Golf Solitaire and its variants

The Game of Golf Solitaire

One of the oldest forms of solitaire is a game originally called One Foundation.    Seven columns of cards are dealt, one row at a time, until each column has five cards.   The rest of the deck forms a stock, and the first card is turned over to form what looks like a waste pile.   But it is not a normal waste; cards are never played from the waste, but uncovered cards from the tableau columns can be built onto the card currently on top of the waste, ascending or descending in rank, regardless of suit.    In the sample deal below (49621 in the Solitaire Laboratory program), either the ten of diamonds or the queen of diamonds can be played on the jack of hearts; if the ten is played it may be followed by the nine of hearts.   Changes of direction are allowed at any time; e.g. 6-7-6-5-6-5-4 is a legal sequence if each card is available in turn (one source mistakenly and hilariously says that you must play in one direction; the game definitely does not work that way).   When no more plays are possible (or desired), the next card from the stock is turned up.   The objective is to play all 35 cards from the tableau columns onto the waste.   In the traditional form of the game, only twos could be played on aces, and nothing, even queens, could be played on kings.  Some sources allow queens to be played on kings (but not kings on aces or vice versa), but I think the best form of the game allows ranks to wrap around so that kings and aces can be played on each other; this rule has been adapted in almost every major variant.   Since most deals end up with cards left over, someone had the idea of keeping score by how many cards are left in the columns on each deal, and the game got its present-day name Golf .   Morehead and Mott-Smith suggest that the win rate for the traditional game (nothing played on kings) is about 5%, and a reasonable par score per hole is 4.  (Of course, there is no such thing in real golf as a score of zero: a hole-in-one scores 1, but this does not spoil things).  Golf is generally a better game when all of the cards in the columns are dealt face up, since the opportunity for skillful forward planning is increased, but variants with face down cards are often seen.

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The start of deal number 49621 in standard Golf.   The player can either play the queen, or the 10 and 9.

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The end of the same deal, showing the last card dealt from the stock and two cards left in the columns.

Pyramid Golf and TriPeaks

A combination of two well-known solitaires, which I have never seen in books, but which appears quite often in computer versions, is Pyramid Golf, played by the same rules but with the normal pyramid of 28 cards (seven overlapping rows, starting with one card at the apex and adding one extra card in each row) replacing the seven columns of five (the stock is thus increased from 17 to 24).   As in ordinary Pyramid, cards become available when both cards above them are discarded; the object is to discard all 28 cards from the pyramid.  This is virtually always played with wraparound ranks; it would be nearly impossible to win otherwise.  Even so, it is much harder than the standard game (the win rate is only a few percent).   It does not play particularly well; the densely overlapped cards rarely give many choices of play and the skill level is much lower than standard Golf.   Robert Hogue had the idea of overlapping three smaller pyramids, creating the very popular variant TriPeaks, which was included in the third of Microsoft's Windows Entertainment Packs in around 1991, and has become very popular in computer form.   This layout opens up cards more quickly and puts the odds of winning in the player's favor.  There is also an interesting scoring system which rewards long runs of consecutive cards played to a single waste card: one card is worth 1, two 3, three 6, four 10, etc.  The Microsoft version was dealt with all covered cards face down until they are exposed.  Hogue's own version, available at his website, allows for both forms; his 2001 version suggests face down as the standard, but starting with Windows Vista, Microsoft's version is face up.   TriPeaks is also often seen on tabletop arcades found in restaurants and bars.  Pretty Good Solitaire includes it under the generic title Triple Peaks.  Below is a sample deal with all cards in the pyramids dealt face up.

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A deal of Robert Hogue's TriPeaks, in the face-up variant.  It is possible to play 5, 4, 3, 2, A, K, Q on the initial 6.

A quick and straightforward version of TriPeaks with 25 variant layouts is Sheriff TriPeaks, available for play both online and as a free download.  The whole game of 25 levels can be played in less than an hour; it's a clean one-deck design with no jokers or powerups.  The closed layouts range from standard TriPeaks (level 2) to Pyramid Golf (level 25).   Another online version, with a single standard closed setup and one joker per round, is Tri Towers Solitaire from Glowing Eye Games.   Using a closed layout removes much of the skill factor introduced by adding a wildcard in each round.

Pharaoh's Treasure --

Perhaps the most interesting version of TriPeaks was an online version on the now-vanished website BigPrizes.   This was designed by the veteran solitaire designer Warren Schwader, who now runs SoliTaire! Network.   Pharaoah's Treasure was a thematic game of searching for ancient treasure; the player starts out playing closed TriPeaks, and as the game progresses, more and more of the layout becomes open.   There are also other powerups.

