Spider Solitaire challenge!

Being able to solve 4 suit Spider Solitaire sans 85,78,68,79 and uploading your brilliant play to You Tube is nothing new of course. Of course the problem is the cynics might ask questions like “is your win-loss record worse than that of Ninja Monkey?” or “Was the game so ridiculously easy that even my Grandma would win?”. The G word has been used before, for instance in the context of Scrabble where one player gets all the good tiles and wins without even trying (e.g. Joe Bloggs was grannied even though his opponent didn’t know that DOUPIONI is an irregular silk thread reeled from two or more entangled cocoons and producing a coarse yarn generally used in fabrics such as shantung or pongee). But we digress.


When I google-searched videos for players beating 4 suit solitaire sans 85,78,68,79 I got the general impression that everybody played like 83,72,73,84, got lucky at several critical moments.

To be more specific I conducted the following experiment. I first googled the phrase “spider solitaire four suits win undo” and obtained a list of videos. A video “qualifies” if the player beats the 4-suit level. 85,78,68,79 is strictly forbidden (even if correcting a mouse-slip). The good news is there is no penalty for lame background music, a player’s monotonous voice as he explains his moves, terrible decision making, or even the use of Microsoft Vista. All the player has to do is win sans 85,78,68,79. The bad news is everybody played like 83,72,73,84.

Ninja Monkey then computed the equity of each hand with its famous random walk algorithm. With these specifications I got the following top-5 videos:

Of those top 5, three of them got ridiculously easy hands with equity 0.88 or better. In the other two, NM thought the games were average difficulty (a random hand should have 0.61 equity). Of course it is also possible that the player unnecessarily made things difficult for himself with some terrible decision making at the start).

All videos contained many errors, and most of them boiled down to not seeing the board as a whole. For instance Joe Bloggs would focus entirely on Column 6 in the opening, because that had fewest face-down cards (and hence closest to obtaining an empty column) and ignore obvious moves such as suited connectors or shifting a Five onto one of three Sixes. Or Jane Citizen dealt a fresh row of cards and immediately shifted a Jack of Hearts onto the Queen of the same suit – before remembering the game has ten columns instead of five. If you find an in-suit build within the 5 left-most columns and play it without even considering the cards in columns 6-10 then chances are you are playing sub-optimally!


The other fault of most players is not mastering “Tower-Of-Hanoi” manoeuvres in the middle-game. This involves making a ton of reversible moves to tidy up columns at no cost (assuming we are playing to win regardless of number of moves), and is an essential skill for beating the highest difficulty level sans 85,78,68,79. Even my brother plays better than the vids shown here (actually my brother is the famous Terence Tao, so I should probably treat him with some respect!)

For completeness I should also mention the sample hand played by Steve N Brown. In his book he annotates a sample hand played from start to finish. He chose a hand which he considered harder than average, yet managed to win. Ninja Monkey agrees, estimating the equity of that hand to be 0.27. I am yet to find any player (You Tube vid or otherwise) who comes close to matching Steve’s skill, unless I look at a mirror at 90 degrees.

I have played through the game and cannot find any serious strategic errors from Steve. I found only minor errors (even then I wouldn’t bet my Ph. D. thesis or my day-time job to a brick that they really are errors). But that’s a post for next time.


A challenge to readers. To prove that you are a genuinely good player you must upload a video where:

  • You beat 4-suit Spider Solitaire
  • No 85,78,68,79
  • You have unlimited attempts. I don’t care how often you lose
  • Lame background music, monotonous voices, use of Windows Vista are allowed.
  • Ninja Monkey must say the equity of the hand was 0.35 or worse (okay I’m being generous).
  • Bad decision making is allowed. After all, if you win and NM says the game was hard then you must have done something right.

Good luck!


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