This was a decent round. Hero started with 3 guaranteed turnovers and managed to raise that to 12. Some delicate decision making in the middle with IM Bart and IM Bug hunting for some small edges, but to no avail. At least Hero managed to turn over every face-down card in column 7, a lasting asset to keep for the remainder of the game. No empty column yet, but real chances to get something going in the next round if the Card Gods cooperate. I should also mention both Bart and Bug are comfortable with the use of the doubling cube, and no rule clarifications were needed.
Speaking of the doubling cube, not much excitement yet with neither side coming close to a serious advantage. But every man dog and millipede knows that a lot can change when 10 cards are added simultaneously instead of sequentially.
Spider GM Comments: Not the most difficult decision (both cube and card-play) but I believe now is the best time to sanity-check there are no misunderstandings before things get interesting. If there is something you’re unsure about, please drop a comment!
Actual play: gf (trivial) → 5c
Spider GM Comments: We’ve passed the first hurdle with no rule clarifications needed about the mechanics of the doubling cube. Game on!
Actual play: gh (trivial) → 9s
Spider GM Comments: Tricky decision – do we take the in-suit build, go for the empty column or try some delaying option? 😊
Actual play (March 20th, score = 497): je,ge → 7c
Spider GM Comments: I like this play. Knowing the last card in column 7 is a Good Thing even if we don’t get the space immediately.
Actual play: hg → 0h (trivial coin-flip)
Actual play: hj → 4s (trivial)
Spider GM Comments: Given this is a 5-point match instead of single game, I am happy to speed things up with one decision per day (if something gets in the way I will let you know). Again you might wanna vote for a move sequence resulting in multiple turnovers – assuming only bad cards turn up and thus avoiding the need to reconsider.
Actual play (March 21st, score = 493): ib → Ad
< position omitted>
Actual play (score = 492): gb,hb → Qd
Spider GM Comments: Bart/Bug have already agreed on multiple turnovers assuming bad cards turn up.
Actual play (score = 490): jh (trivial)→ 3d
< position omitted>
Actual play (score = 489): jb (trivial) → 4c
Actual play (score = 487): eh,ae→ 3h
Actual play (score = 485) ad → 0c
Spider GM Comments: Hard to argue with any of these decisions. Lots of turnovers but no empty column yet …
Actual play (March 22, Score = 485): deal
Spider GM Comments: IM Bug has kindly requested we deal more Eights and Fives. The move “ea” was possible but Bug/Bart saw no advantage in doing so.
After discussion with IM Bart and IM Bug I have decided it’s best to go with my original plan of Match-to-5 but with the following difference:
If either side doubles and opponent refuses, then Hero can request the game be played out anyway to see what would have happened (obviously without affecting the actual score). This has the effect of slowing down the match (although I guess that conceding is acceptable if things turn from terrible to okay-okay-okay-it-really-is-hopeless).
Below is an “example-only” state of the match, defined by current match score, the stake of the current game, ownership of the cube and (last but not least if you pardon the terrible cliché) the game-state for the current game. In this example, Hero leads Villain 2-1 in a match to 5 and the centered cube indicates both sides have the right to make the next double. Well done if you recognise the game state was cut-n-pasted from our previous game 😊
NOTE: in Backgammon it is conventional for a centered cube to have the number ‘64’ instead of ‘1’ since no confusion is possible assuming both players are rational. If the cube actually does reach 64 in a “money-game” or “match-to-more-than-64-points” and the game is played at the local brewery then it’s heavy odds-on that at least one player is not putting in his best effort 😉
The first hand will start some time tomorrow. Good luck!
Following Ninja Monkey’s rather lame advice in our previous game and my spectacularly unsuccessful attempts at improving its win rate over the long weekend, I have decided to take things to the Next Level Of Trevor by proposing a Match-To-Five-Points. This would entail the use of a Doubling Cube, so games can terminate early if one side doubles and the other refuses. From earlier interaction with IM Bart and IM Bug, I can safely assume my readers have some familiarity with the mechanics of the doubling cube in Backgammon 😊
To be more specific, here are the rules for 5-Point-Match in Spider Solitaire:
The readers (IM Bart, IM Bug plus others) are the “Heroes” and I am the evil Villain.
The readers are responsible for making all decisions re card play. I will maintain the game state with my standard Windows Solitaire software. Both my readers and I participate in cube decisions.
