Game on (27 May, 2020)

Here is the position from last week:


We are guaranteed three turnovers and there are several ways to achieve this. It would be difficult even for an expert player to visualise the final state once we get the three (or more) turnovers. Obviously, much will depend on the newly exposed cards, but the following sequences should give a general feel of how the game might play out:

<ja, jc, hc, hc, bd, fb, fi>

<ja, jc, hc, hc, bd, fb, ib, fb>

<ag, ad, jg, jc, hc, hc>

<ag, dj, ed, jg, ag, jc, hc, hc>

Looking beyond the number of turnovers, we see it may be desirable to build in-suit with e.g. the 2-A of Diamonds or 6-7 of Clubs. We might wanna start a junk pile on the King of Clubs so that other columns become easier to deal with later. Or we might wanna start thinking about obtaining an empty column ASAP. And don’t forget the virtues of procrastination – the more flexible the game state the better our chances will be. So there is plenty to think about (assuming you are serious about improving your game!)


I executed the following moves. It is beyond the scope of this blog post to explain every decision in detail:

<ja,jc> Qs

<hc,hg> 4h

<hb> 3s

<da,ba,ha,ed,ea> 7d

Now that we turned over a Seven, it becomes clear to shift the Queen in column f (not column j) to expose an Eight. Of course we can improve this plan slightly by procrastination i.e. dumping the Seven onto the empty column.

<eh> 2c

<fb, fi> Qc


Things have settled down somewhat. We have an empty column, but must use it immediately to turn over a new card. We can do some significant tidying. For instance the J-0-9 in column c can shift onto one of three queens. Even though we can’t immediately turn over column c, it might become available next round. Several other shifts are possible (an exercise for the reader!). In other words, there are several plausible actions to choose from.

What would be your play here?

30th Anniversary Celebration (alternative version)

It had been 30 years since the Ninja Monkey become the first dude in the Animal Kingdom to beat Four-Suit Spider Solitaire. The affable Tim Croofs had decided to throw a massive party of Solitaire binge-playing and every monkey, his dog and literally every millipede on the planet was invited. As an extra incentive every win would be worth double the usual Experience Points.

Captain oBVIOUS was keen to try his new strategy of becoming the Grand Doctor Of Spider Solitaire. Recall that whoever has the most experience points would become the Grand Doctor Of Spider Solitaire, and the captain reasoned that all he had to do was beat enough 1-suit hands to gain as many XP as he desired.

Meanwhile, Gravelsealer Geoeyes was struggling with the 2-suit version of the game. He could win just under half the time. The dog on the adjacent table was faring even worse. It was not very smart – it could only beat one game in three.

It was not just Spider Solitaire. Several other games were being played, such as the well-known Freecell, Klondike, Pyramid and the like.

A number of dumb bunnies were playing Snap. Apparently, the Bad Idea Bears thought it would be a hilarious prank if they told them the first player to win ten games in a row would earn 10,000 experience points (and several epiphanies would occur at the same time).

Not surprisingly it was the Eagle showing everyone else how it’s done. With a 25% success rate at the four-suit level he was easily top of the Experience Points Leaderboard.

The Wise Snail arrives three hours late to the party. He signs up, and then he waits …

And waits …

And waits …

And waits …

And waits …

“Sorry,” says Captain oBVIOUS, as he taps the Eagle’s shoulder.  “You’ve got to hurry up.”

“Shush, I’m trying to think,” replies the Eagle. “This is a critical point of the hand.”

“The playing room is packed with people and animals,” continues Captain oBVIOUS. “Half of them are waiting for the organisers to print more playing cards. Thank you for your patience and underst- ”

The Eagle notices with horror that the playing room is indeed packed with people and animals and half of them are waiting for the organisers to print more playing cards. I can’t remember the last time my best student was shown up by Captain oBVIOUS.

“The room may be packed, but at least there’s no deadly virus ravaging the Animal Kingdom,” quips the Smart 65,83,83.

“You’re Not Helping,” growls the Lion, who is also waiting for a game.

“*** Sigh ***” sighs the captain. “I guess I’m not becoming the Grand Doctor Of Spider Solitaire after all. Several other players are playing non-stop and they seem to be more skilled than me.”

“More skilled than I,” quips the Smart 65,83,83.

“Oh For 70,85,67,75,83 Sake!” shout several animals in unison.


“We did it! We did it!” shouts Tim Croofs, oblivious to the numerous players as they grumble about not enough cards and too much overcrowding.



Tim Croofs and organisers high-five each other and live happily ever after.


30th Anniversary Celebration

In case you missed the news, Microsoft wanted all the good citizens of the world to unite and help break the record for most games played. Yesterday they offered double experience points as an incentive for card players over the world to kill their own productivity.

