Solitaire, also called patience, is any of a family of single-player card games of a generally similar character, but varying greatly in detail. The games are generally referred to as "patience" in British English and "solitaire" in American English, although "solitaire" is gaining popularity in British English due to the game in Windows.
These games typically involve dealing cards from a shuffled deck into a prescribed arrangement on a tabletop, from which the player attempts to reorder the deck by suit and rank through a series of moves transferring cards from one place to another under prescribed restrictions. Some games allow for the reshuffling of the deck(s), and/or the placement of cards into new or "empty" locations.
Solitaire has its own terminology; see solitaire terminology.
There are many different solitaire games, but the term "solitaire" is often used to refer specifically to the most well-known form, called "Klondike". Klondike and some other solitaire games have been adapted into two-player competitive games. See List of solitaire card games for more.
There is a vast array of variations on the solitaire/patience theme, using either one or more decks of cards, with rules of varying complexity and skill levels. Many of these have been converted to electronic form and are available as computer games. Basic forms of Klondike solitaire and FreeCell come with every current installation of Microsoft Windows, for example, and Windows Me, Windows XP and Windows Vista also include a version of Spider. A solitaire game is included on all of Apple's iPods (with the exception of the iPod Touch). Many software solitaire collections can be downloaded from the internet at no charge.
The term 'solitaire' is also used for single-player games of concentration and skill using a set layout of tiles, pegs or stones rather than cards. These games include Peg solitaire and Shanghai solitaire.
Napoleon was also said to have "played patience" (solitaire) during his exile. Some solitaire games were named after him, such as Napoleon at St. Helena, Napoleon's Square, etc. But whether he played those games or actually invented them is not known.
The first collection of solitaire card games in the English language is attributed to Lady Adelaide Cadogan through her Illustrated Games of Patience, published in about 1870 and reprinted several times. Before this, there was no literature about solitaire, not even in such books as Charles Cotton's The Compleat Gamester (1674), Abbé Bellecour's Academie des Jeux (1674), and Bohn's Handbook of Games (1850), all of which are used as reference on card games.
Lady Cadogan's book spawned other collections such as Patience by E. D. Cheney, Amusements for Invalids by Annie B. Henshaw (1870), and later Dick's Games of Patience, published by Dick and Fitzgerald. Other books about solitaire written towards the end of the 19th century were by H. E. Jones (a.k.a. Cavendish), Angelo Lewis (a.k.a. Professor Hoffman), Basil Dalton, and Ernest Bergholt.