Building Complete Suits

One of the hallmarks of a winning Spider player is the ability to consistently clear at least one suit, even on difficult hands. Often players get caught up in the minutiae of trying to turn over as many cards as possible or to “tidy” things up by arranging suited builds. This is all well and good near the beginning but when you have several cards in play it’s time to think about building suits. This often requires “whole board thinking” and long term planning.

In easy or medium (1 or 2 suit) level, if a player turns over enough cards and gets and empty column or two then complete suits will take care of themselves. But this is not true at expert level. A good player should be thinking about building suits at virtually every stage of the game.

What happens if you get 1 or 2 empty columns, a few suited connectors scattered here and there but are never able to remove a complete suit onto the foundations? The following diagram should give you a pretty strong hint 😊

To clear a suit, two things must happen:

  • All 13 ranks of that suit must be visible
  • It must be possible to organise them into a single column.

 The first condition is easy to check, since it’s just an exercise in card-counting. The tricky bit is answering the second condition, assuming the first condition actually holds.

Here is a simple example, which you may recognise from my (admittedly lame) short story from a previous post.

We have already cleared the club suit and there are three empty columns. This game should be easily winnable, but we may as well use this example to illustrate the concept of building full suits. Every rank in the Heart suit is visible. We have K-Q-J-0 in column 2. The remaining cards are found in columns 3,4 and 9. With three empty columns it is not hard to verify the Hearts can be collected into a single column.

As a fun exercise, try to do it with less than three empty columns. The following table should give an estimate of your playing strength

If you can clear Hearts with Then
Three empty columns Well done
Two empty columns You are already above beginner level
One empty column You are probably an International Master
Zero empty columns or less Your name is probably Chuck Norris

If you wanna get really good at 4-Suit Spider, you should try to visualise what happens after clearing a suit. After all the aim of the game is to complete eight suits, not just one. But that’s a lesson for later. As usual, it’s best for a beginner player to focus on learning one thing at a time.

In practice, it is often wise to think about complete suits before all 13 ranks of a particular suit become visible. As an example, consider the following two diagrams and answer the questions below:

  • What is the difference between two diagrams?
  • Are they equivalent? That is, given one diagram can you reach the other?
  • Assume your next move is shifting the 10 of Hearts to an empty column. Which diagram would you prefer and why?

These diagrams are the same, except columns 8 and 9 have some cards switched. If we assume that each suited connector is worth 1 brownie point, both diagrams would score the same number of BP.

The difference of course is that in the second diagram we already have a run from K-Q-J-0-9-8 in spades. If, somehow, we get a run from Seven to Ace, then the difference between the two diagrams becomes manifest. It is true that we are a long way from getting 7-6-5-4-3-2-A in Spades, but there is no harm setting up the run from K-Q-J-0-9-8.

Those with an attention to detail might have noticed it took me 15 moves just to swap the Q-J-0-9 in columns 8 and 9 for some nebulous gain. But I recommend that the serious player should get into this habit of striving for perfection even at the cost of playing numerous moves and losing score. Once the player can get a decent win rate (e.g. 30% without 85,78,68,79) he can start to think about optimising score.

Many close games are lost because a player is stuck with a “twelve-suit” instead of a complete suit, and it is quite possible the loss can be blamed on poor planning at an early stage of the game.

I hope you found these lessons useful. If your Spider win rate has dramatically improved in the last three weeks, please leave a comment below 🙂

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