Game over we win! (1 Aug 2021)

Continuing from last week. We reached the following position and I gave the task of removing a fifth suit in as few moves as possible (there was no consideration given to removing all eight suits in as few moves as possible).

Bart and SA found the correct solution of eleven moves. The opening bid was 13 from Bart but after some back-and-forth they eventually Cauchy-sequenced their way towards 11, which I believe to be optimum. The moves are:

.ji, ja, dj, gj, hc, ih, id, if, id, ij, hj

 which the reader can easily verify for himself, herself or itself. By this stage the game is trivially won and there is no further play of interest.

Well done to Bart and SA for their valued input throughout the game. Today’s special reward shall be … NO HOMEWORK for at least one week, yaaay!!!!!!!!

Until next time, happy Spider Solitairing – may all your builds be in-suit and all your long term plans come to fruition!

Game on (25 July 2021)

Continuing the game from last week, we have reached this position when even my dad knows how to remove the Diamond suit on the next move.

How would you continue here?

First of all, I present Grasshopper’s solution. This deserves to be seen in full, and also illustrates how one can manipulate cards in the endgame without the help of an empty column – a fundamental skill for playing well at Spider Solitaire.

Easy stuff first, do the Dia run


Do a Club run in Col 1

Shift Heart J to Col 3

.ic (Is that a super move? Do I need to notate as such?)

Swap out Q’s Col 9&10

.ia, ji. aj

Fill void with Club K Q and cover with J from Col 2

.ia, ba

Shift Club 8 in Col 9 to Col 7, move Club 10, 9-5 and 4-2 to Col 1

.ig, ia, ca, ga

Dig out the Club A and do Club run

.ib, ci, ca

If the above is accurate we have done a Club run and have maintained our void in Col 1. If not, you can stop reading now.

Surely we have to do a Spade run next, the location of the last Dia 4 is unknown, the second Heart run has needed turnovers strewn across 5 columns and if we solve this thing my guess is hearts clear last, and lastly the Club 4 is trapped by the Dia K.

So going forward from the point of removing the Club run I should think we should set things up so that, ideally, after the last draw we can make the Spade run and have two voids.

I intentionally did not join the Dia K&Q in Col 9&10 with the idea that we needed a “Clean Queen” in Col 10 to accept the upcoming Club J from Col 1. If we are going for a Spade run next and if it is possible, we will gain a queen in Col 4, and a Club queen at that! So lets start by swapping out the queens in Col 9&10 and keeping one hand on the ZKey in case we fail in the spade run.

.ia, ji, aj

Fill the void in Col 1 with the Spade 8 from Col 3 and distribute the J 10

.ca, ci, cd

Take the last draw.

Join the Club J 10 9 then do the spade run

.da, ha, cd, hd, gd

Create some voids

.ad, ae, fb, fi, cb Three Voids

This turns out to be completely correct. But before going on, a few general considerations are in order:

It’s hard to visualise moves even with Excel Cheatsheet, but I believe it is of immense benefit to the student to practice visualising long sequences of moves. If you’re reading this blog and don’t have the luxury of having the same position in your Spider Solitaire program, one suggestion is to write down a sequence of moves, then check your answer with Excel Cheatsheet 😊

Removing complete suits is often undesirable because they “can be used as lubricant” for other cards, as eloquently expressed by Bart. For instance, going back to the initial position (score = 70) one possibility is dg,hd,ha,fh,hf,hj,gj,gh to clean up column 8 to some extent. However, the tesuji of not removing a suit is much rarer when playing without undo.

Going back to the game:

It is trivial to determine the identity of the last two unknown cards. Of course, we remember to shift the Happy Stars of Bethlehem down a notch to indicate all cards have been dealt.

With four suits removed and three empty columns we are almost surely headed for victory. Of course, there is one particular Spider Solitaire server that taught me never to take anything for granted – but here we have no reason to suspect foul play. Let us finish off with a fun question:

  • What is the minimum number of moves required to remove a fifth suit – which could be Clubs Hearts Spades or Diamonds?

To make it slightly more challenging, try to visualise your moves without the help of Excel Cheatsheet 😊

Game on (18 July 2021)

Continuing the game from last week, this is our state of affairs and I simply asked my students how to continue without giving any specific goals in mind.

Thankfully the Happy Stars of Bethlehem have guided Schistocerca Americana to the road of redemption and he is no longer making fundamental errors such as dealing the same row of cards twice. SA has correctly deduced it is possible to clear a suit of Diamonds. This is not necessarily the best plan, but it is sufficient for purposes of this blog post.

