Opinions, Column

The Bright Side of Losing in Solitaire

I saw the wheels move back as she lifted herself from the prison that was her desk chair. It was the first time she had left that chair all year, and I knew exactly why. Spotting the reflection of flashing cards on my computer screen from my glasses, she walked over to my desk. Defeated, I said that line to my high school math teacher:

“I just don’t think pre-calc is gonna do a whole lot for me.”

To no surprise, she replied:

“And, what on earth can you possibly gain from this? Let me see your school ID.” 

I wish I knew then what I know now, but in accepting my defeat that fateful afternoon, I eventually learned just how wrong my teacher was about solitaire’s worth. The flashing card game on my screen would teach me lessons the unit circle never could: solitaire taught me to accept failure. 

Just like any other standard card game, solitaire is composed of 52 cards broken up into four suits, and each suit has 13 numerical values assigned to it. A player starts with seven piles on their tableau, or face-up board, along with a face-down stockpile. They then attempt to match cards from the stockpile and tableau in descending order and alternating between black and red. The objective of the game is to pick the aces out of every pile and build each ace pile in ascending order until every card is present. Unlike most card games, however, solitaire is designed to be played alone. 

To make matters even stranger, not every game can be won. In theory, only about 80 percent of solitaire games are beatable, but players only win about .05 to 5.5 percent of the time. Why? Because solitaire players face constant dilemmas. These struggles include deciding whether to play a card from the stockpile or a face-up card from the tableau, place a card in one’s foundation (or ace pile), or play one, two, or all three cards in the hand selected from the stockpile. And these are only a few of solitaire’s conundrums. 

So, what makes solitaire so important for teaching us how to accept defeat? Oftentimes, one simple move can unknowingly be a player’s last because there are few opportunities to recover from mistakes. What do I mean? Take, for example, what I have coined “The Tough Decision Play.” This is when you have two cards of the same value and same color on your tableau (say an eight of diamonds and an eight of hearts), and one card of the next highest numerical value and opposite color of those two cards is also on your tableau (say the nine of clubs for this example). Now, what do you do? Which eight do you place on the pile with the nine? It is a tough decision to play. After all, only one pile could hold the card you desperately need behind it—and all of this is hidden from the player.

It’s almost as if the game itself represents life, and all these little choices about which card to move represent the countless chances we take every day.

I find myself saying the phrase “according to plan” more and more as I grow older. My “plan” is one that needs to work, but it is totally out of my control. I’m not the one who decides whether or not I get a job. I’m not the one who decides whether I’ll have great friends. I’m not the one who decides whether I have the qualifications to go abroad. It feels as though I’m not actually deciding anything. Sure, I can play my part, but I cannot determine what is going to be underneath my cards.

The website “World of Solitaire” was an amazing tool of discovery for me. Unlike when you play solitaire with a physical deck of cards, the website can automatically “deal new.” And while many may scoff at this button and call it a “cop out,” I love it. This button has the ability to start a new game in less than three seconds. 

Sometimes, I make early decisions that cost me my game. And why would I want to obsess about my every move to pinpoint where my unknowing mistake(s) led me to failure? I should just accept it and move on—or “deal new.” 

A lot about life is hidden from us and out of our control. Get rejected? Well, deal new. Fail a class? Deal new. Make mistakes? Deal new. Don’t wonder how things could have gone right, just think about solitaire and try dealing new. 

February 5, 2023