- Pretty Good Solitaire

The Dao of Interchange

by Larry Rogers


Screen shot of the game Interchange from Pretty Good Solitaire.

Welcome, grasshopper.

I see you are a seeker of wisdom, a seeker of patience and perspective, a seeker of inner peace and tranquility.

But mainly you seek a way to win a game of Interchange and then your life will be complete.

Apparently real life isn't hard enough for you; no, you've got to play the hardest game in the Pretty Good Solitaire inventory.

Mr. Warfield gives it a success rate of less than 1% and for those of you who have yet to win a single game, I'm sure even that goal seems unreachable.

However, I am here to tell you that Interchange games can be won. I have won ten of them as of January 2005 and doubtless there are others who have won even more, so it is possible to win. Interchange is addictive and it's the only solitaire game I play now, perhaps because the thrill of winning is so intense.

Interchange Scores

Heck, anyone can win FreeCell. Even Rouge et Noir and Forty Thieves pale in comparison to the challenges of Interchange. None of my victories was easy, but in retrospect some of them seem easier than others. Some of them took only two or three attempts before winning, while others required dozens of frustrating, exhausting tries before I found the way. Perhaps by following the advice below, you too will find The Way.

Warning! - Pretty Good Solitaire may be addictive. We are not responsible for lost productivity, neglected spouses, children, or pets. We are not responsible for lost sleep because you stay up to play "just one more game".

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Forty ThievesAfter playing hundreds of games of Interchange I have come to the conclusion that you have to choose very carefully the games you're going to play. You may think the advice below is a little compulsive, but I follow it, and I've won ten games with it. It's based on logic and percentages which, after all, is the basis for winning any game of chance.

KingOnly Off These rules also apply to some degree to most of the Forty Thieves type of games: you want to see more aces at the beginning of the game and fewer face cards. You may have played San Juan Hill. It's nearly the same as Forty Thieves, the difference being all the aces are dealt at the beginning of the game. Even so, San Juan Hill is not easy to win.

When I play Interchange I choose the "any card fills a space" option (KingOnly Off). "Kings fill spaces" is just too hard, and this game is hard enough already. But perhaps you're younger than I am and life doesn't seem so short to you. Hey I get happy just creating open columns.

The Perfect Game

Let's start with the premise of the perfect game of Interchange.

The perfect game would consist of eight aces across the first row (including an ace in the waste pile). The second row would consist of all two's, the next row, three's, and so on. There would be no face cards appearing anywhere in the tableau. They would all be in the stock pile, in order. All you'd basically have to do is click AutoMove and the game would play itself to completion.

Has anyone ever seen the Perfect Game? If you have, let me know. After all, in theory it could exist. Let's calculate some odds for Interchange.

Games Similar to Interchange
With unlimited redeals making it easier to win.

Single Interchange
A one deck version.

Triple Interchange
A three deck version.

An easy variation with building regardless of suit.

All cards face up and alternate color building. This is probably the original game from which all the others derived.

The theoretical odds for any single Interchange game appearing can be calculated by finding the number of possible different Interchange games. With two decks, 104 cards, this is 104! (104 factorial) possible different games. This is an astronomical number, one so big that your computer might not be able to display it on your screen, let alone in the little fields we see in the game. The odds for winning the lottery jackpot are much better. But Mr. Warfield has chosen to limit the number of possible games to a little over two billion (2,147,483,648 to be exact). These games range from Game 0 to Game 2147483647. You should play these games, just to say you have. They're nothing special, but at least you can say you've played the alpha and the omega, a fitting metaphor in your search for The Way.

Once you win a game a funny thing happens: it can be very hard to repeat the win. I like replaying my wins, just to prove that it really happened. For some of those inscrutable rascals, though, I wonder whether I only dreamed it. I have to keep checking my stats to prove to myself that I actually won that game. I resort to capturing screen shots and pasting them into Word just so I can track where I've been and work my way back through the maze. The winning move is often so counter-intuitive that I can't believe I performed it in the first place. Sometimes you have to backward before you can go forward.

The Rules

As you play Interchange, remember the Perfect Game. The Perfect Game is our goal. We may never achieve it, but we should come as close to perfection as possible each time we play. Observe the eight basic rules below each time you play and I guarantee that if nothing else happens, your scores will improve immediately. And if you win a game, you owe me big. It is The Way.

