FreeCell Solitaire: Play For Free Online, How To Play FreeCell & More!

Table Of Contents
How To Play FreeCell (Easy FreeCell Rules)
How To Set Up FreeCell Solitaire
Free FreeCell
History Of FreeCell
How Hard Is FreeCell?
How To Make The Game More Challenging?
Tips And Tricks

The original or Classic Solitaire, also known as Patience, dates back centuries. It has remained a popular parlour game up until the modern-day, regaining its popularity following the release of Window 3.0 back in 1990. Several variants of solitaire were developed throughout the 20th century: by laying the cards out in a variety of ways on the tableau. Amongst these innovations was FreeCell. Just like all the other forms of solitaire, FreeCell uses a standard 52-card deck. However, the difference lies in the play with the cards being dealt face-up, rather than face-down. To discover the wonders of FreeCell, including FreeCell rules and how it became one of the most popular card games of all-time, read on. Or, cut to the chase, scroll up, and play free FreeCell online now!

If you have mastered the classic game or variations such as Pyramid Solitaire or Spider Solitaire, it's time to learn how to play FreeCell Solitaire. It's widely considered to be the hardest of them all.

How to Play FreeCell (Easy FreeCell Rules)

We’ve narrowed down the basics of how to play FreeCell in the diagram below. Keep reading for a more detailed set of rules.

How To Play FreeCell Solitaire

How To Win FreeCell

Before we get into the specifics of how to play FreeCell Solitaire, it's essential to understand the objectives. The aim is to make four piles of each suit, each with 13 cards, in order from ace to king. These cards are put in the foundation piles. You win once all four suits are assembled.

FreeCell Rules

You might be familiar with how to play FreeCell from the early days of Windows, but let’s recap the FreeCell Solitaire rules.

Above the cards you've laid out, imagine eight empty areas where you will lay cards as you play. Four of these are your foundation piles, for each suit, starting with the ace and finishing with the king. The other four are free cells; here, you will be able to place a card in holding, to free up areas of the tableau.

To begin, place any cards you can into the foundation piles, as discussed, starting in ace and working your way through to king. Ensure you will not need a card before placing it in the foundation pile, as you may not be able to get it back quickly.

Start moving cards between columns, creating stacks of descending order and alternate colouring. For example, a black six can go on a red 7, or a red queen on a black king. If an empty column opens up in the tableau, you can use it as a free cell by moving cards into the free space. Try to move cards into the free spaces strategically, to make it easier to create stacks.

FreeCell Solitaire Rules

FreeCell ‘Free Cells’

Here’s where things get tricky. You can move a single card at a time, but if you want to move a sequence of cards, you can only do so in proportion to the number of free cells available.

Four empty free cells mean you can move five cards.

Three empty free cells mean you can move four cards.

Two empty free cells mean you can move three cards.

One empty free means you can move two cards.

If all the free cells are full, then you can only move one card.

Congratulations! You've now learned how to play FreeCell Solitaire. It's an incredibly tricky game of strategy, but don't worry if you don't always win, some deals are impossible to complete. Just deal out another set of cards and try FreeCell again.

Don’t forget to play our free FreeCell game above! Playing FreeCell online saves you the hassle of setting up the cards.

How To Set Up FreeCell Solitaire

When dealing the cards, unlike Classic Solitaire, where some cards are set up face down, you will instead deal the whole deck face up. Deal out eight piles of cards; the first four piles will contain seven cards, the next four will contain six. The columns are collectively known as a tableau.

When dealing the cards out, make sure to lay each card overlapping but not concealing the card below.

Free FreeCell

You can enjoy playing free FreeCell Solitaire at It works on any browser, any device, and most importantly, it’s totally free!

History Of FreeCell

The Precursors

Though the classic versions of solitaire date back to the 1700s and earlier, FreeCell likely arose in the early 1900s. Before the creation of FreeCell, there were two early variants which would one day become the well-loved games: Baker's Game and Eight Off. The latter game, Eight Off, likely came first, differing from modern-day FreeCell by providing players with eight depots instead of four. Additionally, empty columns were only filled with a king.

Martin Gardner in the June 1968 edition of Scientific American describes the former, in his column 'Mathematical Games.' He had gotten the game from C. L. Baker, whose father had learned it from an Englishman in the 1920s and then passed it onto his son. In this new version, the number of depots reduces from eight to four and players can fill empty columns with any sequence of cards, and not just a king.

There have even been suggestions that FreeCell traces back to another game entirely, known as Napoleon in St Helena. The game hailed from Scandinavia, and presumably drew its name from the fact that during his exile on St Helena, Napoleon reportedly played solitaire voraciously. A pair of Swedish researchers discovered the game and dated it back to at least 1945.

