Forty Thieves is a very old and popular solitaire game that is known under many names, such as Napoleon at St. Helena and Roosevelt at San Juan. It's characteristics form the basis of as many as 100 or more other solitaire games. While it may not be the oldest game of its type, because it seems to combine the standard elements of its type in the best way it has come to be the most popular and important game of its type.
Forty Thieves is a two deck game. At the start of the game 40 cards (the 40 thieves) are dealt out in 10 piles of 4 cards each with all 40 cards face up and visible. The remaining cards form the stock and turned over one card at a time to a waste pile. When Aces appear in the play they are moved up to found the 8 foundation piles, which are built up in suit in the usual way. The game is won when all the cards are moved up to the foundations.
Among the 40 card tableau, building is down by suit. Only one card at a time can be moved from pile to pile and empty spaces can be filled by any card. It is important to create empty spaces as quickly as possible, and also a good idea to keep an empty space or two available so that cards can be more easily moved around.
Forty Thieves is a difficult game. An average player can win about 10% of the time, while really good players can win upwards of about 20% of the time.
Because Forty Thieves is such a basic game, there are huge numbers of variations of it. In many games the rules are changed slightly to make the game a bit easier to win. An example of this is the game Josephine, which is exactly the same as Forty Thieves except that groups of cards down by suit can be moved in the tableau instead of just one card at a time. Deal the Aces out to the foundations at the start of the game and the game is called San Juan Hill. Allow building down by alternate color instead of suit (making it a bit easier) and the game is called Streets.
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