Winning at Golf

Brought to you by Semicolon Software, makers of Solitaire Till Dawn.

[Before you start] [The Strategy] [Summary]

Complete wins at Golf, when you have discarded all the cards and have none left, are tremendously rare. That's why the game is called "Golf" -- you can expect to leave a few undiscarded cards in nearly every game. It's just like real golf, where holes-in-one are rare and you can expect to take more than one shot at nearly every hole. So you play for "par" by playing a series of games and trying to keep a low average number of left-over cards.

Our sample game is actually a complete win, just to prove to you that it's possible. But even with our tips, don't expect such perfect games to happen often. We can't win more than about one percent of our games, and even making par 4 is difficult. But if you study this article, you should be able to improve your average.

Before you start

You'll need a copy of the sample game; click here to download it. You'll also need Solitaire Till Dawn to play the sample game; click here to download it. Make sure you have version 2.1 or later because earlier versions don't have a move counter. The latest release is version 3.0. The upgrade is free to registered owners of any earlier version.

If you don't know how to play Golf, see the Rules for Golf before going any further. If you don't know how to use the Undo and Redo commands to watch a sample game being played, see Using the Sample Games. If you see a word that's unfamiliar to you, you can probably click it to see its definition. Now you're ready to start!

The Strategy

We begin at the very start of the sample game, with the initial layout complete and no cards moved yet. The first card in the discard pile is the 3 of Diamonds, so we'll be working in the low-ranked cards.

Tip #1: Count Aces and 2's

That 3 of Diamonds places us near a hazard. (This is Golf, right? So you've gotta watch out for the hazards!) The hazard is the set of four Aces, which are harder to discard than most other cards. Consider: if you want to discard an 8 (for example), then you need either a 7 or a 9 on top of the discard pile, to put the 8 on. That means there are eight cards in the deck -- four 7's and four 9's -- that can help you discard that 8. But you can only discard an Ace onto a 2, and there are only four 2's in the deck. If you waste too many 2's by playing 3's onto them, you'll run out of 2's and never get rid of all of your Aces. 2's are therefore precious and must be handled carefully.

So before we make any moves at all, let's count Aces and 2's. Press the 'a' key on your keyboard to highlight all the visible Aces, and you'll see that there are three of them: the Aces of Hearts, Spades, and Clubs. Press the '2' key and you'll see three 2's in the layout: the 2's of Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades. The other Ace and 2 are therefore in the hand.

What does this mean? It means that we can afford to play something other than an Ace on one 2, but only on one 2. We'll need the other three 2's to each take one of the three tableau Aces. With that in mind, let's play our first few cards: discard the 4 of Diamonds, the 3 of Hearts, the 2 of Spades, and the A of Spades. That gets rid of one of the troublesome Aces. It also ends this sequence of discards, for we could only play another 2 onto the Ace, and none are available.

So at move 4 we must deal a new card from the hand onto the discard pile. It's the 5 of Spades, and lets us get rid of a couple of 6's and 7's in a straightforward fashion.

Tip #2: Count Jacks, Queens and Kings

At move 9, we deal again, this time getting the 9 of Hearts. We play the 10 of Clubs onto it, and then we have a choice to make. We could next play the 9 of Clubs and another 10, and get rid of two more cards; but we didn't do that. Instead, we went straight on to the J of Clubs. Why? Because we are near another (and worse) hazard, the Kings.

Like Aces, Kings are difficult to move because they can only go on Queens. This in turn makes Queens precious, just as 2's are: they mustn't be wasted for fear of stranding some Kings. And there's a special twist in the rules: you can't play anything onto a King, not even a Queen. So Queens are also difficult to get rid of, because they can only be played on Jacks. This means we must be careful not to squander Jacks.

This kind of care sort of ripples down into the middle ranks. It seems that if we have to be careful of Jacks, then we have to be careful of 10's and 9's too. And that's true, but at this point we stop worrying about it so much. There are more options for moving 10's and 9's; they're less precious. But here at move 11, we are going to be cautious. Instead of trying to get rid of the extra 10's and 9's right away, we are going to save them for later. We'll go straight to the Jack, Queen and King.

Tip #3: Count all cards

Here's another useful tip -- but unfortunately, the sample game doesn't illustrate this point well. So we're just going to pause here to discuss a principle similar to Tips #1 and #2. The point is that any rank will eventually become rare. If your last 7 is on top of the discard pile, and you are trying to choose between discarding a 6 or an 8 onto it, start counting cards. If you find that all the 9's have been played already, then you'd better discard the 8; it's your last chance to do so. With no more 7's or 9's left, playing the 6 would leave the 8 stranded.