The One And Only

FreeCell as we know and love it today didn't arise until Paul Alfille had a genius idea. He arranged the cards in alternate colours, going downwards on the tableau, mirroring Classic Solitaire. Alfille, a medical student at the time, had wanted to work out the mathematics behind the game and the probability of achieving a perfect result. Also, he hated shuffling, and with Baker’s game requiring the sorting the cards into suits, shuffling took much longer. As a result of his change, nearly every hand was winnable, albeit, some extremely difficult. Plus, it was a lot easier to shuffle!

Alfille coded his new version of the game using TUTOR programming language for a PLATO education computer system in 1978. He even went so far as to create graphical images of playing cards using the 512x512 PLATO system's monochrome display. The system allowed players to compete in tournaments, with specific complicated hand-picked deals used to test each player's wits.

However, the game remained a niche hobby with few people being aware of its existence. It wasn't until Jim Horne, who had learned the game from the PLATO system, was able to code the game for Windows that things took off – if only for the addition of colour graphics!


Following the work of Jim Horne, a version of FreeCell was made available in 1992 on the Microsoft Entertainment Pack 2, after having first been included with Microsoft Win32s as a test program. It would not be until Windows 95 that FreeCell truly became popular with the public. Microsoft then included it as part of every subsequent Windows system (except Windows Vista Business Edition, where it had to be specially installed).

After it became widely played and popular, many alternate versions of FreeCell hit the market. Yet, the 2003 version of FreeCell, which implemented features, such as retraction of moves, remains the most popular.

Despite its late start, FreeCell has gone on to become amongst the most popular (if not the most popular) version of solitaire available. In a poll conducted on the site Solitude, FreeCell won the voting with 824 votes out of 4,000 responses.

Computer Games Or Gaming Computers?

Naturally, many mathematicians and FreeCell enthusiasts have taken to building their own computer programs that can automatically solve FreeCell.

In 1997, Don Woods created a solver for FreeCell and other similar games, which was later augmented by Adrian Ettlinger and Wilson Callan, becoming amalgamated into FreeCell Pro software. Later on, Tom Holroyd created Patsolve, which uses atomic moves; even getting an update to a version 3.0. Utilising a weighting function derived from the results of a genetic algorithm, the solver became much faster.

Other solvers have included Shlomi Fish's 'Freecell Solver', which started in 2000, and Gary Campbell's solver for FreeCell, which was a small and fast program, weighing in at 12 KB. However, it wasn't until 2011, that mathematicians developed a truly impressive FreeCell solver at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Their results surpassed all of the best solvers up to that point, by using several novel heuristic measures as well as some mathematical wizardry.

What resulted was a solver, termed GA-FreeCell, that reduced the search time by 87 per cent, solution time by 93 per cent, and solution length by 41 per cent. Even more impressively GA-FreeCell was able to complete 98.36 per cent of the games it attempted. Therefore, outranking not only another FreeCell solver called HSDH (which managed 96.43 per cent), but also the top three human players at the time (97.61 per cent, 96 per cent, and 66.4 per cent).

It might not have been Gary Kasparov vs Deep Blue, but in the world of card games, this was big news!

The Microsoft 32,000

In the original version of Microsoft Solitaire produced by Jim Horne, there were 32,000 numbers deals. The game numbers each deal, and then a random number generator picks a random deal for each play. At the time, all deals were thought to be solvable, at least according to a help file, which read: “It is believed (though not proven) that every game is winnable.” However, following Windows 95, two unsolvable deals joined the mix, number -1 and -2. Technically, the original 32,000 were still winnable. Still, Horne wanted to test players to see if they could find the two unsolvable deals.

Thus, began The Internet FreeCell Project.

The Internet FreeCell Project

Back in the early days of the internet, before we had Snapchat or Facebook, YouTube or Reddit, the internet was a simpler place, it was a simpler time. People were content to spend their hours playing FreeCell looking for the unsolvable games. The effort had been a jumble until Dave Ring got to work organising human solvers to clarify which, if any, of the 32,000 deals were solvable. Beginning in August 1994, volunteers enlisted from rec.puzzles, sci.math and other similar puzzle and math-related sites. In total, 100 people signed up. This ragtag team were each assigned 100 consecutive deals and would report back once their 100 had been either solved or attempted. At this point, they take on another 100.

If a deal remained unsolved, it would pass over to the best solvers Ring had available. Slowly but surely, the team worked their way through the stack of deals. Solving one by one, via the power of multiprocessing. However, the processors weren’t computer chips, but human brains.

By October 1995, they had solved all deals in the 32,000. All except one: 11982; considered unsolvable, despite the best efforts of Ring and his team. To date, 11982 remains unsolved, having now been tackled by thousands of humans and many computer programs. Other projects came along later, which aimed to analyse how many deals were solvable. A project by Don Woods in 1994 was perhaps the first large-scale statistical study utilising computers. He examined a million random deals, reporting the following year that they solved all but 14. Thus, giving the game a win rate of 99.999 per cent, which compares favourably with Baker's Game 75 per cent. Alfille had been right all along!