At any stage of the game, either side can double. The opponent must concede (and start a new game with cube in the middle) or accept (which gives him exclusive right to make the next double). Note that rejecting a bad starting hand is equivalent to conceding a point after the Villain doubles. Obviously restart/undo is not allowed.
There are no gammons or backgammons. There is no reward for scoring more than 5 points so paying attention to the match score may be relevant.
Pretend you don’t know nothing about chouettes – we shall keep things simple!
Just to cover my backside and avoid any unpleasant controversies, I will state the following clarifications up front.
It is legal for either side to double before the first move is played. Beware that it is possible for a good start to sour. Conversely, it is equally possible to recover from a poor start with skilled play. It is usually muchharder to obtain a reversal of fortunes (in either direction) after the stock is empty!
To avoid the (rare-but-theoretically-possible) scenario where both sides wanna double simultaneously with the cube in the middle, you can assume that if I present the latest game state without explicitly mentioning the D-word then I forfeit my right to double.
If the readers do not have a clear majority for a preferred action (card-play or cube decision) then I use a random number generator as tie-breaker. Obviously, I will not use my “better judgment” as tie-breaker!
It is acceptable to concede after accepting a cube and regretting it (a typical Backgammon analogy would be the losing side resigning after barely avoiding a Gammon in a no-contact position)
To save time, a reader may wish to combine a cube decision and card-play decision. For instance Joe Bloggs may vote “Double: if Villain accepts then I play (ab,cd,ef)”. A combined decision is always split into two separate decisions, with cube-decision first. If the majority vote is against Joe Bloggs’ cube decision then his card-play decision is redirected to Tumbolia, the land of Dead Hiccups and extinguished lightbulbs. Obviously the card-play decision is N/A if the decision is “decline Villain’s double”.
Note that Villain actually gained information he was not entitled to because the Heroes gave a move sequence before Villain had a chance to accept/refuse the cube (but Villain must accept/refuse before seeing any turnovers resulting from the move sequence). For this reason, I recommend to use compound actions only when the card-play really is trivial.
I Have No Idea If This Will Work But There’s Only 1 Way To Find Out
Here’s hoping there are some Backgammon addicts out there who are willing to join in the fun along with our two IM’s. If you know your Market Losers from your Post-Crawford Game then this should be right up your alley, even if you rot13(fhpx) at Spider Solitaire. In any case, that’s what team-mates like Bug and Bart are for 😊 So, without further ado Let The Games Begin Immediately!
Following a disastrous round 4, the first task was to “get started” after dealing the last 10 cards. It seemed hopeless (or at least that’s what Monkey said), but with careful thought an opening was found. The Jack in column 5 happened to be of the “correct suit” and as so often happens it’s the little details that separate victory from defeat.
Once we found the two empty columns, we had more than a fighting chance. The Diamond suit was already removed and Hearts followed soon after. Bart was more than happy to spend a large number of moves rearranging the suits, looking for the smallest of edges – incidentally this is the right approach when you are only concerned with winning the game – but the unseen cards continued to resist with four face-down queens among the last 13 cards. Only after we found two dream cards in column 3, could we breathe a sigh of relief. With victory practically certain, we decided to let Monkey finish the business – perhaps unwisely as it turned out. If the Ace of Diamonds turned up at the worst moment everyone would have ended up with egg on their faces, but fortunately the Card Gods decided we had earned our victory.
A fascinating hand – overall a very well-played game by Bart. Unfortunately, Bug was unable to contribute to a number of critical decisions through no fault of his own. But the team definitely earned their victory. Despite two very poor rounds with no turnovers, we found enough resources to scrape home with the win. Meanwhile, I might need a word or several thousand with the Monkey after, shall we say, a few interesting decisions.
A detailed post-mortem for individual positions will follow in due course.
Spider GM comments: Bart has already deduced that any Ten gives us the option of ac,ab,ae to trade a space in column 2 for a space in column 1 – but this was beyond the Monkey’s horizon. The real question is what happens after that?
Monkey Recommends: eh (that’s the TLDR version, actual play was hg,gh,eh)
Actual play (date = 8/Feb, score = 260): eh→ 6c
Spider GM comments: Bart has carefully avoided removing the Hearts which is good technique – you never know when the extra flexibility comes in useful. But it’s hard to see any improvement on the Captain Obvious option (since Bart has already tidied everything up as much as possible). I’m calling trivial.
