Spider is played with two decks. The aim is to arrange cards into complete suits and move them to the foundations. The tableau consists 54 cards arranged into 10 columns and the remaining 50 cards are in the stock. Only the top card of each column is visible and the rest are face down.
Since 10 does not divide evenly into 54, some columns will have one more card than others. One could argue that the most aesthetically pleasing arrangement is to have extra cards for columns 1,4,7 and 10. But most implementations of Spider assign the extra cards to the four left-most columns. Face-down cards are exposed as soon as all cards above it are removed.
A single card can be moved to any card of immediately-higher rank, regardless of suit. A run of cards in sequence and in the same suit can be moved as a unit, just like a single card. However, unlike Klondike or Freecell, cards can only be moved to the foundations if you have a complete suit from Ace to King.
Any card can move onto an empty column, not just kings. Hence empty columns are very valuable at any stage of the game.
The player can deal a fresh row of 10 cards from the stock at any stage of the game. Note that exposed cards will no longer be in descending sequence (except by chance).
The game is won if the player successfully moves all cards to the foundations. The player loses if there are no legal moves, but most losses occur by “resignation” i.e. the player decides it is not possible to achieve the requirements for victory with any sequence of legal moves.
Tweaking the rules
With numerous implementations of Spider available (both online and personal devices), it is not surprising that rulesets can differ slightly:
- The game can be played with 1, 2 or 4 suits. Almost every implementation should allow the player to choose any of these options. If you come across an 8-suit version then congrats for knowing something that I don’t!
- Most programs will forbid a player from dealing 10 cards from the stock if you have one or more empty columns. I have never understood the purpose of this rule, and I don’t believe it should seriously affect a player’s win rate
- Some Spider programs will automatically remove complete suits to the foundations. In rare circumstances, this can be detrimental to your win rate. The good news is if you do encounter such a situation then congratulations, you are no longer a beginner 😊
- The most important difference between various implementations of Spider is the 85-78-68-79 function. To keep this blog clean, specific four-letter words have been converted to numbers. Depending on your point of view 85-78-68-79 could either be the bane of recreational players due to the encouragement of bad habits or a useful analysis tool to see where you could have improved after conceding a loss. Some programs allow unlimited 85-78-68-79, but others might prohibit 85-78-68-79 after dealing 10 cards from the stock or moving a suit to the foundations. If you can work out what the four-letter word is without an ASCII cheat sheet then you probably have the right analytical mindset to do well in Spider Solitaire!
- The final aspect is scoring. One Spider implementation may let the player start with 500, but subtract a point for every move. 100 points are awarded for completing a suit. Another program might give the player 1 point for every in-suit pair of cards (“suited connectors” to borrow a term from Texas Holdem). Other exotic variants are possible. I’ve even seen a program that halves your score and changes the background to red if you use 85-78-68-79 at least once.
One advantage of different scoring systems is it can give a recreational player something to aim for, even if his win rate is not very good! For instance, if Joe Bloggs is a 83-72-73-84 player who can beat 4-suit Spider only 10% of the time he can still hope for a “good” score half of the time.
Finally, I shall point out different players will have different goals in Spider. Some players will play recreationally, cramming in many 2-suit games in half an hour. Others may prefer to grind out a single well-played game in the same amount of time. A third player might try to also grind out a single game but without the use of 85-78-68-79. Hardcore players might even try to keep statistics over a large number of games. And I have even seen Spider papers in various academic journals …
For the rest of this blog I will assume that a player is aiming to win a game of Spider at the 4-suit level without 85-78-68-79, restart or rejects (unless stated otherwise). Furthermore he, she or it will assume the scoring to be the trivial function of 1 point for a win and 0 for a loss 😊
Toodle Pip and Piddle Too 😊