved as a unit. Let's see how that works as we play through this deal.

It is usually wise to make consecutive-packing plays first, so we pack the five of spades onto the six of spades, exposing the ace of hearts, which is packed onto the two of hearts. Now we have several nonconsecutive hearts we plan to pack on each other. The higher cards should be played first, so the six of hearts is packed onto the king, exposing the four of hearts which is packed onto the six of hearts, which in turn exposes the three of hearts which is added on. Next the two and ace of hearts, which can be moved as a unit since they form a consecutive sequence, are added to the string of hearts in column two. There is no need to worry at the moment that the hearts are not a continuous sequence; sequences like this can later be moved once you have empty columns, and eventually filled in as you uncover more cards and deal more cards from the stock.

Autumn Leaves 2

Moving the two and ace of hearts exposes the three of diamonds, which is packed on the four of diamonds. The king of clubs turns up, onto which is packed the five and then the ace of clubs, exposing the queen of clubs which cannot be moved yet. The six and five of spades can be packed as a unit onto the jack of spades, and the five of hearts appears next. This can be inserted between the four and six of hearts by moving the four and the lower cards onto the five and the whole group back onto the six. When the king of spades appears, we are blocked. We therefore deal a new set of six cards:

Autumn Leaves 3

We are not afraid to stack up all of the loose diamonds out of order, especially since the fourth column has no facedown cards and is all one suit. We pack the nine and ace of diamonds onto the jack, planning to unravel that suit later. When there are three or more columns with the same suit exposed, we can use the Tower of Hanoi technique to consolidate the cards of that suit. Since any card or group of consecutive cards in suit can be moved into an empty column, we particularly want to clear column 1, so we pack the six-five of spades onto the eight, and the jack, followed by the ten, onto the king. Now we have an empty column and can move the two separate pieces from column 2 to column 5, putting the six-five temporarily into column 1, the eight onto and the ten, and the six-five back onto the eight.  In the Solitaire Virtuoso program, right-clicking a card will automatically move it (and any other connected cards) into the first available empty column -- this makes complex sequences of moves, with practice, a little quicker.  Using the empty columns is somewhat similar to the use of supermoves in FreeCell. 

Autumn Leaves 4

With only one column empty, we cannot sort the diamonds in column 4 or move the two pieces of the heart suit off of column 2, but we can move the clubs from column 6 to expose another card. We move the eight of clubs into the empty column 1, shift the five and ace onto it (using the queen to momentarily hold the ace; a high card of the suit being moved is almost as good as an empty column), and pack the queen onto the king. If we are lucky, the card under the queen can be moved (2C, 9C, TC, JC, 7H, AS, 2S, 3S, 4S, or 2D would all be packed easily). In fact the four of clubs turns up, but this can be packed by another series of maneuvers: ace on queen, four on five and both back to column 6 (followed by the ace onto the four), eight onto queen, and the five-four and ace onto the eight using the now empty column 1.

Autumn Leaves 5

There are now two empty columns, so we can either sort the diamonds or move the hearts (the spades could also be moved, but they would break into two pieces and fill both columns -- the hearts are also preferable to spades because they cover more cards). We can sort the diamonds and still end up with two empty columns, so we should do that before moving the hearts, which will fill a column and expose unknown cards. The ace of diamonds goes into one column, the nine into another, and the ace back onto it. The jack then goes into the column still empty, the ace onto the three, the nine onto the jack, and the four-three and ace onto the nine. In fact, with two empty columns, using the Tower of Hanoi technique, any set of cards of the same suit can be sorted regardless of how many pieces it has.

Now we have two empty columns, and the hearts are only in two pieces, so we want to move them now, since we can do so and still have one empty column left. Move the six-ace into one, the king into the other (exposing the three of clubs which cannot be moved yet), and the six-ace back onto the king. Now the ace can be moved into an empty column momentarily to allow the three of clubs to be packed onto the four (exposing the seven of spades), before packing the ace back onto the three. The seven of spades can be inserted between six and eight as we saw earlier. The queen of diamonds turns up, and by another Tower of Hanoi sequence we can pack all of the other diamonds onto it (ace to empty, four-three to queen, ace to three, nine to empty, ace to jack, four-three to nine, ace to three, jack to queen, ace to jack, four-three to empty, ace to three, nine to jack, ace to empty, four-three to nine, ace to three).  Note that in these long sequences, the first move goes to the target if there are an odd number of pieces, but to the empty space if there are an even number of pieces.

