Winning at Grandma's Game

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

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

And now for something completely different! Grandma's Game is the only solitaire we know where the essence of strategy is to predict which cards you'll need soon and which you won't, and the essence of play is to sort your tableau piles accordingly. It's a refreshing change from the usual rows-and-columns solitaires. Among its pleasant features are that a game always lasts a while (you can't get stuck right away), that even the chore of laying out the cards before you start is interesting, and that a good player can win at least one game in three.

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 Grandma's Game, see the Rules for Grandma's Game 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

When you use real cards to play Grandma's Game, creating the initial layout is an important part of the game. You don't get to make any choices during the layout, but you do get to see each card placed in the tableau. Most of these cards will be covered by others as you complete the layout and will no longer be visible when play starts, but it's okay to "peek" during the layout. This gives us:

Tip #1: Memorize during the layout

Grandma's Game uses two decks, so unless you have a mighty memory you won't remember everything you see. But as you create the layout, watch for key cards and possible problem areas, and try to remember them. (If you don't know what are key cards and possible problems in this game, read on!)

(If you normally use Solitaire Till Dawn to play Grandma's Game, then you won't be able to watch the layout happen. We decided that would be too tedious during a computer game. But as compensation, you don't have to spend any time creating the layout: Solitaire Till Dawn does it for you, so you can start playing instantly.)

Tip #2: Play Kings and Aces immediately

At the start of the sample game, we have four cards that can be played immediately to the foundations: the Ace, 2, and K of Diamonds, and the Kof Spades. There's no reason to delay, so we play them immediately. Under the K of Diamonds we find the A of Clubs, so we play that also.

After those first five moves, there's nothing else we can move because Grandma's Game doesn't allow moving cards from one tableau to another. So it's time to deal.

The deal moves pile 4 into the workspace. Among those cards we find the K of Clubs, so we play that also to the foundations.

Tip #3: Decide which cards you'll need soon

At move 7, there are no more cards that can be played to foundations. Now we get to the meat of the game: ordering the cards in the workspace. We must examine those cards and compare them to the available cards in the tableau and the cards already played to the foundations, in order to decide which of those cards we'll need soon, and which we won't need until late in the game.

In this case, we see that we are likely to want the Jof Spades soon. The Kof Spades is already on the foundation, so all we need is the Queen and then we can move the Jack. The same is true for the J of Diamonds.

On the other hand, there is a Kof Spades in the workspace. Since we have already played the other Kof Spades to the foundations, we know we won't need this King until the end of the game.

Finally, we see a 10of Hearts in the workspace. We may need one of those fairly soon; all we need is to find a K of Hearts and J of Hearts, since there's already a Queen available on pile 12. But we won't need this 10 of Hearts, because the other 10 of Hearts is already available on pile 7. The 10 of Hearts in the workspace therefore won't be needed until fairly late in the game.

Tip #4: Sort "soon" cards high, "late" cards low

Now that we know which cards we'll need soon and which we won't, it's time to sort the workspace. Move the "needed soon" cards to the top of the workspace, and the "needed late" cards to the bottom. Any in-between cards, leave in between.

By move 11, we're done. The Jacks have been moved high in the workspace, with the Jof Spades highest of all because the 10of Spades is available on pile 9: if we can play the Jack, we can play the 10 too, a sort of 2-for-1 bargain. The Kof Spades and 10 of Hearts have been moved to the bottom of the workspace. The next thing we will do is deal, and the current workspace cards will be placed back into pile 4. The Jacks on top will be easy to get to, so we can reach them soon, when we need them. The bottom cards will take a long time to reach, but that's okay because we won't need them soon. We're all set; time to deal!

The next deal is much like the last. At move 15 we note a subtlety: We have sorted the 9of Spades to the top of the workspace. You might not think we'd need that 9 very soon, because it's early in the game and 9's are kind of "middle" cards. There's a 3of Spades that we might think we want sooner. But look: the Kof Spades has already been played, and the Jack and 10 are available in the tableau. All we need is the Queen, and all those cards including the 9 can be played. We only need to find one card before we can play that 9! But to play the 3of Spades, we must first find two cards, the Ace and 2. Therefore we'll probably need the 9 sooner than the 3.

Tip #5: Move tableau cards first

At move 16 we deal again, and at 17 we play the Qof Spades from the workspace to the foundations. We could follow that by playing the Q of Clubs, also from the workspace, but we don't; not yet.

The reason is that the cards in the workspace are much easier to get to than the ones in the tableaus. Right now, the workspace cards are spread before us, and all are available. Later on, they'll be back in the tableau and mostly hidden, but by then we will have sorted them; they'll still be more accessible than cards in unsorted tableau piles. For this reason it's important to give precedence to tableau cards, and always play them before you play workspace cards.

With this in mind, here's an important point. With two decks, every card is duplicated. This creates choices: you will occasionally find that you can place one 4of Spades (for example) on the foundations, but you have two 4of Spades's available, one in the tableau and one in the workspace. Which should you move?

You should move the one in the tableau. That way you can sort the other 4of Spades low in the workspace, where it will be out of the way until it is needed, much later in the game. If instead you play the 4 from the workspace, the one in the tableau would be stuck on top of its pile, blocking all the cards beneath it until you either get a chance to play it or a chance to move that pile to the workspace and reorder it.

Tip #6: Follow correct procedure

With tip #5 in mind, here's how you should plan your moves:

  1. If you can move a tableau card to a foundation, do it.
  2. If you can't, then move a workspace card to a foundation.
  3. If you can't move any cards to foundations, then reorder the workspace.
  4. When you're done reordering the workspace, deal.

