Winning at Pyramid

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

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

Pyramid is genuinely different from other solitaires, a distinct change from the usual stacks and fans of cards. It is a game with its own unique challenges, and a scoring system designed to reward good play.

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 Pyramid, see the Rules for Pyramid 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

Let's get a little terminology straight before we get going. There are three piles of cards in Golf, as well as the pyramid-shaped tableau. The piles are the stock, which starts out filled with all cards not in the tableau; the wastepile, where cards from the stock are dealt; and the discard pile, where matched pairs of cards are removed from play. (When playing with real cards, the discard wouldn't be a "pile"; you'd just toss the matched pairs aside, out of play.)

Because the rules allow cards to move from the stock to the wastepile and back a couple of times during the game, these two piles can sometimes be thought of as a single source of cards. We will occasionally say "stock" for brevity when we really mean "stock and/or wastepile."

Tip #1: Turn off Auto-match

Here's a good tip before we even play a single card. In Solitaire Till Dawn, there's a checkbox under the stock and wastepile that controls whether the program will automatically discard matched pairs from the wastepile. By default, it's checked, so that matched pairs are automatically discarded. Turn it off! Even if you're not using Solitaire Till Dawn, you should control your urge to discard each pair the moment you see it. In a little while we'll see why.

(By the way, the setting of the Auto-match checkbox doesn't matter when you're replaying a saved game. But it does matter when you're playing your own games!)

Tip #2: Play from the wastepile, not the stock

Your first move (after turning off the checkbox) should be to play a card from the stock onto the wastepile. You can pick cards up from both the stock and the wastepile, so this move makes more cards available to you, and increases your choices and chances.

In fact, make a habit of moving the stock card to the wastepile before playing it. It can't hurt to see the next card under it before making your final decision about how to play it. You'll see us follow this habit throughout most of this game.

After dealing the first card (we're at move 1), it's time to look over the tableau. The card we dealt was the 2 of Diamonds, and it could match the J of Diamonds. Should we make the match? Pressing the 'j' key shows us that there are two Jacks and two 2's in the tableau, and neither of the tableau 2's is available to match the J of Diamonds. Furthermore, the J of Diamonds is covering another Jack and a matching 2, and it would be good to free those up; so let's go ahead and make the match.

The wastepile is empty now, so let's play another stock card and then examine the tableau again. We now have the 10 of Spades on the stock, and a couple of available 3's in the tableau. The 3 of Spades covers another 10, so that would be a good one to get rid of; at move 3 we do so. That move reveals a King on the stock which can be discarded immediately.

Tip #3: Match pyramid cards with stock or wastepile cards

At move 5, our only option (other than dealing) is to match the 9 and 4 at the base of the pyramid. Should we do it? There are arguments for and against. In favor, we can see that discarding the 9 reveals the 10 of Clubs and the J of Spades, which could in turn be immediately matched with an available 3 and 2. Against, we have this valuable principle to consider: It's hard to discard from the stock.

Occasionally, you'll get lucky and find a matched pair next to each other in the stock. But most of the cards in the stock can't be matched with other cards in the stock; they have to be matched with cards in the pyramid. This means you should not be too eager to match pairs of cards from the pyramid, because you might need one or both of them to match cards in the stock. Here at move 5 we must balance the obvious benefits of immediately discarding the 4 and 9 against the possibility that we may need to save them for stock cards.

How can we decide? Looking for other 4's and 9's gives a clue. There are three 4's in the pyramid, therefore only one in the stock; there are two 9's in the pyramid, therefore two in the stock. That in turn means that we need make only one 4-9 pair by taking a 4 from the stock and a 9 from the pyramid. Of the other three 4-9 pairs, two can be made entirely within the pyramid, and one must be made with a 9 from the pyramid and a 4 from the stock. Furthermore, we see that the available 4 of Clubs must be discarded before we can reach either of the other two 4's in the pyramid, and before we can reach the 9 of Clubs. It looks like it's safe and even advisable to match and discard the 4 and 9 that are currently available, and so we do it.

We're at move 6 now, and we have an opportunity to match the 10 and 3 from the pyramid. Should we do it? We've learned that it's often better to avoid matching two pyramid cards, so maybe we shouldn't -- but let's count cards again before we decide.

Tip #4: Remember what you've played

We've already discarded one 10-3 pair. (Do you remember doing that, just a couple of moves ago? It's important to be able to remember what you've played. We realize that few people have a perfect memory for this sort of thing. Just do the best you can!) There are three 10's and three 3's left to play. Two of each are in the pyramid, and one of each is in the stock or wastepile.

Tip #5: Don't trap half a pair under the other half

Suppose we don't match and discard the available 10 and 3; suppose instead we save them, and later match each with the remaining 10 and 3 in the stock. That would be following Tip #3. But in this case we'd better not! If we do that, then the only remaining 10 and 3 are the ones now buried in the pyramid, and they'll have to be matched to each other. But they can't be matched to each other, because the 3 is trapped under the 10! Check it out: you can't reach the 3 of Diamonds until some time after you've discarded the 10 of Diamonds. So we have to decline Tip #3 this time, and go ahead and match the available 10 and 3 from the base of the pyramid. Then later, we can hope to match the remaining stock 10 with the remaining pyramid 3, and vice-versa.

