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Copyright ©2001, 2009 by Michael Keller. All
rights reserved.

This page was revised on February 3, 2009.

If you've never played FreeCell before, or have had little or no success winning games,
perhaps it would help to take you move-by-move through an entire deal. (You'll need to
follow along with deal number 5 in Microsoft FreeCell, FreeCell Pro,
or some other program which uses the same numbering system. If you are using FCPro, ignore
all references to dialog boxes, since FCPro moves sequences to empty columns whenever
possible.) Some programs, such as Pretty Good
Solitaire, use a drag-and-drop interface rather than the click-to-select system
typical in most FreeCell programs. PGS has the same numbering system as
Microsoft for the first 1,000,000 deals, so you can follow this tutorial, but it will get
tricky in spots.

The object of FreeCell is to play all 52 cards onto four piles (one pile of each suit) in
the upper right of the screen, starting with the ace of each suit, and continuing with the
two, three, etc., up to the king of each suit. Any ace which is free (not covered by
another card) can be moved to one of the** homecell **spaces at the upper
right. In fact, once you start the game by moving any card, any free aces will be moved
there automatically by the program. Once an ace is on a homecell pile, the two of the same
suit can be moved there whenever it is free, etc.

Let's start with an easy game, number 5. There are three kinds of legal moves:

(1) moving a free ace of a suit (or the next highest card when there are already cards of
that suit there) to a homecell. The ace of diamonds can be moved to any homecell by
clicking it once to select it (the card appears as a negative image), then clicking on one
of the homecells.

(2) moving any free card (an uncovered card at the bottom of any column) to a**
freecell** (one of the four spaces at the upper left) or an **empty column**.
The nine of spades, seven of clubs, or ten of spades, etc., can be moved to a freecell
(these are examples; don't make any of these moves now) by clicking it to select it, then
clicking on an empty freecell. Once on a freecell, a card is available at any time,
and can be moved to a homecell if allowed by rule (1) or onto a column if allowed by rule
(3). A card which is the only card in its column is available too, of course.

(3) moving any free card onto another free card, provided it is of the opposite color
(black suits on red, red suits on black) and one lower in rank. If you're familiar with
the ordinary kind of solitaire (also known as Klondike), this is the same kind of move
seen there. In game 5, you may begin by moving the six of hearts onto the seven of clubs.
Note that the free ace of diamonds moves automatically to a homecell when you do this.

What are you trying to do early in the game? Normally to free up aces and to start
clearing out columns, without using up too many of the freecells. You've already
moved the six of hearts onto the seven of clubs. Now try out the following moves in
game 5: the six of clubs to a freecell, the queen of diamonds onto the king of spades, the
jack of hearts onto the queen of clubs, the jack of spades onto the queen of diamonds (the
free ace of clubs moves automatically to another homecell). Now move the six of clubs from
its freecell onto the seven of diamonds, and the five of hearts onto the six of clubs. The
free two of clubs now moves automatically onto the club homecell. We're off to a good
start, with two homecell piles started, and all four of the freecells empty. Move the ten
of clubs onto the jack of hearts, and the nine of hearts onto the ten of clubs.

Now column six is empty. If you completely empty out a column, you may move any free card
there (from a freecell or the bottom of any other column). We'll come back to that in a
moment. First let's continue by working on column 1. Move the nine of spades to a freecell
(note that there is a red ten deeper in the column, and we will aim to get the nine onto
that ten), and the two of hearts to another freecell (we're going to get the ace of hearts
free, so the two will go to its homecell soon). Move the five of spades onto the six of
hearts, and the ten of diamonds (followed by the nine of spades) onto the jack of spades.
Now move the three of spades and the five of clubs each to a freecell, and the ace of
hearts and two of hearts automatically move to a new homecell.

Normally only one card at a time can be moved, but if you have several cards in sequence
(downward in alternating colors), you can move them all at once if you have enough
freecells empty (all four freecells empty means you can move five cards, three freecells
let you move four, etc.; one freecell lets you move two cards). Since you have two
freecells available, you can move three cards in sequence from the bottom of one column to
an empty column, or, provided you are continuing a legal sequence, to the bottom of
another column. This is not a special rule -- it's just a program shortcut to let you do
quickly what you could do anyway moving one card at a time.

Whenever you try to move a sequence of cards from the bottom of a column to an empty
column, the program will put up a dialogue box, asking you whether you want to move a
sequence (column) of cards or just a single card. Click on the five of hearts now to
select it, then click on the empty sixth column. When the dialogue box comes up, click on
the *Move Column* box. The three-card sequence (five of hearts, six of clubs, seven
of diamonds) will then move to the empty sixth column (if you have animation turned on, by
having the *Quick Play* box unchecked under *Game Options*, you can see the
five of hearts and the six of clubs quickly flash to the freecells, then back onto the
seven of diamonds). [**FCPro**: animation is turned on by default; this is in
the *Animation* menu under *Options*.]