Monkey Recommends: bc, ih, je, ji, id, cb
Actual play (date = 10/Feb, score = 360): bc, id, eb, he → Kd
Spider GM comments: Hopefully this endgame is better than the ones I get in the higher levels of Toy Blast.
Monkey Recommends: jb,de,jd,ij,bi,cb
Actual play (date = 11/Feb, score = 354): ce → Qc
Spider GM comments: To speed up the endgame you might wanna consider enumerating all possible face-down cards and continuations (only 13 cards and most are trivial)
Monkey Recommends: jb, ch
Actual play (date = 11/Feb, score = 360): dc,dh,cd → 7s
Spider GM comments: Bart has already “pre-moved”, borrowing a term from speed chess players.
With two very good cards turned in column 3, this game is pretty much in the bag. Before proceeding with the usual routine let’s ask some quick questions:
Do you think this game is mathematically won with best play regardless of the permutation of unseen cards? (it’s okay to answer “not sure”).
If you think this game has no further interest, are you happy to claim a moral victory (having come this far!) and let Ninja Monkey play out the remaining moves?
Bart is happy to let Monkey play the remainder of the game. The moves are omitted and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to verify the following diagrams are indeed legal.
Spider GM comments: A very exciting game that could have gone either way until (nearly) the end. Stay tuned for some good ol’ post mortem analysis!
For those who are asking: “what happens if the next card in column 7 was Ace of Diamonds instead of the Queen?” Yes, I hear you.
Finally Monkey releases the all-important Six of Diamonds and the rest really is a formality.
Not much to say really. We had the classic “can’t get started problem”. We need an empty column to gain an empty column. No turnovers, a few in-suit builds. Bart’s gamble of sacrificing an in-suit build did not pay off. We started with four exposed Eights and a 7-6-5-4-3-2-A of Hearts, but after dealing 10 cards, three Sevens appeared simultaneously, including one in column 2. Now we needed two Eights to recover an empty column but three of the four Eights became unavailable. This “requirements shift” phenomenon is typical in Spider Solitaire when 10 cards appear simultaneously instead of sequentially. I assume the same phenomenon is recognised by hardened software engineers 😊
Incidentally if we had chosen to shift the Eight of Hearts in column 3 (instead of the Seven) into the space in column 2 then we could have turned over a card in column 6. This is left as an exercise for the reader (Hint: Go back to the start position of round 4, then insert the Eight of Hearts underneath the Seven of Hearts, so that columns 2/3 read as follows: 8765432A7/8K3).
Nevertheless, the game is far from over. We have one suit removed and I have won plenty of games despite no turnovers in a single round. Assuming at least one card is unseen, the time to start worrying is when you have no turnovers in the LAST round 😉
This was an excellent round. We obtained several turnovers and removed a full suit of Diamonds. We also cleared the mess in Column 1. However, we couldn’t quite make the most of our good fortune with the dreaded one-hole-no-card scenario occurring after taking all the easy good cards.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, one-hole-no-card usually indicates we failed to take maximum advantage from a position of strength. But a poor start meant we never had a position of strength to begin with. Attempts to avoid 1HNC would have entailed some other strategic risk – therefore I cannot declare that Bart had a finer muck-up. Spoonerisms aside, a detailed analysis is unfortunately beyond the scope of this post. In any case our position could easily have been much worse. Game on!
Bart played a very interesting gambit at the end. Unable to convert the empty column into an extra turnover, he chooses to split an in-suit build to at least maximise the chances of recovering an empty column. He feels the position is sufficiently good to justify playing safe – and if we do get an empty column or two then hopefully the in-suit builds will take care of themselves. I can’t claim this is a bad decision, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon 😊
Meanwhile, we hope IM Bug a speedy recovery after his accident.
Actual play (date = 19/Jan, score = 459): ed,ef,df,jf,jb → Qh
Spider GM comments: Monkey reasons that even if we refuse the empty column there is still a turnover in column 4 – and hence the same minimum guaranteed turnovers (it’s either one or the other since there is only one Seven and two Sixes).
Monkey Recommends: ic,ac,ce,ji
Actual play (date = 21/Jan, score = 452): ic,ji → 4d
Spider GM comments: A few more good cards and the Dow Jones Happy Star Index could reach stratospheric heights before we know it. Game on!
