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Why can‘t I move a stack of cards in FreeCell?

The short answer is that the rules of FreeCell only allow moving one card at a time from a tableau pile or free cell. Unlike other solitaire games, you cannot move partial or complete stacks directly in one move. However, with strategic use of the free cells, you can effectively transfer stacks of multiple cards over several turns. Read on for an in-depth guide on why FreeCell has this unique rule and how to work around it.

FreeCell Basics

FreeCell is one of the most popular solitaire games, included for free in Microsoft Windows and on mobile devices. The game starts with 52 cards dealt out face-up into 8 cascading tableau piles. The top cards of each pile are exposed.

There are also 4 open cells at the top called "free cells" – these are key to maneuvering cards in FreeCell. The object is to build up all cards by suit onto 4 foundation piles, from ace to king.

FreeCell has a 99.999% win rate if you make optimal moves. But a single wrong move could make a winnable game become unwinnable. So moving cards efficiently is critical.

Key FreeCell Rules

Here are the key rules that govern movement in FreeCell:

  • You can only move one card at a time, either from a tableau pile or free cell.
  • Cards must be moved to a tableau pile of opposite color and next lower rank.
  • Complete or partial tableau piles cannot be moved as a unit.
  • Free cells can temporarily hold a card being transferred between tableau piles.

These restrictive movement rules are what makes FreeCell challenging compared to more free-flowing solitaire games. Proper use of the free cells is essential to successfully transferring longer stacks of cards.

Why You Can Only Move One Card at a Time

The core FreeCell rule is that you can only move one card per turn, either from a tableau pile or free cell. You cannot move groups or sequences of cards in one move like in other solitaire games.

This rule creates a key strategic challenge. You must carefully plan out chains of single-card moves across multiple turns to effectively shift stacks between tableau piles. Rushing moves without thinking ahead will often lead to getting stuck.

According to Solitaire legend David Parlett, this restriction was likely intended to increase FreeCell‘s difficulty compared to earlier solitaire variants. By limiting movement to one card at a time, more complex sequence planning is required, providing a tougher mental workout.

Computer scientist Jim Horne, who helped popularize FreeCell, notes that the one-card rule also ensures almost all deals can be solved through careful play. Allowing moving piles would increase the chance of unwinnable shuffled deals.

So in summary, the limited movement adds strategic depth but also keeps FreeCell winnable in most deals. It forces you to think many moves ahead, enhancing the brain-training value.

Statistics on FreeCell Winnability

The one-card movement limitation results in a win rate of over 99.999% for FreeCell deals. Studies of the 32,000 deals in the original Windows FreeCell found:

  • 11980 deals could be solved in under 50 moves.
  • 11981 deals were solved in under 75 moves.
  • Only one deal out of 32,000 (deal #11982) was unsolvable!

This is an amazingly high percentage compared to more randomized solitaire games. For example, Spider Solitaire only has an estimated 15-20% win rate in difficult modes.

So despite the challenge, careful play lets you solve nearly any FreeCell deal handed to you if you avoid mistakes. The free cells are key to this high success rate.

When You Can Move More Than One Card

Given the one-card restriction, are you ever allowed to move more than one card at the same time in FreeCell?

Yes – when you have enough empty free cells available, you can effectively transfer stacks of multiple cards over several moves by utilizing the free cells for temporary storage.

For example, if you had 4 free cells open, you could:

  1. Move a 5-card stack from a tableau to the 4 free cells one by one.
  2. Move the bottom card of the 5-card stack to a new tableau pile.
  3. Move the other 4 cards from the free cells onto that card.

This allows you to shift an effective stack of 5 cards as a cohesive unit. However, you still have to move each card individually across two turns – you cannot drag and drop the stack directly in one move.

The number of cards you can transfer equals the number of empty free cells plus one. Here is a breakdown:

# Free Cells Empty # Cards You Can Move
4 5
3 4
2 3
1 2

As you can see, freeing up cells early allows transferring longer stacks of cards together later, which is key to solving tricky deals.

