Beneath King Charles Street, London. 1940.
Winston Churchill awaits reports of the war while his countrymen are being bombed only feet above his head. Each blast sends a mist of plaster from the ceiling into his office below. Cigar smoke swirls in the air, and next to his glass of whiskey, are columns of playing cards covering the entirety of his desk. The Prime Minister uses this game to occupy his mind while pondering decisions that will change the very course of mankind. This is Churchill's own version of Solitaire, and the only solo game that is enough of a challenge for his brilliant intellect. Churchill will later teach his version of the game to exiled Belgian diplomat André de Staercke. Staercke will take up the game, and in 1972 teach it to a young Donald Rumsfeld who will play it throughout his long government career.
Churchill's Solitaire was an obscure, almost secret game for over seventy-five years, its existence unmentioned in any written account of history. It's rules passed down "word of mouth" through members of the world's diplomatic corps like some sort of secret handshake or password. Rumsfeld, at 83, realizing that a dozen people at most even knew of the game, felt the need to preserve it's history. In an unorthodox move, commiserate with the personality of Churchill himself, Rumsfeld found his audience - not in historians - but in the millions of casual gamers that inhabit the App Stores of Apple and Google. Rumsfeld's journey is a fascinating tale on its own, and told eloquently on medium.com.
I feel an oddly personal connection to this game. My Great-Grandfather was Deputy Director of the OSS during World War II and no doubt spent some time in the War Rooms - including some time in presence of the man himself. Though most of my Great-Grandfather's career is still classified, I can picture him standing in front of Churchill's desk, filled with cards, the Prime Minister slowly moving them from stack to stack while contemplating his response to a question while Colonel Buxton stood before him. It brings a certain air of adventure and romance to what is seen as the most pedestrian of solo games.
Churchill's Solitaire is without a doubt the hardest version of Solitaire I have ever played. After over two dozen games I have won exactly once. The game is played with two decks of cards instead of the customary one and has 10 rows of cards simultaneously in play. What makes the game so challenging though, is the inclusion of "The Devil's Six". This is a row of six cards, dealt separately to the top of the board. These cards must be played in sequence right to left - and may not be played to the rows below - only directly to the melds. That is what makes Churchill's Solitaire a solo challenge like no other.
I'm not going to detail the rules. You are much better served by going to the links below and downloading the game for iOS or Android. The App is free to try and $4.99 to upgrade to premium. The interface and game play are top tier and its proceeds are donated to charity by the Rumsfeld Foundation and W.S.C. Churchill Heritage. It is worth every penny (or pence). You can of course grab a couple of decks of cards and play this without relying on a device, but the app does include a really neat "Campaign Mode" that takes you through Churchill's life while learning the game.
Enough talk - go give Churchill Solitaire a try, and you may even find yourself back in time with the man himself.