Next move the eight of diamonds onto the nine of spades, and the four of spades and three
of diamonds onto the five of hearts, clearing column eight. Next move the queen of
hearts into the empty first column (no dialog box comes up since the queen is not in
sequence with any other cards). Move the seven of spades onto the eight of diamonds, the
five of diamonds to a freecell (sending the ace of spades home), and the eight of spades
onto the nine of hearts. Since we only have one freecell available, we want to move some
of the cards from the freecells back onto columns. Move the ten of spades into the empty
second column, the six of diamonds (followed by the five of clubs) onto the seven of
spades, the nine of diamonds onto the ten of spades, and the seven of hearts onto the
eight of spades.

Why doesn't the free three of hearts move automatically now to the hearts homecell?
Because the program sees the two of spades at the top of the seventh column, and thinks
you may want to move it onto the red three later. Although this is a sound rule generally,
it is overcautious in this case, since the two of spades can be moved onto the ace of
spades as soon as it is free. So it is perfectly safe to move the three of hearts to its
homecell, and you can do so yourself by selecting it, then clicking on the two of hearts.
Now reverse the backwards sequence in the fourth column by moving the king of hearts,
followed by the queen of spades, to the empty eighth column. If we didn't have an empty
column available, it would still have been possible to reverse the king-queen sequence by
moving both cards to freecells, then back into the fourth column in proper order (king
first). It is usually sound strategy to reverse sequences in this way (we did so a little
earlier with the four of spades and three of diamonds), and also to build sequences
starting with the king into empty columns. But aren't we building up rather long sequences
in columns five and seven, with lots of cards trapped underneath?

Yes, but you shouldn't be afraid to do that. When you have both empty columns and
freecells available, it is possible to move longer sequences. For example, two freecells
and an empty column allow you to move up to **six** cards in sequence: three
of them will temporarily go to the empty column, using the two freecells, the other three
will go to the destination column (using the two freecells again), then the first three
will go to the destination (using the two freecells a third time). In this case, we want
to move five cards (up to the jack of hearts) from column seven onto the queen of spades
in column eight. Select the seven of hearts, and then move the five card sequence onto the
eighth column by clicking on the queen. (If you really want to see how this works card by
card, you can move the seven and eight to freecells, the nine to column four, the eight
and seven onto the nine, the ten to a freecell, the jack and then the ten onto the queen,
the seven and eight back to freecells, and the nine, eight, and seven onto the ten).

Now we can get to the lower-ranking cards in the seventh column: move the queen of clubs
to a freecell, the four of hearts to its homecell (a somewhat safer move would be to move
the four onto the five of spades, followed by the three of spades from its freecell -- but
those cards are going to their homecells in a moment anyway.) Now move the jack of clubs
onto the queen of hearts, and the six of spades onto the seven of hearts. Move the three
of clubs to its homecell, a perfectly safe move since the two of diamonds can go to its
homecell when it is free. The two of spades goes automatically, since both red
aces are already home. Move the three of spades home (also safe) and the five of diamonds
onto the six of spades. Although only eleven cards are home, we're almost finished.

Move the five of spades through seven of clubs from column three to column four, the ten
of hearts onto the jack of clubs, the eight of clubs onto the nine of diamonds, the queen
of clubs from its freecell to the empty seventh column, and the jack of diamonds onto it.
Move the king of clubs to a freecell, and the nine of clubs onto the ten of hearts
(sending the two and three of diamonds and the four of spades home). Move the king of
clubs back into the empty third column, and the entire first column onto it. Move the
entire second column onto the seventh column, then the sixth column onto the seventh
column. These consolidation moves are not necessary in this position, since we have plenty
of empty spaces, but it's generally good technique to create as much space as possible,
and there are times when moves like that are very valuable. The long nine-card
sequence at the bottom of the fifth column can be moved in two pieces: first select the
five of clubs, then any empty column. Clicking the *Move Column* button in the
dialogue box will move five cards to the empty column you selected. Now select the ten of
diamonds, and another empty column, to move the other four cards of the sequence. (In this
position, you also could have moved four cards onto the nine of clubs and the other five
into an empty column. But sometimes you will need to move a long sequence directly
into an empty column.) To finish the game, move the eight of hearts onto the nine of
clubs, and the king of diamonds into an empty column. The 38 cards remaining are now in
sequence, and will all go automatically to the homecells, winning the game.

You'll get better with practice at seeing what moves work well. Try some more of the
easier lower-numbered games: 7, 8, 11, 26, 30, and 33. If this tutorial was helpful and
you are able to win some of the easier games, I'd be
happy to hear from you. If anything is unclear, please let me know and I'll try to help
you.

Michael Keller

FreeCell information site maintainer