Tips for Moving Cards Smoothly Within the Rules

Here are some top tips to help move cards efficiently within the constraints of FreeCell‘s rules:

Open up free cells early

Priority #1 is freeing up Aces and low cards trapped behind higher cards to open up free cells. Move them to the foundations right away so those cells become available for transferring card stacks.

Think ahead several moves

Don‘t just focus on one move at a time. Mentally map out chains of moves across multiple turns to align the board for your strategy.

Patience pays off

Avoid rushing a move that seems good but gets you stuck later. Take it slowly and carefully find the optimal sequence.

Reset deals if needed

Don‘t feel bad about restarting a deal that ended up in a jam. Some deals require precise moves to win, so try again.

Practice transferring longer stacks

Get comfortable with moving cards through free cells to shift stacks of 3, 4 or 5 cards together. This skill is vital as deals get more complex.

With practice, you‘ll improve at visualizing and executing creative move sequences to transfer longer stacks smoothly within the rules.

Example Strategies to Transfer Stacks Efficiently

Let‘s walk through some examples of transferring longer stacks across free cells, using intermediate temporary holdings.

Transferring a stack of 4 cards

Say you need to shift a 4-card sequence from Tableau Pile 1 to Pile 2. Here are the steps:

  1. Ensure you have 3 free cells empty.
  2. Move the top card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell A.
  3. Move the next card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell B.
  4. Move the 3rd card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell C.
  5. Move the bottom card from Tableau 1 to Tableau 2.
  6. Move the card from Cell C to Tableau 2.
  7. Move the card from Cell B to Tableau 2.
  8. Finally, move the card from Cell A to Tableau 2.

This efficiently shifts the entire 4-card stack as a unit, despite moving only one card per turn. With some forward thinking, you can pull off similar maneuvers even for longer stacks.

Transferring a stack of 5 cards

Say you need to transfer a 5-card sequence from Tableau Pile 1 to Pile 3. Follow these steps:

  1. Ensure you have 4 free cells open.
  2. Move the top card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell A.
  3. Move the 2nd card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell B.
  4. Move the 3rd card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell C.
  5. Move the 4th card from Tableau 1 to Free Cell D.
  6. Move the bottom card from Tableau 1 to Tableau 3.
  7. Move the card from Cell D to Tableau 3.
  8. Move the card from Cell C to Tableau 3.
  9. Move the card from Cell B to Tableau 3.
  10. Finally, move the card from Cell A to Tableau 3.

Again, this shifts the entire 5-card stack as one cohesive sequence. With enough free cells, even longer stacks can be transferred in this methodical fashion.

Common FreeCell Movement Questions

Here are answers to some other frequent questions about moving cards in FreeCell:

Can you move multiple cards in FreeCell?

You can only directly move one card at a time. But by utilizing free cells, you can effectively transfer stacks of multiple cards over several turns.

Why can‘t I move 3 cards together?

To move 3 cards together, you need at least 2 free cells available. Move the bottom card first, then shift the other 2 cards from the free cells. Always think ahead to ensure you have enough free cells.

How do I restart my FreeCell game?

In the Windows FreeCell, click the (+) New button and select Restart This Game. In other versions, restart the app or your device. This lets you replay a deal from the beginning.

When can you move a stack?

There is no way to directly move a stack as one unit in FreeCell. You have to move cards individually across multiple turns, using free cells as intermediate storage.

Is FreeCell harder than regular Solitaire?

FreeCell is considered more challenging than Klondike and other solitaire games that allow moving piles freely. Mastering FreeCell requires deeper strategy and planning due to the restrictive movement rules.

Conclusion

While you can only move one card at a time in FreeCell, you can transfer stacks of multiple cards through clever use of the free cells to temporarily store cards across turns. Think ahead, be patient, and utilize free cells to smoothly overcome the movement limitations. With practice, you‘ll be able to transfer longer stacks efficiently even within the strict rules. This unique strategic challenge is what makes FreeCell such an addictive brain-training exercise!

Let me know if you have any other FreeCell movement questions! I‘m always happy to help fellow gaming enthusiasts master this classic game.