Before we go any further, a few general considerations are in order. We have one empty column, one suit removed and undo privileges, yet winning is not trivial. This suggests the deal is harder than average (perhaps significantly so). Glancing at the cheat sheet suggests a number of problems:

  • There are five Nines in the last two rows of the stock. Therefore, we will always have a shortage of Nines, no matter how well we play the opening and middlegame.
  • There are four Threes in column 8. This means if we don’t clear column 8 soon we will have difficulties with Deuces.
  • There are many Fours buried under Kings in columns 4 and 9, so this may cause a problem with Threes later on.

I won’t discuss solutions to these problems yet. The purpose of this week’s post is to get the student thinking about potential problems in the future.  Anyways, let’s execute SA’s plan (the detailed move sequence is omitted – it can easily be found in SA’s comments to last week’s post).

Here is the resulting position, one move before the Diamond suit is cleared.

How would you continue here?

Game on (11 July 2021)

Continuing from last week, we had the task of removing the Heart suit after dealing the third round:

Schistocerca Americana has somehow transmogrified into Schrodinger Americana, simultaneously obtaining a score of ten and zero for the same question. It could be ten if you count effort, or zero if you count accomplishment. But unless we specify effort or accomplishment and force his score to be one or the other, his score will remain in a quantum state.

To be more specific, SA gave a detailed sequence of moves but forgot the first row of cards had already been dealt – and therefore (practically) every move after the first deal was illegal.

With neither SA or BW giving a detailed solution, I will satisfy myself with general considerations. After the third deal every card in Hearts is easily accessible, either in the tableau or stock. By easily accessible I mean we don’t have a stupid situation such as a beautiful run from King to Deuce in a single column and that pesky Ace hidden behind three Kings in a row in the designated rubbish column. Therefore, we can probably luck our way into a solution without looking ahead too much. The diagram below shows an example game state. I have not given a detailed sequence of moves. All that is really required is to arrange matters so that you can easily recover an empty column after dealing a fresh row of ten cards.

Well, we have our Heart suit. In the process I have discovered our score never goes below zero. But we still get +100 points for removing the Hearts (and I made an extra in-suit build thus bringing the score down to 99). Of course I do not claim these moves are optimal in the context of winning the whole game (instead of a single suit). But here we are.

By now, the assiduous reader will know what goals we should be aiming for and/or what traps to avoid. So I will ask the vaguest question possible – how would you continue from here?

In case you haven’t noticed, I have highlighted the next row in the stock corresponding to the game state with Score = 99. Hopefully Schrodinger Americana can transmogrify back into his usual self and avoid repeating the same mistake!

Game on (4th July 2021)

Continuing on

from last week: this is the current state of play with the Good Guys able to obtain three empty columns

Bart has correctly identified 11 guaranteed turnovers. He also identified the number of turnovers in each individual column and added up correctly. Unfortunately, he blew it all in the last step by submitting a final answer of 13 instead of 11. Bwahhahahahahahahahahah 😊

SA did some analysis, but didn’t give a bottom-line-up-front saying “the answer is XYZ”. Bwahhahahahahahahahahah to him as well 😊

Going back to the game, let us take our three empty columns and guaranteed turnovers.

Not surprisingly we get more than our minimum turnovers. Some simple experimentation gives us three bonus turnovers (highlighted) in columns 8 and 10. I did not make a serious effort to uncover the last two cards. Now is the time to focus on tidying up.

By this stage we should be close to claiming a lock. With only two unknown cards the game pretty much plays like Freecell – and it is well known that Freecell is almost always won with perfect play. Here, we note that all cards in Hearts are visible after the third round is dealt.

Note that once we determine either card, the other follows by the process of elimination 😊 The last two unknown cards should be the 4 of Diamonds and 9 of Spades in some order.

QUESTION: Starting from the previous position with score = 109(*) give a sequence of moves leading to the removal of the Heart suit after the third round (do not continue after removing Hearts). Alternatively, if you believe this to be impossible then give a sequence of moves leading to the “best possible clean up” before dealing the second round.

(*) Obviously it will be much less than 109 since I had to make some moves to work out the identity of face-down cards, but it’s not worth the effort of doing another screen-dump just to change the number 109 to something else.

Game On (27 June 2021)

Continuing from last week:

This is our cheat sheet so far:

One possible game state that can be reached from the start is the following:

Thanks to Bart Wright and S.A. for their input this week. Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with other stuff. To be more specific, I have discovered a truly remarkable idea for solving the problem of cheating in online chess tournaments. Unfortunately, this blog is not large enough to contain it. Besides, the tagline of the whole blog is “Spider Solitaire, the whole Spider Solitaire and nothing but the Spider Solitaire”, so I would also need to find some obscure connection to justify including this idea. On top of that, some of the comments failed the TL;DR test but the main gist seems to be “we can turn over new cards in Columns 1 and 6”.