Okay, we've made the match and now we're at move 7. There's an available Jack and 2 side by side, practically begging to be matched and discarded. Should we do it? The Jack is the only one in the pyramid; the remaining two Jacks must be in the stock. (We remember that we have already discarded one Jack-2 pair.) There are also three 2's left; two are in the pyramid and one in the stock -- and the one in the stock is also available. In this case, we should heed Tip #3, and not make the match from two cards in the pyramid. We should instead immediately match the 2 in the stock with the Jack in the pyramid. (What we actually did was to play the 2 onto the wastepile first, in accordance with Tip #2. This revealed the A of Spades and gave us no reason to change our minds, so we went ahead with the match.)

Now (move 9) we have the 5 of Spades available, and again we could match it with either a card from the pyramid or one from the wastepile. But that 5 is the only one in the pyramid, so there's no profit in matching it with an 8 from the pyramid if we have an alternative, so we choose to match it with the 8 from the wastepile instead.

Tip #6: Be patient about matches in the stock

After that, we're going to deal a couple of times, then at move 11 we find a Queen in the stock and a matching Ace in the wastepile. In Tip #3 we claimed that it's hard to match stock cards with other stock cards. Here's a lucky opportunity to do it.

But don't do it! At least, not yet. Remember that there are times when you must match stock cards with pyramid cards, to avoid burying half a match under the other half. If we make this stock-wastepile match now, we may regret it later. Of course, we may not have any reason to avoid this match, but that's okay -- those cards will not move away from each other. We can easily make this match again later on, during the second or third pass through the stock. (It's true that we'll get a scoring bonus if we can win before the final redeal, and we should keep that in mind. But we are unlikely to be so lucky as to win during this first pass through the stock. On the whole you'll get better scores by playing the odds, and letting matches like this one wait.)

At move 19, there's an exercise for the reader. We could match the 7 of Clubs with either a 6 from the wastepile, or one from the pyramid. We chose the pyramid; choosing the wastepile instead would have made it much more difficult (though not impossible) to win. Why?

Tip #7: Match cards from the middle, not the edge of the pyramid

At move 20, we can match the Jack from the stock with either available 2 from the pyramid. We choose the 2 of Hearts because it covers two other cards; getting rid of it therefore benefits us more than getting rid of the 2 of Spades. The 2 of Spades is at the edge of the pyramid, and covers only one other card.

Sometimes the card at the edge is one you really need or want to move. But if you have no pressing reason not to, you should favor discarding from the middle of the pyramid.

At move 28, we have an 8-5 match in the stock and wastepile. We discard it almost immediately. This seems to violate Tip #6 ("Be patient about matches in the stock") but in this case it's okay. We only delay such matches in case we may need the cards to make matches in the pyramid instead. In this case, there are no 8's or 5's in the pyramid, so there's no need to delay.

At move 36, we've emptied the stock, and it's time for our first redeal. We've done well; the pyramid is already mostly empty.

At move 38, we reap the benefit of being patient about matches in the stock. We have such a match in the Queen-Ace, but it's now clear that we need to use those cards to match the remaining Queen and Ace in the pyramid. If we matched the Queen-Ace in the stock and wastepile, we'd be stuck.

The rest is easy. A few more matches, and we've won! Because we cleared the pyramid during the first redeal, we made 35 points, a very good score.


We've seen seven tips for success at Pyramid. Here they are again:

Tip #1: Turn off Auto-match

It's usually unwise to automatically play up matches from the stock/wastepile. You might need to use the cards separately, and if not the matched pair will be easy to get rid of later.

Tip #2: Play from the wastepile, not the stock

On your first move, play a stock card onto the wastepile. It gives you one more card to look at, and therefore gives you more information and more choices. In fact, you should usually not play a card from the stock until you've first moved it to the wastepile to see what's under it.

Tip #3: Match pyramid cards with stock or wastepile cards

Sometimes matching two pyramid cards is okay, even necessary. But in general, you should prefer to match a pyramid card with a card from the stock or wastepile. You can have at most two cards available in the stock and wastepile, while you can have up to seven available in the pyramid. This means it's harder to get rid of stock cards, so you shouldn't miss any opportunities to do so.

Tip #4: Remember what you've played

Counting cards is important for deciding whether making a match is necessary, or acceptable, or foolish. But you can't count cards unless you can remember what you've discarded.

Tip #5: Don't trap half a pair under the other half

You can't match a 4 in the pyramid with a 9 that's underneath it. Cards at the base of the pyramid can be blocking most of the cards nearer the tip, and can't be matched with any of those cards. Make sure that such "blockers" can be matched with cards from the stock or from elsewhere in the pyramid.

Tip #6: Be patient about matches in the stock

You can sometimes match a pair of cards that are both from the stock or wastepile. But don't be in a hurry to do so. If they're next to each other now, they'll be next to each other later, so you'll have another chance to discard them. Put such matches off until late in the game, when you're sure you won't need to use the cards in some other fashion.

Tip #7: Match cards from the middle, not the edge of the pyramid

Cards at the two edges of the pyramid directly overlap only one other card. Cards from the middle overlap two other cards. You should usually discard those middle cards first, making more new cards available than if you discarded from an edge.

That's it! We've never found a kind of solitaire that can always be won, so you can expect to lose at Pyramid too. Be patient, practice these tips, and don't get discouraged by your losses. You'll see your average coming up, and you'll get plenty of pleasure from your 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 1995-2000 by Semicolon Software. All rights reserved.
Last modified March 5, 2000