The Big Million

In 2001, windows released an updated version of FreeCell, including at least 1,000,000 deals. The original 32,000 were still intact. Following the work of solvers Danny A. Jones and Gary D. Campbell, it has been revealed that out of the first million FreeCell games all but eight are solvable. These are: #11,982, #146,692, #186,216, #455,889, #495,505, #512,118, #517,776, and #781,948.

How Hard Is FreeCell?

Now to begin diving into the maths behind the game. Don't worry; it's not quite as complicated as it first appears.

In FreeCell, there are only a finite number of deals possible, as with 52 cards there are only so many arrangements on the tableau. Therefore, theoretically, FreeCell is 'NP-complete'. Meaning if given a limited number of games, an algorithm can solve the game by using a brute-force search to look for similar problems in 'polynomial time'. The mathematical proof of this dates to the year 2000 and was first published in 2001.

Such problems are a major stumbling block in modern mathematics. Consider a prime number. They’re easy to identify: just look for a number that only divides by one and itself, e.g. 17. But is there a way to identify all the prime numbers without having to count through each number, asking whether each one is a prime number.

Similarly, is there a way to complete the FreeCell games without a computer having to search through all the solutions. It's easy to identify a solution when you have one to compare to, but is there a way of knowing how to complete the game without having the answer. If there is a fast method to work out the solution without having to check through all the possible variations, then it would revolutionise the world as we know it.

As such, if someone were to create a FreeCell playing program that ran in polynomial time, they could earn the prestigious Clay Mathematics Institute's Millennium Prize, worth a cool $1,000,000. Despite the vast prize money, most researchers do not believe any easy solution exists.

How To Make The Game More Challenging?

One of the main drawbacks to FreeCell is that once a player has gained enough experience, a large percentage of the deals become quite easy. Therefore, variations of the game exist: the two variants are the precursor games of Eight Off and Baker's Game. However, even the initial version coded by Alfille allowed players to adjust the number of columns they were playing, ranging from 4 to 10, with 1 to 10 free cells. However, this does make some deals impossible.

By increasing the number of columns, the number of free cells you need to win drops. However, by decreasing the number of columns, the game gets progressively harder. Other players have taken to attempting the game using fewer free cells, however, with fewer free cells, you decrease the possibility of being able to complete the game. With three free cells, the majority of games are still winnable; however, with only two free cells, the win rate is around 80 per cent.

At present, there are actually a few deals in which a player can complete the game without using a free cell. However, these are extraordinarily rare. You might even have no moves at the starting position.

In one version of FreeCell, known as Ephemeral FreeCell, players have 13-columns with a single free cell that is only used once. Hence, the name.

There is also a game called Bonus FreeCell, which is more of a version of Eight Off, but with alternate packing. You can also play variations where you deal the cards face-down. However, FreeCell enthusiasts often consider these variants of Classic Solitaire, as the hallmark of FreeCell is that the cards are all face-up. Try your hand at ForeCell, an early forerunner to FreeCell. In this version, you fill the free cells at the start of the game.

Finally, there is Seahaven Towers, which also resembles Eight Off. The difference is that in Seahaven Towers, you have ten columns of five cards. The final two remaining cards are put into two of the four available free cells.

Tips And Tricks

Now you're familiar with the exciting history of one the hardest card games around; you'll be eager to get playing free FreeCell online. However, before you do so, consider learning a few tips and tricks. FreeCell requires an incredible amount of skill, and with most of the games being solvable, all it takes is a bit of patience and smarts to complete the deals.

Therefore, we've put together six essential tips to remember when playing FreeCell online or when playing with playing cards.

1. Examine the tableau

Before bursting out the gates, moving cards around and filling up your free cells, take a moment to examine the tableau. Where are the cards you might need? Try to play several moves ahead, as playing the obvious move is not always your best option.

2. Free up your aces and twos

As soon as you can, place your aces and 2s in the home cells. The higher up they are, the more of a priority freeing them up should be.

3. Keep your free cells empty

If possible, keep your free cells empty, only using them as a last resort. Free cells will naturally limit your manoeuvrability, restricting the number of cards you can move. Therefore, before placing a card in a free cell, ensure you exhaust all other possibilities.

4. Create an empty column

Where a free cell can only store one card, you can use an empty column to store an entire sequence of cards. Therefore, by opening up an empty column, you create many possibilities.

5. Fill columns with kings

Kings are the highest card in FreeCell. Therefore, filling an empty column with a king will allow you to create long sequences that you won't need to move later.

6. Don’t automatically move cards to the home cells

It might feel like instinct to move the cards up to the home cells. That's the aim, right? However, you may need these cards later on, therefore, keep them in play for as long as you need them to move lower ranked cards.

There you have it. The extensive history of FreeCell. Tips and Tricks. The math behind the magic.

Now there’s only one thing left to do: start playing free FreeCell Solitaire!