Digital Life

Donald Rumsfeld launches 'Churchill Solitaire' iPhone app

It is a card game so fiendishly difficult that even the most talented players only win one in four games.

So it is perhaps no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill — famed for the pursuit of "victory at all costs" — enjoyed testing his strategic powers by playing his very own version of Solitaire.

For the first time aspiring military strategists can also try their hand at the game, which resembles the traditional game of Patience but uses two decks of cards, after it was released as an app for iPhone and iPad users.

The game was produced by another experienced political mind, but newcomer to the app market, Donald Rumsfeld, the former US secretary of defence.

It rewards persistence, as some of the hands dealt cannot be won, and other combinations quickly become unwinnable with one wrong move.

Success relies on always thinking a few moves ahead.

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The introduction of the "Devil's Six" row of cards, which have to be played in a particular order and cannot be brought down on to the main playing surface, adds a frustrating twist.

Mr Rumsfeld claims to have learnt the rules from the Belgian diplomat Andre de Staercke, who himself was taught by Sir Winston.

Gordon Wise, literary agent for Churchill Heritage Ltd, said that although there was no mention in Churchill's official archives of the game, the story was perfectly plausible.

"It seems very much to be a word of mouth thing," he said.

"He taught some intimate friends including this Belgian diplomat Mr de Staercke, who passed it to Mr Rumsfeld.

"It's plausible that this was a game that he passed on."

Mr Rumsfeld said Sir Winston found a "keen mind" in de Staercke, whom he taught the "uniquely challenging" version of solitaire.

The former Republican politician learnt the game in the 1970s from de Staercke.

Writing on blogging platform Medium, Mr Rumsfeld compared it to war strategy: "The most steadfast players will gamely soldier on to find their way to victory."

The game risked vanishing completely after Sir Winston's death, with Mr Rumsfield claiming only a "dozen or so people" knew how to play until he started to develop the app.

The player begins as a new recruit at Sandhurst in Autumn 1893, alongside "a promising young cadet named Winston Churchill".

The aim is to advance through the ranks by winning points in the games, with the highest position being Prime Minister.

Keith Urbahn, who worked as chief of staff for Mr Rumsfeld and helped develop the app, said: "If you get really good at the game, you'll probably win one in every four times. That's about the win rate among the best players I have seen."

Churchill Solitaire is free for iPhone and iPad users, but players can pay to undo a move or get a hint, although players who choose to do the latter will earn the disdain of Mr Rumsfeld.

"There are damn few undos in life," he told the Wall Street Journal.

The Churchill estate will donate their share of the proceeds to charity and Mr Rumsfeld is donating any profits to military charities in the US.

The differences between Solitaire and Churchill Solitaire

The objective

Solitaire: Create four piles of cards, one for each suit, in ascending order from Ace to King.

Churchill Solitaire: Create eight piles, one for each suit (playing with two decks), in ascending order. 

The layout

Solitaire: Begin with seven rows of cards.

Churchill Solitaire: Begin with 10 rows of cards.

The remaining cards

Solitaire: Draw from the reserve deck to continue to make moves. 

Churchill Solitaire: Tap the reserve stack to deal new cards on top of the rows. Beside the reserve deck is also the "Devil's Six" which can only be moved directly onto the eight ascending piles or "Victory Rows", not onto the main playing surface. 

The Daily Telegraph

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