Jokers and Powerups

Computer versions have introduced variants to increase the skill level and the win rate (giving players more choices usually does both).  Paul DeWolf's mid-1990's program Thieves and Kings (once again available) first appeared as a two-game package, with a version of Golf (mislabelled Forty Thieves) with, typically, two jokers per deal.   Jokers are also seen in recent versions such as Aloha TriPeaks, along with other powerups such as the ability to reshuffle the layout and redeal some portion of the stock.   Another powerup, seen in Fairway Solitaire (see the end of this article), is to allow the player to peek at the top of the stock which has not been turned up yet.

Another useful powerup is one I call headstart, found in the easier version of Sierra's Hoyle Solitaire: instead of turning up the first stock card immediately, any card or legal sequence of cards can be played to the empty waste before turning the first stock card.   This usually lets the player get rid of at least two or three cards right away.  I have extended this powerup in Solitaire Virtuoso by showing the rank of the first stock card, so that the player avoids wasting the headstart by playing cards which would be playable by the first stock card.

Solitaire Virtuoso also has a Card Tracker, which shows all of the cards remaining in Golf and TriPeaks variants.  This can help with strategic planning, and in the money version of TriPeaks, indicate whether there are useful cards left in the stock, so that a hopeless deal can be abandoned without wasting money turning extra stock cards.



With Robert Hogue's permission, I have added a four-pyramid open variant to Solitaire Virtuoso.  This has a stock of only 15 cards, and is difficult to win even with headstart and Card Tracker, though it does sometimes produce very impressive runs of cards.

Barbershop Quintet

Barbershop Quintet -- start of a new deal

A deal in progress -- note the overlapping sets of cards in the waste

As part of his 1995 adventure game Hodj 'n' Podj, Steve Meretzky devised a new version of Golf themed to a barbershop, using a special 62-card deck containing five suits of 12 cards each, plus two wild cards. Each suit contains a Customer (on which only 1's can be played), a Barber (on which only 10's can be played), and cards numbered 1-10.  There are also two Manicurists on which any card can be played.    The foundation starts empty; any card can be played to start it.  Thereafter, cards must be played up and down in consecutive ranks as in ordinary Golf.  The 12 special cards can be played to the foundation at any time.   The closed tableau has five columns of seven cards each; the stock of 27 cards is dealt three at a time as in Canfield.   The tableau can also be packed in rank (e.g. an 8 from the top of one pile can be placed on an 8 on another pile) as in Curds and Whey or Beehive; this rule makes it easier to expose new tableau cards and set up long sequences of foundation plays.  The game is unusual and reasonably skillful.


About to win at Barbershop Quintet -- all of the numbered cards have been played from stock and tableau; three of the specials were not even needed.

Multiple foundations

A number of variants have been devised with no stock and multiple foundation piles, including David Parlett's Striptease.  In Striptease the four queens (for thematic reasons) are dealt in a row, and the rest of the deck (shuffled) is dealt on top of them, forming four columns of thirteen cards (the first four cards are dealt face down, the rest face up).  These may be played, headstart style, into four foundation piles at will (wrapping around, and with jack and king considered as consecutive ranks).   It is a quite challenging game with only four foundations; Sierra's Hoyle Solitaire has a simplified version with eight foundations, under the name Eliminator; this can also be found in the online SoliTaire! Network.  Another variant is Ant's Solitaire, from Masque Software's Solitaire Antics series.   This uses four random foundations and deals cards four at a time as in Aces Up.

Black Hole

David Parlett took Golf to its logical conclusion, removing the stock entirely, and making the completely open variant Black Hole, probably the best and most skillful variant of Golf.   It starts with the ace of spades as a single foundation card, and seventeen fans of three cards each.  It is played in wraparound form, and a recent mathematical study estimates that about 87% of deals can be won.

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David Parlett's game Black Hole.   Most deals require several changes of direction; this deal can be won by starting with a two and playing the ranks in strict increasing sequence.

Fairway Solitaire

There are many thematic versions of Golf (and particularly TriPeaks); by far the best is Big Fish Games' smash success, Fairway Solitaire, which is reviewed on our Solitaire Arcade site.   Gunslinger Solitaire, from Big Fish Games, is a weak imitation of Fairway Solitaire with a Western theme: numbered bullets (which can be purchased, along with other powerups) replace irons, and there are several shooting minigames.

This page was revised on February 9, 2015.   All contents copyright 2008-2015 by Michael Keller.  All rights reserved.