Lessons Learned from Solitaire

It’s the middle of the night. I’m tending to a sick child. Cait’s sleeping peacefully at the moment. I know that won’t be the case for long. So I do what I always do when it’s the wee hours and I know I won’t be getting much sleep. I play solitaire.

It’s a game that suits me on so many levels.

My dad taught me how to play long before there were such things as home computers, never mind computer solitaire games — back when we actually played with real cards. He also managed to pass along a few life lessons under the guise of having fun playing cards.

I think about my dad a lot still. I especially miss him in this deep silence of the night. So to comfort myself on the long vigil ahead, I conjure his voice as I start a game.

“So, Dad, do you want to pull up a seat and play?”

“My pleasure, sweetie. That red eight can go on the black nine.”

“Dad, I’ve just set up the cards. Let me at least take a look before you tell me the moves!”

“Just trying to be helpful.”

I imagine I can see the twinkle in his eye as I hear the chuckle in his voice…

While my dad and I finish up our game, why don’t you have a look at some of the lessons my dad has shared with me:

  • To learn how to play, it helps to have somebody you respect show you the ropes. Or you can read a book by an expert. The best players do both.
  • There are those that are convinced playing with a strategy will get you more points. There are those who believe just winging it, going with your feelings, intuiting it will get you more points. The truth is, the deck’s stacked against you no matter how you choose to play. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. So instead of worrying about “points” just enjoy playing the game.
  • If you’re not paying attention, opportunity can languish right before your eyes. (A common miss players make is to forget to check the tops of the card pile and not just the bottoms to see if a stack can be moved to another column.)
  • It helps to identify where your starting line is. It’s usually worth it to do whatever you have to to get the Aces out of the turn-over pile. Those are your starting lines. Can’t get very far without toeing up to the starting line. No matter how many cards you have going down the piles.
  • Sometimes you’re rewarded for taking chances; sometimes you’re not. Taking an educated chance has the best likelihood of better results.
  • Sometimes you can make a totally stupid move and have it work out all right. But eventually, this way of playing will catch up with you.
  • It usually doesn’t pay to undo things that are already done. Better to just move on. For instance, it rarely pays to move cards back off of the ace pile to try to catch extra cards late in the game. You usually just wind up losing those cards and the game.
  • You can usually tell at the first layout of cards whether you stand a chance of winning that hand. Sometimes you’ll be wrong, but more often you’ll be right.
  • There are certain rules that, if followed, will increase but not guarantee that you’ll play a better game.
  • There’s no rule that says you have to keep playing the hand dealt you. You can always just fold the hand and start fresh.
  • Practice makes perfect is a lie. No matter how much you practice, you will never be “perfect,” there is no such thing. There are always mitigating factors. Just strive to do the best you can do, and let that be good enough, and then forget about it.
  • It’s a good idea to work at reducing the big piles before you worry about uncovering the little piles.
  • If you play long enough, solitaire becomes a meditation. It’s hard to hold thoughts when you’re staring at numbers and patterns. Card turned up, card turned down, card turned up, card turned down.”
  • When you stop having fun, it’s time to stop and go do something else.

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from Solitaire”

  1. I taught my boys to play double solitaire and every time I hear the name I think how it’s an oxymoron. But they love it.

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