Avid readers of this blog may recall the Experience Points table for Spider Solitaire is shown below. Thus an Easy 1-suit hand scores 800 XP instead of 400 etc. Of course NaN times two is still NaN.


Apparently, this was a Facebook Live event, which featured a giveaway or three and Microsoft Solitaire’s creative director Kevin Lambert will field questions and talk about the history of Microsoft Solitaire.

I wasn’t able to participate, mainly because 22 May fell on a Friday and I still had work commitments (working remotely from home). I should also point out this event involved all games within the Solitaire family, not just my favourite Spider. Hence you can expect to see some Freecell, Klondike, Pyramid and perhaps some lesser known games.

I played a single game of Klondike (3 cards at a time) just to compare the XP gained versus Spider Solitaire and the reward for winning is only 300 XP, less than the easiest difficulty of one-suit Spider Solitaire. At least winning enabled me to get the “we did it” screen at the bottom of this blog post.

Yesterday I checked the Microsoft Solitaire Facebook page – and apparently not everything is running smoothly ☹


But such mundane matters don’t concern Microsoft as they achieved a new record for number of games played in a single day. Presumably all the good folk at Microsoft will live happily ever after.


Game on (20 May)


We start with the following moves

<ae> 0d

<aj> 5h

<ia> Kd

<fi> 0s

<ef> 2h

<ji> 0c

<hf> 4c

<hc> 8d

<fh, deal = 85J6AQ99J7>


Not much thought required here. We start with three in-suit builds, then look for other “safe” moves such as moving a Queen onto either of two Kings. We managed to turn over eight cards in round 0, perhaps a disappointment after such a promising start – but this is probably not too surprising for a Master-level hand. Of course we are careful to build in-suit with 8-7 of diamonds before dealing another round.

We deal a row of 10 fresh cards and now the fun begins. There are many possibilities to consider: what would be your action here? (remember an action is a sequence of moves that ends as soon as one or more cards are exposed).


Spider Solitaire Notation (alternative version)

The streets were littered with random animal and human body parts. An arm here. A leg there. A lizard’s tail, a cat’s paw. A pair of bunny ears to the right, an ox-tongue to the left. A human kidney, a lung. Careful, don’t step on the occasional monkey brains … uh oh, somebody even managed to lose his 68,73,67,75 after, shall we say, some rather poor decision making. The city was not exactly known for good hygiene, and a vaccine for the mystery virus wasn’t coming any time soon. But the White Bishop knew he had been one of the luckier ones. He only had a nose missing.

Despite many years of debate and discussion, there was no consensus on whether the Knight or Bishop was the stronger piece on the Chessboard so they had decided to settle things over a game of Spider Solitaire, or more precisely a series of games. It was well known the Knight could wield a mean deck of cards or two, but the Bishop felt he was equal to the challenge.

They would both play 100 games each, and whoever won more games than the other would win the match. As compensation for being wheelchair-bound, the Bishop gave the Knight odds of half-a-game. Thus, if they both won the same number of games, the Knight would be declared the stronger player.


“<ji>”, says the Black Knight.

The White Bishop obediently moves the Four of Clubs onto the Five of Clubs, exposing the Three of Diamonds.


The White Bishop moves the Seven of Spades onto the Eight of Spades, exposing the Four of Diamonds

“<ie> – oops I mean <je> … <if> … <if> … <fi>”

And on and on it went. The quadriplegic would announce his moves according to their agreed notation and his anosmia-stricken best friend would play them out. They had even mastered the lingo for supermoves, (borrowing from the simpler game of Freecell) and superswaps. When it was the Bishop’s turn to play, the Knight would only watch. Of course there would be no 85,78,68,79 for either player. All the other chessmen watched in awe, admiring the skill of both players as they navigated the good cards and bad.

< several games later >

The Knight had won 47 games out of 100. With his concentration waning near the end he probably should have won a couple extra games. But at least he didn’t have to worry about making further errors. Everything depended on the Bishop who had won 47 out of 99. The latter had reached an endgame with only six face-down cards remaining and the stock empty. At first the prelate was about to concede the game and the match, but he eventually realised he could expose one face-down card with a complex sequence of moves. But he would have to hope the newly-exposed card was good. Finding nothing better, the Bishop executes his plan and is about to turn over a card, but then pauses.

Just turn over the 70,85,67,75,73,78,71 card and get it over and done with, the Black Knight thinks to himself.

“I feel it is most unfair, for the entire match to be decided by a single card.”

“The match is very close,” replies the Knight. “I calculate the odds to be exactly 50:50. The next card will determine the outcome of the game and the match. Get a good card and even the Ninja Monkey can’t 70,85,67,75 it up with random moves. Draw a bad card and you have no plan B.”

The Bishop checks his card-tracking sheet.

