Chinese Patience Competitive Patience

Chinese Patience Competitive Patience

Chinese Patience


This competitive patience game might be thought of as a single deck version of Russian Bank. As in that game the foundation piles and tableau are shared between the players, but in this game there are only four foundation piles and four columns in the tableau. Despite its name this game has nothing to do with China - as in many games, the inclusion of 'Chinese' in the name is probably just intended to suggest that it is somehow exotic.

I have received several descriptions of Chinese Patience, all from England. As with most traditional card games, there are variations in the rules from place to place, and the options I have heard about are covered in the variations section.

With thanks to Keven Cook, Mike Williams, Colin Cook, Andrew Manston, Trevor Mitchell, Miriam Moules and Steph Lynch for sending descriptions of Chinese Patience. Andrew Manston's version was also published in The Playing-Card (Vol 41, No 2, Dec 2012).

Players, Equipment and Objective

It is possible for 2, 3 or 4 people to play. It is said to be best for 2 or 3, and some correspondents know it exclusively as a 2-player game. When there are more than two players the direction of play is clockwise.

A standard English deck of 52 cards without Jokers is used. The ranking order from highest to lowest is K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-A.

The object of the game is to be the first to dispose of all your cards, by placing them on the foundation piles, the tableau or the other players' waste piles.

Deal and Layout

Chinese_Patience_Competitive_PatienceThe dealer is chosen by any convenient random method, for example by each drawing a card from the pack and the lowest deals. The cards are shuffled thoroughly and then four cards are dealt to the centre of the table in a row to start the tableau and the remaining cards are dealt out equally to the players to form their face down stock piles.

The recommended method is to deal the cards clockwise one at a time, placing the four centre cards at any point during the deal that the dealer wishes with the proviso that they are not dealt consecutively nor can they be the first or last cards of the pack. The four tableau cards are dealt face down, and turned face up by the first player before beginning play.

However it is also quite common to deal the four tableau cards face up, and to deal them first, followed by the players' stock piles.

The initial layout is shown in the diagram. Each player has space for a waste pile next to their stock pile and above the tableau are spaces for the four foundation piles which will be built upwards in suit starting from the aces.

During the game the tableau will be built downwards in columns of overlapping cards of alternating colours (red and black) in a similar way to Klondike patience. It is also possible to join two columns by moving an entire column onto another column if it fits. However there are two differences from Klondike patience.


The player to dealer's left plays first and then players take turns to play in clockwise order. (If there are two players the non-dealer starts and the turn to play alternates between them.) The first player begins by turning the four tableau cards face up (if they were dealt face down).

In a turn, a player can make as many as they can and wish to of the following types of move.

  1. Turn the top card of their stock pile face up. If they do this, the stock card turned up must immediately be used in one of the following four ways.

  2. If possible, it must be placed on a foundation pile where it fits (an ace in an empty foundation pile or the next higher card of the same suit on a foundation pile that has been started).

  3. It can be placed on top of an opponent's waste pile if it is the same suit as and one rank higher or lower than the card currently on top of that opponent's waste pile.

  4. It can be placed in any empty column of the tableau, or at the bottom of any tableau column where it fits, being the opposite colour to and one rank lower than the card on which it is placed.

  5. It can be placed on the player's own waste pile, irrespective rank and suit. This ends the player's turn, so a player will not normally do this if the stock card can be placed anywhere else.

  6. Take the top card of their own waste pile and place it face up on either

  7. a foundation pile where it fits, or

  8. an opponent's waste pile if it fits, being the same suit and adjacent in rank to the top card of that waste pile, or

  9. any empty column of the tableau or the bottom of a tableau column where it fits.

  10. Take the bottom card of any tableau column and place it face up on either

  11. a foundation pile where it fits, or

  12. an opponent's waste pile if it fits, being the same suit and adjacent in rank to the top card of that waste pile.

  13. Join two tableau columns if they fit together. The card at the top of the column being moved has to be one lower and the opposite colour to card at the bottom of the column to which it is joined. This will leave one empty column in the tableau. There are the following restrictions (but some of these vary from place to place - see the variations section for other options for the first two items below).

  14. Although a player can make a sequence of moves, they can only be made one at a time - having begun a move you are not allowed to interrupt it to make another move. In particular, if you look at the top card of your stock you must play this card somewhere before doing anything else - you cannot for example look at your next stock card and then make other moves to create a place to put it.

  15. When a stock card is turned face up it must be moved to a foundation pile if possible.

  16. When moving cards from one tableau column to another, it is only possible to move an entire column. A player cannot move just part of a column or a single card from a column the has move that one column to another column of the tableau. It is however possible to move the bottom card of a column to a foundation or an opponent's waste pile (move type 3).

