Rules for Forty Thieves

Family: Forty Thieves
Categories: Challenging, Two-Deck, Large, Long
Variants: Indian,Thirty Thieves
Also Known As: Big Forty, Napoleon at St. Helena, Roosevelt at San Juan

This is a two-deck game, and perhaps the best known of them. Forty Thieves is interesting in the way the discard pile first grows, then (in a successful game, at least) shrinks again. The two keys to success are knowing how to transfer builds by clever use of empty tableaus, and knowing when not to make an obvious play because it might block a more important play later.

(A personal note: Forty Thieves is one of my all-time favorite solitaires. It takes a while to finish a game, and it takes some room to lay it out; but I strongly recommend it to anyone who has the time and space to devote to it.)


Shuffle two decks and lay out forty cards in ten tableau piles, four cards to each pile, face up and fanned down. Keep the remaining cards in your hand. There are also eight foundation piles and a discard pile, which start out empty.


Top cards of tableaus and the discard pile are available. The tableaus build down in suit. Any available card may be played to an empty tableau. The foundations build up in suit from the Ace to the King. Whenever you wish, deal a new card from the hand onto the discard pile.


The goal is to move all the cards onto the foundations.


As in all games of this type, empty piles are of great importance. Use them to move builds or partial builds from one tableau to another. The more empty piles you have, the longer are the builds you can move.

In general, try to play low-ranked cards at first, and let higher cards sit in the discard pile.

Remember that in a two-deck game, every card is doubled. Don’t play a card from the discard pile if you can play its twin from the tableau, because it’s important to create as many empty tableau piles as possible.

Late in the game, use empty piles to reduce the size of the discard pile.

As a shortcut Solitaire Till Dawn will let you move full or partial builds provided you have enough empty piles available to have accomplished the same move one card at a time.

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