Forty Thieves Solitaire – How to play & Win

Forty Thieves solitaire is a more skillful and challenging variant of classic solitaire that uses two decks together. The game starts with 40 cards in the layout and the rest in the deck, hence the name.

What Is Forty Thieves Solitaire?

Forty Thieves, also called just Forty, and in other parts of the world, Napoleon at St. Helena, is among the most popular extra variants of solitaire requiring not only some luck and skill but extra patience. It’s twice the size of regular solitaire, so it can factor in about twice the length of standard gametime as well. It’s estimated that only 5% to 10% of games are winnable, and knowing what those games look like and how to get them is key to success.

Interesting Facts about Forty Thieves Solitaire

It’s called Forty Thieves because the starting tableau has 40 cards. The name Napoleon at St. Helena refers to the French Emperor’s final place of exile. Being that he had nothing but time, he was known to play this variant of the game quite frequently, being a man of strategy and problem solving. It is also cataloged as early as 1874 as Le Cadran from France. 

The Basics of Forty Thieves Solitaire

Whether you’re a professional solitaire master or you just came from the games tab of your computer and don’t quite know how to get the cards to fall down the screen, Forty Thieves is easy to pick up and rewarding to master. Once you learn how to start and play you will find yourself flipping and cutting two decks together for hours at a time.

The Goal

The objective is to move all of the cards to the foundations and form families from ace to king. This resembles Klondike solitaire, but you’re doing it with twice as many cards. That’s two sets of spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts from ace to king. Plus, all the cards on the tableau are face up from the start.

The Pack

Two packs of 52 standard playing cards are used. They should be identical packs as well, not two packs with different designs. Single-pack variants exist which only call for one set of cards and make use of some of the same rules as Forty Thieves. Some even call for three packs of cards – the notorious Sixty Thieves and other more challenging variations.

The Deal

The game starts with the packs fully shuffled into a stockpile. From there, deal ten tableau piles – or columns – of four cards each, all cards face up and slightly overlapping. 

How to Play Forty Thieves Solitaire

Once you’ve prepared the layout of the game, it’s time to start the game. 

  • You can see every card in each tableau, but you can only move the ones on top of each pile. These are usually spread vertically, so the top card will be at the bottom of the tableau, overlapping all the others.
  • Each Foundation must start with an ace and builds up by suit to the king.
  • The cards in the tableau can only be built down and by matching suit. That means if the top card of a tableau is a six of clubs, only a five of clubs can be placed on it.
  • The cards in the stock pile are placed face down and drawn from into the wastepile. Players may use the topmost card of the wastepile and move it onto an available space on the tableau or directly into the foundation.
  • Once a card is drawn from the stock, it cannot be put back. When the stock is depleted it cannot be reshuffled.
  • You can choose to play it hardmode and use the stock only once or go for an easier version of the game and flip the stock back over as many times as you need.
  • Cards can also be taken from the foundation top first back into the tableau as necessary.
  • If a tableau is emptied out, it can be filled in by any available top card to start a new tableau. The number of tableaus on the board remains ten at all times until the game is complete.

The game progresses much like classic solitaire but without anything hidden. Standard play requires good judgment of the board, correct placement of the cards and timely use of the stock and waste so as not to get stuck.

Having two packs also means there can be two available positions. Two sevens of spades for you to put a matching six on at the same time. Which tableau is the right choice? When should you move it? This is part of the skill involved. Doubling the number of cards doubles the number of ways to win, and the number of ways to get stuck. 

How to Win Forty Thieves Solitaire

You win Forty Thieves once you have eight full sequences of cards above the tableau, leaving nothing in the stock, the waste or the tableau itself. Every card is set into its proper place in the right order.

There is an element of luck of the draw to the game, as with any card game, but it’s also a matter of focus, attention and patience. Knowing what move is the right move to make is key to not getting stuck and starting over. When you start learning, you will start over, clean the whole board and try from the top after what feels like a long time. When you do, you’ll be one step closer to a finished board and a won game.