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A Spin on Solitaire- The Canfield Card Game

There are hundreds of different versions of Solitaire, and the most popular one is called Klondike.  The Canfield card game is sometimes confused with this favorite pastime, but it has a few key differences that make it a far more challenging version than the original.

Here, we’ll discuss its somewhat sordid history and how it came to popularity in the late 1800’s.  You’ll see that it’s nearly impossible to beat, but we’ll give you a breakdown of your odds based on statistics.  Then, we’ll give you all the information you need to deal and play the game yourself, as well as a few tips on how to craft a winning strategy.

Canfield Card Game Story

Solitaire has been around for several centuries, and the game has many stories that help identify why it’s so popular.  Some historians believe that Napoleon played it when he was in exile, and the rise of the computer means it’s installed in millions of homes across the world.

Canfield Solitaire has its own unique story about how it came to be famous.  In the 1890’s, Richard A. Canfield was the proprietor of the Canfield Casino in Saratoga Springs, New York.  One of the popular games he used to draw gamblers was his version of Solitaire.

To play, you would “buy” a deck of cards for $50, which is over $1,270 in today’s market.  Then, the gambler would play the game and earn back $5 for every card he was able to place into the foundations.  

People loved it because there was an opportunity to win big.  If you were able to place all 52 cards into the foundations, the jackpot was $500.  The catch was, it was nearly impossible to win.  Most players made a loss, placing an average of five or six cards before there were no options left in the tableau.  This made Canfield rich over time, despite the one disadvantage of needing a croupier for every gambler playing the game.

Although Canfield himself always referred to the game as Klondike, today his version carries his namesake.

How Hard is it to Win Playing Canfield?

While it’s not a tough game to play, the Canfield card game difficulty lies in the fact that, statistically, it’s nearly impossible to beat.

When researchers ran a computer program designed to solve problems on over 50,000 different randomized Canfield deals, they found that between 71% and 72% of all games are possible to win.  On average, 40 cards were moved to the foundation.

However, there were many variables in the analysis that were impossible to predict.  In Canfield, reserve cards are hidden, stock cards are dealt three at a time, and those two factors make it a difficult game to play.  It’s thought that expert-level players would win an average of about 35% of the time in real-life situations.

One variant of Canfield that we will discuss further below is Storehouse, and this option has a higher rate of success.  Expect to win about 44% of the Storehouse games you play; a significantly higher amount than with traditional Canfield.

How to Play Canfield Card Game

If you want to try your luck and use your problem-solving skills, here’s what you’ll need to know to play Canfield.


You’ll need one standard 52-card pack.  Jokers aren’t used when you play this version.


Move all of the cards into one of the four suited foundations in numerical order.

How to Set Up the Game

  1. Shuffle the deck.
  2. Deal 13 cards from the top of the deck and set them to your left in a pile face up.  Only the top card should be showing, and the remaining 12 cards are unknown.  This stack is referred to as the reserve, and you’ll use it at various times during gameplay.
  3. Take the next card in the deck and deal it to the table face-up.  This newly revealed card is your first foundation card, and by the old gambling, rules get you $5 back from Mr. Canfield.  The other three cards of different suits and the same rank will be your other three foundation cards.  If and when they become available, you can move them into the foundation row you’ve just created.
  4. Deal the next four cards in your deck and set them in a row, face-up below your first foundation card.  This is the base of your tableau.
  5. Finally, place all of the remaining cards on the table in a pile face-down.  This is your draw pile.

How to Build Your Foundations

Building the foundations is how you win the game, and also how you earned your money back in the 1800’s.  To do this, you add cards that you uncover to the foundations in ascending order.

Unlike in traditional Solitaire where your foundation is always an Ace, in Canfield, you could have any card as a foundation.  If, for example, a Jack is your foundation card you would build your stack as J, Q, K, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 10 to win.

How to Build Your Tableau

To uncover as many cards as possible and build your foundations, you’ll use your tableau.

You can add cards to your spread in descending order and by alternating colors.  For example, if the card showing face-up in your tableau is the 8 of clubs, you could place the 7 of hearts or 7 of diamonds on top of it.

Gameplay Rules

  1. The top card from the reserve pile is available to play on both the foundation or a pile in the tableau if there’s a place to use it.
  2. The top card of every tableau stack is eligible to be placed on the foundation if it follows sequence and suit.
  3. You can take cards from the draw pile three at a time, and those that are not used go in a discard pile.  You can use the top, face-up card from your discard pile for play at any time but cards below it can’t be used until you play the top card.
  4. You can move cards from one tableau pile to another only if you relocate the entire stack.
  5. If you have an empty space available in your tableau, use the top card from the reserve to fill that space immediately.
  6. If there are no more cards left in your reserve and a space is available, use the top card of your discard pile to fill it.
  7. If you have exhausted your draw pile, pick up your discard pile, turn it face down, and use it as your draw pile.  Do not shuffle the cards.  You can repeat this process as many times as needed until you either win the game or reach a standstill.

How to Win

You win the game by building up all four of your foundations in ascending order and according to suit.

Canfield Card Game Variations

Canfield card game rules vary depending on which version you play.  Above we outlined how to play the traditional version, but there are several variations that give you more options and might increase or decrease your chances of winning.  Here are a few of the most popular.  


If you play this option, you’ll only deal three columns in your tableau and use just 12 cards in the reserve.  You’ll build the stacks in your spread in descending order regardless of suit.  Stock cards are dealt one at a time, but there is no option to re-deal.  You have more freedom to rearrange your cards and can move all or any portion of them from one tableau pile to another if needed.


This version is played exactly like traditional Canfield with two small exceptions.  First, you can deal from your stock just one card at a time rather than three.  Also, there are only two rounds of re-deals allowed per game.


In an interesting twist on the original, Selective Canfield lets you deal five cards immediately after you deal the reserve and select any one of them into your foundations.  The remaining four cards become the tableau, and you build it according to traditional Canfield rules.


The most popular variation of the game, Storehouse, is statistically easier to beat than the original.  Before you deal your reserve, remove all of the deuces from the deck and place them in the foundations.  Next, deal your reserve and tableau according to the traditional rules.  During gameplay, stock cards are dealt one at a time and can be used only twice.


Another variation that has a higher probability of winning is Superior Canfield.  Here, the entire reserve is visible, and you can fill any open spaces with any available card, not just those in the reserve.

Canfield Card Game Tips

While there are lots of strategies that are common to all versions of Solitaire, there are a few ways to position your cards to make the most of your Canfield success.  To win, try:

  1. Creating spaces as early as possible to give you more opportunities to play more sequences.
  2. Always building your foundations as evenly as possible.  Make sure not to let one get too far ahead of the others as you may need those cards in your tableau to uncover others.
  3. Completing all available moves before drawing from your stock cards.

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