The Concept of Shape

Any experienced player will be familiar with various card configurations. We all know that suited connectors are good, but offsuit builds are less flexible. 75,73,78,71,83 tend to stink etc. Even a beginner quickly learns that with an empty column it is possible to shift an off-suit sequence of length 2, but not 3. These are examples of basic “shapes”.

I use the term “shape” rather loosely, and was inspired by use of a similar term in Sensei’s Library for the game of Go. For instance, two eyes live, empty triangle is usually bad etc. Shape is basically describing fundamental patterns that occur repeatedly and there is no reason we can’t apply similar terms for Spider Solitaire (or Chess or even Toy Blast or any other mathematical board game).

Basic shapes

The diagram below shows a sample game after a fresh round of 10 cards is dealt. Here are some examples of shape:

  • We have a suited connector in columns 2 (good shape). If only we can remove that blasted 10 of diamonds then we can easily expose a card.
  • We have an off-suit 4-5 in column 7 (bad shape!) so we cannot expose a card even if we had a spare Six.
  • Column 6 has no face-down cards. In this situation you should ask yourself “can I guarantee an empty column even if I were willing to trash my game state in every other way possible?” In this case, the answer is yes. Note that any column with at least one face down card means we cannot guarantee an empty column unless we play pokies … I mean get lucky.


Shapes are not just restricted to single columns. Here are some examples involving two or more columns:

  • We have three kings. This suggests columns 1,3,5 will be used as “junk piles” i.e. if we shift as much 83,72,73,84 as possible onto them then it is easier to clear other columns.
  • We drew three sevens, no sixes or eights in the last 10 cards. The bugbear of every Spider player. Fortunately an Eight is available in column 6.
  • Columns 7 and 9 have a Five-Four combination. Note that if we were able to swap the Fours we would get an extra in-suit build. This requires us to find a third five or an empty column.
  • We have an 8-9 of Hearts combination in columns 6 and 8. This is similar to the previous dot point except Column 8 is missing an off-suit Eight.
  • We have an A-2 of Hearts in columns 4 and 10. Note that this will not be reversible, so you might wanna immediately reread the blog post on procrastination before reading further.

The latter points are particularly important. As soon as you see two connected cards in-suit in different columns you should ask yourself if it is possible to build in-suit (with the help of Tower-of-Hanoi manoeuvres). Most of the time you will require an empty column or two, but on occasion it might be possible even without any empty column. You probably don’t want a 68,73,67,75,72,69,65,68 named 68,73,67,75 saying “Alert” every single time whenever he sees two suited connectors in different columns, but with enough practice spotting this situation should become second nature.


In the second example above we have some advanced shapes:

  • Column 1 has a 7H-6H-8C combination. This means as soon as the 8C is moved, we are guaranteed to have a legal play of 7H-6H onto wherever the 8C happens to land. Of course it is even better if we replace the 8C with 8H. Note that this advantage disappears if we move any other Seven onto the 8C first.
  • Column 6 is similar. If we shift the KH onto an empty column we can immediately get it back by moving the QD onto it.
  • Column 10 has a pair of sevens and this is generally bad shape. If, for instance, a King lands on column 10 on the next round, the player may find himself with a shortage of Sevens later on. Note that if we were able to shift any six onto the 7D then this is less of a problem.

Finally, recall that having all cards in a suit exposed in various columns is an example of good shape (or at least something to look out for).

Going Back To The Story

In the previous story 68,73,67,75 (who probably mastered the Tower of Hanoi puzzle at age six) was able to immediately spot opportunities to gain suited builds at no cost. Harry kept a close eye on completing full suits. Both are examples of team members paying attention to basic shapes. As a result, Tom was able to focus on the short-term goals of exposing cards and getting empty columns. Unfortunately nobody saw the plot twist coming on Monday, and Project Manager 2 was forced to record a “no-result” instead of a well-deserved victory. But we all know that 83,72,73,84 happens even to the best of us!

Until next time, happy Spider Solitaire playing – and remember not to play too much Spider at work 😊

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