Keep those rules in mind every time you reach for a card. They'll go a long way toward improving your scores. You can see this procedure illustrated by moves 17 through 24, finishing at move 25 with a new deal.

Tip #7: Look for ways to move tableau cards first

This is a refinement of tips #5 and #6. At move 44, we have just dealt, and there are several cards in the workspace that we could move to the foundations. One of these is the 3 of Diamonds. We could play it immediately, but we don't. Playing it doesn't allow us to move any tableau cards afterwards, because there's no available 4 of Diamonds. Instead we play the K of Hearts, which can be followed by the Q of Hearts from pile 12. Next the 3 of Clubs followed by the 4; and only then the 5 of Clubs and 3 of Diamonds from the workspace, which aren't followed by anything.

It didn't work out this time, but you never know -- moving one of those tableau cards might have uncovered the other 3 of Diamonds. If it had, we could play that one from the tableau, and move the other low in the workspace, a very good outcome. So we didn't get lucky this time, but next time, next time we might! To improve your scores, you must give yourself every opportunity.

At move 51, our planning begins to pay off. The A of Hearts shows up, and we can run off the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. And under the 3 of Hearts we found the J of Hearts, so we can also run off the J, 10, 9, and 8. And there's more -- just watch the cards go flying up from this deal! We're not done until move 69, having played up 18 cards.

Tip #8: Use balanced foundations wisely

At move 67, we can play the 7 of Hearts onto either of the Hearts foundations, so we pick one and do it. And now a special rule comes into play: we can move cards back and forth between the two Hearts foundations at will. (Kind of like holding the two ends of a Slinky one in each hand, and bouncing the coils back and forth.) This means that we can play any Heart up to the foundations right now, by swapping Hearts within the foundations until one of the two foundations is ready to take the card we want to move.

We could do that right away. At move 68, there is a 10 of Hearts on top of pile 4. Usually we wouldn't delay to play a tableau card; but in this case it seems better to wait. There are several reasons for this. The 10 is the only Heart we could move right now, so we wouldn't get much of a profit from using this potentially valuable opportunity; we'd prefer to find a way to move several cards. And there's only one card beneath the 10 of Hearts, so not much is being blocked if we leave the 10 where it is. Finally it's likely that the hidden card is a "late" card, because by now pile 4 has probably been sorted. (In fact, it has; if your card memory is good you may remember that the hidden card is a Kof Spades.) Whereas if we wait, some other Hearts may later be revealed in the tableau or workspace that we can move with more profit. Also, playing the 10 leaves only the Jack, Queen, and King remaining to be played on that foundation, effectively taking that foundation out of play. It's better to keep the two Hearts foundations balanced so that we'll have more opportunities to play cards to them both.

Later on, at move 82, we find the other 8 of Hearts. Here we break our rule of always playing tableau cards first, because we play that 8 from the workspace instead of shifting the Hearts foundations and playing the 10 of Hearts from pile 4. But we think we have good reason in this case: the Hearts foundations remain balanced, and we can probably move the 10 soon, when the remaining 9 shows up. And sure enough, a few moves later at move 89, it does. By now we can run the 9, 10, and Jack, for a pretty good profit.

From this point on, we can kind of coast. The piles are nearly all well-ordered; all we have to do is keep them that way, wait for the remaining cards to show up, and play cards to the foundations whenever we can. Our win isn't yet guaranteed, but this game is looking good. As we play, our foresight continues to pay off as occasional long strings of cards are peeled off in neat order and sent to the foundations.

By move 156, our only real worries are the missing 8of Spades and 7of Spades. If either are buried in the tableau, we've lost. But if we've done our job right, they're not, because we wouldn't have sorted such "middling" cards to the bottoms of their piles. And sure enough, both turn up in the deal, and at move 170 we have our win.


We've seen eight tips for success at Grandma's Game. Here they are again:

Memorize during the layout

When playing with real cards, pay attention during the layout and try to memorize the locations of important cards.

Play Kings and Aces immediately

There's never a reason to delay.

Decide which cards you'll need soon

Early in the game you'll need high cards (Jack, Queen, King) and low cards (Ace, 2, 3) soonest. But remember that with two decks each card is duplicated. If you've already played one K of Hearts you won't need the other until late in the game. Likewise if a 4 of Clubs is already available atop a tableau pile, the one in the workspace won't be needed soon.

Sort "soon" cards high, "late" cards low

Within the workspace, move the cards you'll need soon to the top, and move the others lower down, with the "latest" ones at the bottom.

Move tableau cards first

Given a choice between moving a tableau card or a workspace card to a foundation, move the tableau card first. The tableau card is blocking other cards while the workspace card can just be sorted to a lower, later position.

Follow correct procedure

Play tableau cards first, then workspace cards, then reorder the workspace, then deal.

Look for ways to move tableau cards first

Play those cards first that enable you to play more tableau cards.

Use balanced foundations wisely

When you can move cards back and forth between two foundations, you can play any card of that suit up to either of the foundations. This is an opportunity that should be used carefully. Look for chances to move more than one card. Remember it's valuable to keep roughly the same number of cards in each foundation, so that both remain available as long as possible. Delay playing cards to balanced foundations until you think it's really worthwhile to do so.

That's it! Not too hard, really. Once you're used to these techniques, you'll find that playing a good round of Grandma's Game isn't a real brain-strainer. It's just enough mental exercise to keep you alert and fit, a nice coffee-break's worth of mindful relaxation. Enjoy!

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 1996, 1997, 2000 by Semicolon Software. All rights reserved.
Last modified March 5, 2000