Rules for Grandma's Game

Family: Grandma's Game
Categories: Popular, Thinker's, Rewarding, Two-Deck, Long, Unusual
Also Known As: Thirteen Packs

Family tradition has it that this game was invented by an ancestress, hence the name. Actually we have no idea where the game comes from. We have never seen it described in print. We have heard from a few people outside the family who know of it, but none of them had a name for it-and many of them learned it from their grandmothers! But it’s an excellent game, and has the two qualities we find most important in solitaire: you can’t lose too quickly, and you can win a good percentage of your games if you play with intelligence and care.


Shuffle two decks together. Creating the layout is an integral part of the game, so you begin with the shuffled double deck in your hand and a blank table. (Solitaire Till Dawn will create the layout for you automatically, but you should understand how it’s done so you can play with real cards when you’re away from your computer.)

There are 13 tableaus in three rows of 5, 5, and 3. The tableaus are referred to by the ranks of cards: the first tableau is the “Ace” pile, the second is the “2” pile, and so on up to the 13th which is the “King” pile. There are also eight foundation piles.

To create the layout, start dealing cards from the hand, face up and one at a time, onto the tableau piles. Deal one card onto the Ace pile, then one onto the 2 pile, and so on in order to the King pile. Then start over on the Ace pile again and continue until all cards have been dealt. The tableaus are kept squared so that you can see only the topmost card of each pile; however, if you have a good memory, you can watch the cards as they are laid out and remember where some of them are hidden.

As you deal onto the tableaus, you will occasionally also deal a card face down onto a separate pile called the stock. Do this whenever a card dealt to a tableau meets one of these three conditions: (1) the card is a King; (2) the card is dealt onto a pile at the end of a row (that is, is dealt onto the 5 pile, the 10 pile, or the King pile); (3) the card’s rank matches the pile it is dealt to, as when you deal a 4 of Spades onto the 4 pile.

Here’s an example. Suppose you start with all 104 cards in your hand, and all piles empty. Turn up the first card; it is a 3. You place it face up on the Ace pile. Turn up the second card; it is a Jack. You place it face up on the 2 pile. The next card is another 3; you place it face up on the 3 pile. Its rank matches its pile’s rank, so you deal the next card face down onto the stock. Turn up the next card (the fifth you have dealt); it is a 9 and you place it face up on the 4 pile. Turn up the next card; it is a 5. Place it face up on the 5 pile. Because it was placed on a pile at the end of a row, you deal the next card face down onto the stock. And because the 5’s rank matches its pile’s rank, you deal another card face down onto the stock. After dealing those two cards onto the stock, you turn the next card face up and place it on the 6 pile. The card is a King, so again you deal a card face down onto the stock, and so on. If you ever happen to deal a King onto the King pile, you would deal three cards face down onto the stock: one for the King, one for the end of the row, and one for the match of ranks.

When the layout is done, the stock will have some number of cards in it that is usually between the low twenties and the low thirties. The rest of the cards will be in the tableau piles, each of which will usually contain five or six cards. Now you can begin to actually play the game.


Top cards of tableaus and foundations are available for building onto the foundations. Of the eight foundations, four (one for each suit) should start with an Ace and build up in suit to the King; the other four should start with a King and build down in suit to the Ace.


When you are out of moves, deal one card from the stock face up onto the tableau pile that matches its rank. For example, if you deal a 3 you would place it on top of the 3 pile. Immediately pick up the entire pile you dealt to, and move it to a special place called the workspace. Fan the workspace cards so that you can see them all. (If you like, you can hold them in your hand as if you were playing bridge or poker.) Only one tableau’s cards can be in the workspace at a time. Before each deal, if there are any cards already in the workspace, you should first square them up and return them to the tableau pile that they came from. (Solitaire Till Dawn will do all this for you automatically when you click on the hand.)

More Play

All of the cards in the workspace are available for moving onto foundations, along with (as usual) the top cards of tableaus. You are also allowed to change the order of the cards in the workspace. This is the critical part of the game. You must try to predict which cards you will need soon and which you won’t, and move them to the top or bottom of the fan so that afterward, when they’re stacked back in their tableau pile, you can pick them off in the best order. (A variant of the game does not allow the workspace cards to be reordered. This allows less scope for thought and makes the game much harder to win, but you may wish to play this way when you don’t feel like working so hard.)

Since there are two foundation piles for each suit, one building up and one down, there comes a time when they “meet in the middle.” For example, the Hearts tableau that builds up may be showing the 7, while the one that builds down is showing the 8. When this happens, you may transfer cards back and forth between the two foundations. By moving the 8, 9, 10 from the building-down pile onto the building-up pile, you would then be able to move the Jack of Hearts from a tableau onto the building-up foundation. It’s a useful technique, and you should watch for opportunities to use it.

Because the game uses two decks, sometimes you will have a choice of cards to move to a particular foundation-for example, you may have two tableaus each showing a 10 of Diamonds that could be played onto the 9 of Diamonds on the foundation. Our family rules allow you to peek under each of the 10’s to see the card beneath, in case that will help you decide which to move.


The goal is to move all cards to the foundations.


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 King of Spades you won’t need the other until late in the game. Likewise if a 4 of Hearts is already available atop a tableau pile, the one in the workspace won’t be needed soon.

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.

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.

Following this procedure will help: After you deal and lay out the workspace, play tableau cards first, then workspace cards, then reorder the workspace, then deal again.

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