  17. You can never move any card from a foundation or from an opponent's waste pile to anywhere else.

  18. You cannot move a card from the tableau to your own waste pile.

  19. Players are not allowed to look through any stock or waste pile - neither another player's nor their own - to check which or how many cards are in it. Only the top card of each waste pile is visible, and no stock pile card can be seen until the owner of the pile chooses to pick it up the top card and use it. If a player has no card in their stock pile when they wish to draw from the stock, they turn over their whole waste pile (without disturbing the order of the cards) and use it as a new stock pile. A player with an empty stock pile should leave it empty until they they are ready to draw from the stock - until that time their waste pile remains in place where other players can add to it and the owner at their turn can move cards from it.

Normally the first player will begin the game by moving any aces dealt to the tableau to begin foundation piles, and by making any possible moves within the tableau - for example in the initial layout illustrated above, the first player would begin by moving the ♣8 onto the ♡9 (move type 4). Next the player will use cards from their stock to fill any empty columns thereby created in the tableau (move type 1c) or add them to the foundations if they fit (1a), remembering always to make any possible type 4 tableau moves or type 3a moves from the tableau to a foundation pile before looking at their next stock card. Eventually the player will find a stock card which fits neither on a foundation nor in the tableau (which has no empty column) and will have to place this card on their waste pile, ending their turn. Then it is the second player's move and they have the additional options of moves of types 3b and 1b to the first player's waste pile.

During the game, a player will start their turn by looking for opportunities to dispose of cards from their own waste pile (type 2 moves) as well as any available type 3 or 4 moves. Only after these possibilities are exhausted will they look at the top card of their stock pile and hope to find a good place for it.

Example of play. The diagram shows the situation during a game in progress. It is player A's turn.

Chinese_Patience_Competitive_PatiencePossibly player A would think of moving the ♠6-♢5 from the second tableau column onto the ♢7 in the third column so as to add the ♡7 to its foundation pile, but this would be illegal (restriction III).

Instead, player A moves the ♣7 from A's waste pile onto the ♡8 in the tableau. This reveals the ♣6 in the waste pile which player A places on the ♢7 in the tableau. The next card in A's waste pile is the ♣5 which cannot be moved.

No further moves of type 2, 3 or 4 are possible, so A must turn up a stock card, which luckily turns out to be the ♢4. A places this on the ♢3 in B's waste pile and can now also add the ♢5 from the tableau to that pile.

This frees the ♠6 and then the ♡7 which A adds to their respective foundation piles. Now it is possible to make a type 4 tableau move, moving the third column (♢7-♣6) onto the ♣8 in the second column.

This leaves an empty column in the tableau, but A's next stock card is the ♠7 which A adds to the spade foundation pile, followed by the ♢2, which A adds to the diamond foundation pile.

A's next stock card is the ♢10 which A places in the empty tableau column and moves the ♣9-♡8-♣7 onto it, creating a new space. A's next stock card, the ♢8, is placed in this space, and the following stock card, the ♠10 has nowhere to go, so is added to A's waste pile.

It is now player B's turn, and unfortunately the ♢3 that was previously on top of B's waste pile is now covered by the ♢4 and ♢5. The ♢5 can be moved onto the ♣6 in the tableau, but unless B finds some way to dispose of the 4, the diamond foundation will not be built any further until B's waste pile is turned over and reused as stock. Instead, B might prefer to keep the ♢5 where it is and begin by loading the ♣6 and then the ♣7 from the tableau back onto A's waste pile.

End of Game

The aim is to get rid of all the cards from your stock pile and waste pile. When a player's stock and waste pile are both empty, the game ends and that player is the winner.

It is possible to play for stakes, in which case the winner is paid one unit by each of the other players for each card they have remaining in their stock and waste piles.


Equal card allowed on waste pile

A popular variant is to allow a player to load onto an opponent's waste pile not only the next higher or lower card of the same suit, but alternatively a card that is equal in rank but a different suit to the current top card. For example if your opponent's pile is currently topped by the ♡7 you can add the ♣7, ♢7, ♠7, ♡6 or ♡8 to the top of it. The versions described by Colin Cook, Miriam Moules and Keven Cook all allow this possibility.

In this version much longer sequences of cards to be moved onto an opponent's web pile, going up and down in rank. For example onto an opponent's ♣10 you could load a sequence of cards such as ♣9-♢9-♠9-♠10-♠J-♠Q-♠K-♡K-♡Q-♣Q, each successive card obeying the rules for placement on the waste pile. During the game such sequences may be moved back and forth several times between players as the opportunity arises.

Those that favour this rule say that it makes the game more exciting, especially if there are only two players, when there is only one opponent's waste pile and therefore opportunities to move cards to an opponent's waste pile are more limited than with 3 or 4 players.

In this variant having a photographic memory for other people's waste piles is clearly very useful - a short term sacrifice can sometimes prevent a lot of cards from coming your way.

Priorities, Knocking and Penalties

Some versions do not insist that a card from stock must always be placed on a foundation if possible. In the versions described by Colin Cook and Mike Williams, a player is always free to place a card from their stock in the tableau or on an opponent's waste pile if it fits there, even if it could have been played to a foundation pile.