Monkey Recommends: ae, hd, gh, cg, bj, gc, jf
Actual play (date = 23/Jan, score = 450): bj,jf →7d
Spider GM comments: Not sure if this decision counts as trivial – there are a lot of options to consider. We also need to think about our overall game plan, and let’s not forget to Mind That Stupid Gap in column 8 😊
Monkey Recommends: ac,de,dh
Actual play (date = 25/Jan, score = 448): hd,gh,ac,ai,gi,ce,ci,ei,cg,ig,ai,g1=i1,ca,fc,fe,af,ca,ec,aj → 5h
Spider GM comments: Our card distribution is rapidly improving but the RNG favouring Bart’s choice three times in a row leads to a new problem: the Nasdaq 100 Rigged Index currently stands at 13 since three or more Barts in three trials occurred in exactly 13 trials out of 100.
Actual play (date = 27/Jan, score = 423): jg,f5=g5, bc, fb, he, h3=j, ah → 4h
Spider GM comments: IM Bug hasn’t suggested anything, so the Nasdaq 100 Rigged Index remains unchanged.
Monkey Recommends: jd,dj,gc,jd,cg,gc,dj,cg,ah
Actual play (date = 29/Jan, score = 414): ah (trivial)→ 0d
Spider GM comments: IM Bart made an interesting play, sacrificing in-suit builds for the greater good (e.g. not polluting potential empty columns). He also proposed to turnover column 4 if the turnover was useless but fortunately, we have a good card.
Actual play (date = 31/Jan, score = 490): c7=b0, deal
Spider GM comments: Nup, I don’t see any turnovers either ☹
Bart has made a very interesting decision, breaking an in-suit build in order to maximise the chances of winning back the empty column. Not a play I would have considered, but I can’t say it’s terrible. I guess it’s easier to judge the correctness of Bart’s decision after the game is completed 😊
Round 3 summary and Round 4 coming soon to a place near you.
In round 1, Team Good reached the following position. As so often happens, our options increase significantly when we procure an empty column – and so do our opportunities for mistakes.
Although we received a large slice of luck with several good cards in column 5 the game state remains deplorable. Bart chose the obvious “ef,be” to reveal the last face-down card in column 2. The problem is what do we do for an encore?
As I have alluded to several times earlier, we should be wary of the dangers of one-hole-no-card. With a glaring deficiency of Vitamin Q and Lucky Sevens it is not hard to imagine a scenario where we would be unable to turn over any cards even if we did obtain an empty column. In other words, empty columns are worth less than their usual face value in this particular situation. Let us construct a histogram of the cards that are visible so far:
We immediately see the biggest problem: only a solitary Seven is visible (mind the gap in column 8!) and we have no less than seven Eights. But the histogram doesn’t tell the full story. Close analysis of the tableau shows that most the Eights are buried under Kings. Ergo, if several Sevens appear on the next round, then we would be in an awkward spot when the Eights suddenly become essential. We should note that the shortage of Queens isn’t nearly as serious as the shortage of Eights. The difference is 5:1 instead of 7:1 and we still have one king exposed (or two if we allow the possibility of “eg,cg”). Also, if the last card in column 2 was a Seven of any suit, we would be considerably embarrassed after making the obvious play.
Going back to the diagram let us look for other possibilities. We soon notice that it is possible to turnover a card in column 10. This frees two precious Eights, so now we have a home if the next card is a Seven. In fact, we would obtain a double turnover if the next card is any Queen or Seven. Several other cards would yield a single turnover – less ideal, but at least we still get another shot at a double turnover before dealing a new row. Of course, the down-side is we dump a King into an empty column, but as noted above, empty columns are not all they’re cracked up to be.
This illustrates another general principle: when a game is going badly, we should think outside the box (terrible cliché notwithstanding) and look for opportunities to change the flow of the game, rather than letting the winning chances drift from Buckleys to Nada. And yes, the same principle applies to many strategy games, not just Spider Solitaire.
I believe Bart (and Ninja Monkey!) made an error in not turning over column 10. It may not be a serious mistake, but given that our situation is dire, the margin of error isn’t exactly great.
Fortunately, the last card in column 2 turned out to be the Three of Spades. We get our empty column back, but any Seven is no longer worth a double-turnover.
NOTE: My main concern with critiquing the play before the end of the hand is that players can receive “undeserved hints” for subsequent rounds, but I believe we have made enough progress for this concern to be rendered moot.