“There are three good cards and three bad cards. Doesn’t get much closer than that”

“JUST 70,85,67,75,73,78,71 TURN 70,85,67,75,73,78,71 THAT 70,85,67,75,73,78,71 CARD 70,85,67,75,73,78,71 OVER so we can work out the winner and go home.”

“We both played 100 games and neither player has managed to demonstrate any statistically-significant superiority over the other,” continues the Bishop. “I don’t see any point in completing the last game.”

After some thought, the Black knight replies “All right, we’ll call it a draw.” 😊

Spider Solitaire Notation

When discussing a sequence of one or more moves it is clearly more convenient to say something like “<ac>” rather than “move the Jack of Hearts from column 1 onto the Queen of Diamonds on column 3.” This is especially true when we talk about long series of moves to achieve a desired goal such as an empty column or increasing the number of in-suit builds.

Steve Brown has developed his own notation for moves in Spider Solitaire in his excellent book Winning Spider Solitaire Strategies. The notation is theoretically sound, but I think it is rather technical and counter-intuitive for most players so I decided to make some slight variation of it. I prefer to illustrate important strategy concepts through the use of silly stories 😉

Most of the time, specifying a source and destination column is enough to uniquely identify a legal move. For instance if the top cards of columns 1 and 3 are a Seven and Jack respectively, then we know that exactly four cards are being moved from column 1 to column 3 (unless the move is illegal). But there are one-and-a-half exceptions.

The one exception occurs when the destination column is empty, in which case the number of cards being moved may be ambiguous (of course most of the time you wanna move the maximum number of cards to avoid losing an in-suit build). The half-exception concerns the use of supermoves. Many players will be familiar with the concept of supermoves from Freecell and they turn out to be very convenient for dealing with longer move sequences.

I will use the letters abcdefghij to denote the ten columns from left to right. Therefore the simplest example of a supermove could be <ab2,ac5,bc3> to shift five cards from column 1 to column 3, assuming 2,5,3 represent the number of cards being shifted for each individual move. Of course most of the time the numbers are unnecessary so it is simpler to write <ab,ac,bc>. The supermove notation is <ac> in lieu of <ab,ac,bc>. Going back to an earlier example, if the top cards of column 1 and 3 are a Seven and Jack respectively then <ac> means we are shifting exactly four cards. If they are not suited then we check if the conditions for a supermove exist (for instance we might have an empty column and a spare Nine).

A related concept is superswap where we want to swap the partial contents of two columns. For instance if we have 8C-7D in column 1 and 8D-7S-6S-5S in column 7 then it might be desired to swap the 7D with 7S-6S-5S to build in-suit with 8D-7D. This can be notated as <a1=g3>. Obviously, this can only be achieved with a spare Eight of any suit or an empty column.

With more empty columns and cards in play deeper superswaps are possible. It is not hard to imagine a move like <c6=g8> to tidy up suits, which might take over 30 individual moves to achieve. Note that without the numbers 6,8 there may be ambiguity with e.g. <c5=g7> or <c4=g6> etc.

In the example below we might start the game with <eh>,<ji> for two in-suit builds. Assuming the exposed cards are 4D and 3D respectively the third move could be <ie>, which is also in-suit.


You may have noticed the use of angle brackets – these correspond to single actions, i.e. move sequences that expose at least one new card. For example <eh>,<ji> means we shift the Seven of Spades, examine the card underneath and then decide the best move is to shift the Four of Clubs. If we ignored the face-up card underneath the Seven of Spades, then the notation would be <eh,ji> which is technically not an action (although the loss in “equity” is very small).

Until next time, happy Spider Solitaire playing 😊

Four-suit Master Level – let’s do this!!!

Another working day over and done with, I guess it’s time to play a 4-suit hand at Master level 😉

Avid readers of this blog may recall I discussed the difference between an “expert” level and “grandmaster” level hand – but conveniently omitted the “master” level which is somewhere in between. Recall that Microsoft Spider Solitaire gives the player the option of choosing a difficulty level as well as number of suits. In this case we know (before touching a card) that

  • The game is guaranteed winnable
  • The difficulty should be “average” because 4-suit hands have four difficulty levels namely: expert, master, grandmaster and random

A cursory analysis of the opening position suggests our prospects are good: we have five guaranteed turnovers (only one in-suit but we can live with that), and we have nine different ranks (only Fives are duplicated). If this were a random deal, I would consider myself a favourite to win this game, but at master-level difficulty I’m not so sure.

This could be a “honey-trap” – Microsoft may want to encourage players to accept whatever starting hand they get, and then unleash a surprise or three on the next 30 cards in the stock 😉 (players can refuse a starting hand without having a loss officially recorded in their stats, but I always play every hand). However I’m not making any accusations of foul play without any concrete evidence. This could be a future project, but for now let us focus on winning the game.


FUN FACT: if the opening hand contains ten different ranks we are guaranteed at least six turn-overs with proper play.