Tip #4: Uncover Precious Cards

At move 13, we're ready to discard our first King. Which one should we choose? There are three available. The way to decide is to look for "precious" cards beneath them that we want to reveal. The K of Diamonds has an Ace under it; that would be good to expose, so that we're ready in case we deal a 2 onto the discard pile. Beware of lost opportunities -- nothing hurts more than discarding the last 2 when the last Ace isn't available yet. But in this case, we decided that the K of Clubs is a better bet. It's covering a Queen, which hints that we'll have trouble getting rid of many more Kings until we get rid of this one. And farther under is the J of Diamonds, so you can see that we want to clear this pile as early as we can.

At move 14, after discarding the King, we must deal again. (Because nothing can be played onto a King, we must always deal after discarding one.) The new card is the 3 of Clubs, a disappointment since we have no available 2's or 4's; so we deal again.

Now we get the 8 of Hearts, a piece of luck. Onto it we can discard a sequence straight up to the King. Note that at move 17, after playing the 9 of Clubs, we could have reversed direction and played the 8 of Spades and 7 of Clubs. But going up to the King discards more cards, and more importantly clears the Q of Hearts from its troublesome pile. Now (move 20) that pile is nicely unblocked, and with luck we'll soon have the J of Diamonds available.

Notice that this time (move 20) we decide to discard the K of Diamonds, again passing over the K of Hearts. It's true that there's a 2 under the K of Hearts, and we may need it to get rid of the last of our Aces. But we remember that there's still one 2 in the hand, and we really don't want to waste that. Best to keep an Ace available, in case that 2 turns up.

Deal again; it's the fourth King, the K of Spades. Since we can't discard onto a King, we deal again immediately. This time we get a Queen, so (at move 23) we can finally discard the K of Hearts.

Time to take stock. We see that we've discarded all four Kings; good, that's one set of hazards successfully avoided! There's a Queen left, but it's no problem because it's in the hand and will be discarded automatically when its turn comes.

Counting Aces and 2's, we see that we've discarded one of each; one of each remains in the hand; and the remaining two of each are still in the layout. We'll have to pay close attention to the ones in pile 7 on the far right; the A of Clubs is covering the 2 of Diamonds. That could be good news or bad news. If they wind up being the last Ace and 2 left, we'll be stuck. But if we still have both the Aces of Clubs and Hearts available when some other 2 is discarded, we'll be able to discard Ace - 2 - Ace very happily.

Now we must deal a few more times. At move 27 we have dealt a 6 of Hearts. This is another stroke of luck, for now we can discard 7's and 8's to expose our remaining Aces and 2's.

Tip #5: Empty piles are useless

Note that we did not discard the 8 of Clubs during this sequence. We had plenty of reason not to, because we needed to expose the Aces and 2's. But there is another reason: discarding the 8 of Clubs would have left its pile empty. Far better to move a different 8 that will expose something else beneath it -- exposing anything at all is better than nothing. Don't empty a pile unless you have no other choice.

Next (move 31) we deal a Jack, and now we can clear out all those Jacks and 10's (and 9 and 8) without fear, because the Queens and Kings are already gone.

Tip #6: Luck never hurts

Okay, so that's not much of a tip! But it's true, anyway: at move 37 we finally deal the 2 that we knew was in the hand somewhere, and by great fortune we are able to clear the rest of the layout! The value of having exposed the remaining 2's and Aces is now clearly seen, for we start by peeling them off and then moving on to the 3 through 6. Not only have we cleared the layout, but we did it with five cards remaining in the hand! (Nope, you don't get extra points for that, but it sure feels nice, doesn't it?)


We've seen six tips for success at Golf. Here they are again:

Count Aces and 2's

Aces can only be discarded onto 2's. Before you start the game, find out how many Aces and how many 2's are in the layout, and plan ahead. You want to have the Aces available when the 2's are, and you want to have enough 2's for all your Aces -- don't waste them by discarding too many 3's onto them.

Count Jacks, Queens and Kings

Same as with Aces and 2's, only worse because you can't discard anything onto a King. So Kings can only be discarded onto Queens, and Queens can only be discarded onto Jacks. You must manage these cards carefully.

Count all cards

Before you discard your last 6, see how many 7's and 8's you have. If there are 7's but no 8's, you risk stranding the 7's. Same thing the other way, with 4's and 5's!

Uncover Precious Cards

In all solitaires, it is important to expose new cards. In Golf, concentrate especially on uncovering Aces and 2's, and Jacks, Queens, and Kings. It's harder to move these cards, so make sure they're ready to move when opportunity knocks.

Empty piles are useless

Discard from longer piles first, if you have no strong reason to do otherwise. An empty pile is useless, so don't discard the last card from a pile until you have to.

Luck never hurts

This isn't a tip, it's just a reminder that Golf takes lots of luck as well as skill to win. Don't get frustrated. Watch your par and your average more than your win/loss record; as your skills improve, your average will decrease!

That's it! Remember that you're playing for par, and don't get too frustrated at the extremely low number of perfect games.

If you have any new tips for our collection, please write to us! We'll add your tips to this page and sign your name to them.

Copyright 1995-1997, 2000 by Semicolon Software. All rights reserved.
Last modified March 5, 2000