On the other hand, some versions have stricter priority rules. For example in Keven Cook's version any single card that is being moved must be placed in a foundation pile if it fits, rather than going to any other destination. This is in contrast to the more usual rule where this restriction only applies to cards moved from the player's stock pile.

The version described by Miriam Moules has the following more elaborate set of priorities.

  1. A card from the player's own waste pile or from the bottom of a tableau column that fits on a foundation pile must be moved there before any other moves are made.
  2. If no moves to foundations are available, a player must move a card from their own waste pile or from the bottom of a tableau column to an opponent's waste pile if possible.
  3. If no moves to foundations or any opponent's waste pile are available, the player must move a card from their waste pile to fill an empty tableau column or to the bottom of a tableau column where it fits, or join two columns of the tableau if any of these moves is possible.
  4. Only when no moves of the above types 1, 2 and 3 are possible is a player allowed to turn the top card of their stock face up. This card must be played immediately according to the same priorities: to a foundation pile if possible, otherwise to an opponent's waste pile if possible, otherwise to an empty tableau space or the bottom of a tableau column if possible. After any of these moves the player must go back and play any new moves of types 1, 2 and 3 that have become available, in that order, before turning another card from their stock.
  5. If a face up stock card does not fit on any foundation or opponent's waste pile or anywhere in the tableau, the player adds it to the top of their waste pile, ending their turn. If a player breaks any of these priority rules - making a move when a higher priority move was available - any opponent may call 'stop' or knock. This ends the turn of the player who broke the rules, but the move they made is not reversed. The illegally moved card stays where it was placed and the player who made the illegal move is given a penalty card by each opponent. Each penalty card is taken by the opponent from the middle of their stock pile (not the top or bottom card) and handed face down to the player receiving the penalty, who must add these cards to the bottom of their stock pile. (If an opponent has only two cards in their stock they will give the bottom card, if only one then that only card, and if none at all then a card from the middle of their waste pile.) It is then the next player's turn to play, and they will of course have to start by making any priority moves that the penalised player omitted if they are still available.

Miriam Moules comments that it can sometimes be worthwhile to break a priority rule deliberately, for example by adding a playable card to your waste pile, and to accept the resulting penalty cards to avoid the greater disadvantage of receiving the whole of another player's waste pile that would have been loaded onto yours if the priorities were respected. This is an accepted tactic.

There is a variant in which a player who breaks a priority rule, completes their turn and notices the mistake they made and declares it before any other player knocks they can then give a penalty card to each of their opponents.

Stock card always available

Mike Williams describes a version of the game in which each player turns over their next stock card at the start of their turn. The player can then make legal moves in any order, moving cards from their waste pile and from and within the tableau if desired before using their stock card. As soon as a stock card is played, the next stock card is turned up and becomes available for use as required.

This is in contrast to the more usual version to the game where players are strictly forbidden to look at their next stock card until they have finished making waste pile and tableau moves, and must place their stock card immediately after looking at it.

Playing on own waste pile

In Colin Cook's version, if a player's stock pile card fits onto their own waste pile (which in this version means being adjacent in the same suit or of the same rank in a different suit), they may add it to their waste pile and continue their turn. The player's turn only ends when they add a card from their stock to their own waste pile that does not fit.

Empty stock pile ends turn

Another unusual feature of Colin Cook's version is that when a player uses the last card of their stock, this ends their current turn. They do not turn over their waste pile until their next turn, after they have made any preliminary moves from their waste pile and tableau and are ready to draw a card from the new stock.

More than Four Players

Andrew Manston suggests that 'any reasonable number' or players can take part. If there are 5 or 7 players the players to the left of the dealer will have one more card in their initial stock piles than the others, but this does not matter.

Playing for Places

When the game is played by more than two players, the versions described by Miriam Moules and Trevor Mitchell do not end when one player disposes of all the cards in their stock pile and waste pile. Play continues, skipping the turns of any players who have no cards left, to determine who comes 2nd, 3rd, etc. according to the order in which they run out of cards. When all players but one have run out of stock and waste cards, the final remaining player takes last place.

Trevor Mitchell describes a method of scoring in which players score penalty points according to their finishing position: 0 points for 1st, 1 point for 2nd, 2 points for 3rd, 3 points for 4th. Further deals are played, players taking turns to be the starting player, until someone reaches 21 or more points. The game then ends with the final scores determining the overall result. The player(s) with 21 or more points lose(s), and the player(s) with fewest points win(s).

Choice of Initial Tableau Cards

Steph Lynch describes a two-player version in which in the initial deal is 22 cards to each player and 8 to the table in two face-down packs of four. The non-dealer chooses one of these two packs, sight unseen, and lays the cards out face up to start the tableau columns. The other four (unknown) cards are out of the game.

In this version the game can sometimes become blocked because the missing cards prevent the foundation piles from being continued. If this happens the deadlock can be broken by dealing the 4 unused cards face down to the players. (Each player receives two of these cards face down and adds them to the bottom of their stock.)