Scoring Note

When playing Pretty Good Solitaire, if you do a new game before making any moves, the game does not count in your statistics. This is very helpful for the strategy below.

If you can decide that you don't want to play a game before playing any moves, you can just skip it and it doesn't count against you.

  1. The first rule is number one for a reason: if you don't observe it, you will never win. So, never play a game that has an ace in the back row. NEVER!! These aces are unreachable, and trying to dig them out is fruitless. I don't play many games even when there are aces in the third row unless there are beaucoup aces already in the first row. When I am being brutally honest with myself, I extend this rule to deuces and treys as well. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I (state your name) promise never to play a game of Interchange that has an ace in the back EVER!"

  2. Likewise, don't play games that have face cards in the first row. The Perfect Game doesn't have face cards in the first row, so why should yours? Those kings and queens in the first row are immovable royal pains, and they will defy you right to end of your big whoop game score of 11. So don't go there.

  3. Don't play games where a visible face card covers an ace, more or less for the same reasons stated above. Those aces may look so close and tempting, but you'll never move those royal pains in time to get the aces to the foundations.

  4. Kill games when the low cards get buried. When the first few cards in the waste pile are deuces and treys, and you can't play them, and then they get buried by subsequent cards, kill the game, no matter how pretty it looks otherwise. When these baby cards get buried deep, there is no way to bring them back from the dead, and the game is a loser. Don't be a loser.

  5. Learn to analyze each new game within two seconds. Look for aces in the first row. If you don't see them immediately, click on, brother. Condition yourself to stop only when you see aces in the first row. This takes practice, but you've got to perfect this technique; you've got hundreds of games in front of you, maybe thousands, and you don't have time to dawdle. When you see these aces, look quickly for the other indicators above. Be severely honest, grasshopper. What may look like a magical column of all aces is really a booby trap of big fat kings in hiding, so avoid the inevitable heartbreak that playing such games brings. Become disciplined and strong. Become an Interchange samurai warrior, hard as steel, wise and patient.

  6. Learn to use the mouse efficiently. When you're left-clicking like a madman through the stock pile and you see a likely card, right click it. Even if it doesn't jump to the tableau you haven't wasted time glancing over to see if it fits anywhere. Learn to become a right-clicking machine. So what if you develop arthritis. Your first win will be worth the extra cases of Advil you had to buy.

  7. Sometimes not playing a card can be just as important as playing it. Many's the time I have played that two of spades from the tableau immediately only to see another one pop up from the stock with no place to go. This takes courage but sometimes a win hinges on a single move like this. It's a strategy you will learn in your journey along the way.

  8. Know when to kill a game. You'll know within ten moves whether you're finally on to a good game. A good game is "slippery." You click AutoMove and seven or eight cards whip up to the foundations like magic. Lots of aces appear, you're moving cards here, you're moving cards there, sequences grow like magic, every card has a place to go, and lo and behold, an empty column appears with 50 cards to go. Slippery! Your pulse quickens, your stomach flips, you begin to imagine the impossible: an Interchange win. Whoopee! But if a game isn't slippery, if you haven't placed all the aces by the time you've sent 25 cards to the waste pile, then forget it, you ain't gonna win this one. Be strong, samurai grasshopper. Kill this game and move on to the next one. Keep to The Way.

That completes the eight basic rules, the Dao of Interchange. Lately however I've been experimenting with another strategy that seems to be in opposition to the Perfect Game. I haven't won a game with it yet, but I have seen some higher-than-average scores so it may have some merit. It's the "No Aces" approach. This strategy assumes that if you don't see any aces in the tableau, then they must be hiding somewhere. So where are they? Well, look at it this way. There are 21 face-down cards, and 54 cards in the stock pile, of a new game. There is a greater likelihood that the aces are hiding in the stock pile (54 to 21). Occasionally, by random chance, these hidden aces will be towards the front of the stock pile rather than the back, thus giving you a slight advantage. You might give this method a try and see if it works for you. I think it will eventually lead to a win because it is a method, a repeatable plan, and you need a method if you expect to win an Interchange game.

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