Autumn Leaves 6

Now we have only one card face down, and all the other suits are in sequence, so we shift the spades off of column five. Eight-five goes to an empty column, jack-ten to the other, eight-five onto ten, and king to empty. The four of spades turns up, we pack it onto the five, then move both pieces onto the king. We now have an ideal position, with four suits, in correct order, in separate columns, with two columns empty. We can't do any better than this, so we deal six more cards.

Autumn Leaves 7

Now the suits need to be untangled again. Since the hearts can be most easily repacked, we move the seven of clubs onto the jack, the ace-through-six of hearts onto the seven, the jack of hearts onto the king, and the ace-through-seven of hearts onto the jack. We need to fix the clubs before the diamonds (since jack and seven of clubs block the bulk of the diamonds), so we next move the five of diamonds onto the seven, the ace and three-four-five of clubs to the two empty columns (and then the ace onto the three), the seven of clubs onto the eight and then both to an empty column, and then reassemble all of the club pieces onto the queen (jack, seven-eight, ace to empty column, three-four-five, and ace). Finally the diamonds can be reassembled in the same way (ace to empty, three-four to five, three-four-five to empty, seven to nine, three-four-five to seven and ace to three). We deal six more cards:

autumn08.gif (13862 bytes)

The hearts are easy to fix: ten to queen, ace-through-seven to eight, ten to jack, ten-jack to queen, ten-jack-queen to king, and ace-through-eight to ten. We see that we can fix the spades with only one empty column: nine to empty, four-through-eight to nine and back to the ten. Moving the ten of clubs will block both clubs and diamonds, so instead we do a club maneuver, aiming at least to get the ten of clubs onto the jack. This requires getting the seven-eight into the empty column, so we play ace to empty column, three-four-five to ten, ace to three, seven-eight to empty column, ace to jack, three-four-five to seven, ace to three, and ten to jack. With 12 cards left in the stock, we have no empty columns, but all of the cards are exposed. Our chances of winning are very good.  We deal the last six cards from the stock:

Autumn Leaves 9

The ace of spades clearly goes onto the two. Playing the eight of diamonds onto the king empties a column, and allows us to swap nines by playing the nine of hearts to the empty column, the nine of clubs to the ten, the ace-through-eight of hearts onto the nine and back onto the ten, completing the hearts. Remember that, unlike Spider, the complete suite of hearts cannot be removed. Playing the queen of spades to the empty column does not allow us to consolidate the clubs, so instead we play the ace-two of spades onto the queen and tackle the diamonds instead. What we want to do temporarily is to stack all of the diamonds in order onto the king in column 1, to create two empty columns to use on the clubs.

We play the ace to the eight and the three-four-five to the empty column, then the ace to the three. After inserting the eight between the seven and nine, we play ace to seven, three-four-five to king, and ace to three, allowing us to move seven-eight-nine to the empty column. Next ace to jack, three-four-five to seven, and ace to three, freeing up the jack-queen to go onto the king. You should by now have the hang of the Tower of Hanoi sequences, so I won't detail the moves for the succeeding operations: finish piling up the diamonds (three pieces in column 5, so the ace goes to the jack first), move the two-piece group of spades to an empty column, and consolidate the clubs. Unfortunately, the diamonds we stacked up are in too many pieces to get into one column: the best we can do is to get the jack-queen-king into one column and the rest into another. We are very close to victory as we deal the last six cards from the stock:

Autumn Leaves 10

The rest is easy: the diamonds come together easily (six to ten, ace to two, etc.). We play the ace-two of spades to the three and back to the queen. The clubs and spades follow easily, giving us four complete suites and a win.

Since writing the early version of this program, I've played over 400 deals, winning about 35% of the time. That's about the same win rate I have for two-suit (two-deck) Spider.

Here is a link to Toby Ord's site, giving his own description of the game.   There is also a computer version in BVS Solitaire.

This article is copyright 2015 by Michael Keller. All rights reserved.  Last edited on February 9, 2015.
All rights to the game of Autumn Leaves belong to Toby Ord.