S.A. gets bonus points for mentioning that we soon get to find out if Microsoft Solitaire allows scores to go into negative numbers, or whether the score remains at zero for the remainder of the game (and undo becomes free). I guess there is also the third option that the game terminates after 500 moves and we never get to find out if this game is winnable. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. But at least we have a “cliffhanger” which means Bart, S.A. and Sebastian are morally obliged to read the next few posts. Win-win for everybody 😊

Since we know the next deal is J6254A388K, it is relatively straightforward to determine the next unknown card in columns 1 and 6 starting from the above game state (NB: the next unknown card is determined by the cheat sheet, not the screenshot of the current game state).

Our luck is in: it is relatively straightforward to obtain a void in either Column 1 or Column 6 after dealing a row of ten cards. And yes, we have our first Nine 😊

It is not hard to see we have three guaranteed empty columns – so we should be able to determine the identity of almost every face down card. If you have played many games with undo, you are probably familiar with this pleasant situation.

QUESTION: What is the minimum guaranteed turnovers, starting from the above game state (score=109), playing with undo but not dealing any more rows from the stock?

BTW, in other news, Big Shiny Red Question Mark has been fully reinstated with all rights and privileges therein (thanks to Schistocerca Americana for the heads-up). But I’ve been told by a reliable source that BSRQM is still recovering from the mental scars of being Rick-Rolled. I guess there are things that 100,000,000,000 rupees can’t buy.

Game On (20 June 2021)

Last week we asked the following:

Is it possible to determine the identity of the next unknown card for all columns containing at least one face-down card?

The answer is no. I can get columns 4,5,6,9,10 but not 1,3, or 8.

The problem with column 8 is we need to build off-suit with 3-2 to get the empty column, but then there is no Four or Three to shift that off-suit 3-2. One empty column is not enough. I will not discuss columns 1 and 3. That has already been covered last week with Bart and Schistocerca Americana’s (SA) excellent comments. Well done again to Bart and SA. I guess the next step is to take the easy turnovers and take it from there.

BTW Thanks also to Sebastian for liking one of my recent posts. I hope to hear more from him.

We reach the following position (both the current game state according to Microsoft Spider Solitaire and our cheat sheet) with the five newly turned over cards highlighted:

Let’s just say these are not the most helpful cards. At least this can partly explain why I lost this game rather convincingly without undo. It seems to be hard enough to win, even with the undo Awesome Superpower.

I guess we can take some freebies in column 4 at the expense of dumping a King into an empty column. This leads to the following:

And now we reach a dead-end. There are no more easy turnovers and we have to make some choices. If we think about long-term planning (rather than short-term gains) then there are three basic choices to consider:

  • Go back to the very beginning and look for more turnovers without dealing anything from the stock
  • Go back to the first position of this post(score = 141) and try to arrange matters so that the next deal of J-6-2-5-4-A-3-8-8-K is as helpful as possible
  • Look for ways to remove at least one suit to the foundations, given the information we already know

Stepping back for a minute, we can observe a problem with Fours and Nines. Despite turning over more than half the cards in the tableau we didn’t find a single Nine. We know six of these are in the stock. We only managed to find two Fours at the expense of dumping a King into an empty column.

Over to you. How would you continue here?

A small reminder: Microsoft Spider Solitaire will not allow a player to deal a row of cards if there is at least one empty column.

I guess that got pretty pathetic (alternative version)

Commentator 1: “Welcome to the biggest event of year in the Animal Kingdom – Shah Mat Spider Solitaire! This is a charity event to help raise funds for animals affected by the Virus That Dare Not Speak Its Name …”

Spider GM waltzes around the tables dealing different hands to ten different players.

Commentator 1: “On board 1 we have the eagle. Widely known as the best animal in Poker, she can also play a mean game of Spider Solitaire.”

Commentator 2: “Board 2 is the lion who also knows the game.”

A large crowd gathers as the commentators introduce all the players. Spider GM has the routine task of simultaneously monitoring 10 boards and making sure no illegal moves are played. But he is not complaining. However, all eyes are on the player at Board 10. Conspicuous by his presence, one doesn’t have to be named Captain Obvious to spot the strange-looking player.

Commentator 1: “Not the most exciting of tasks for the Spider GM. But he understands it’s all for a noble cause – wait a minute, who is this Big Shiny Red Question Mark?”

Commentator 2: “Very little is known about BSRQM. His name is N. Kamath, co-founder of some stock brokerage most folk wouldn’t give a rot13(fuvg) about. His Spider Solitaire rating is 800 something … compared to the Eagle who is 2400 something”

The spectators exchange confused glances with one another. They are well familiar with the usual riff-raff animal types from Phil Hellmuth’s Play Poker Like the Pros. But not one spectator has heard of N. Kamath.

Rick Astley (guest commentator): “You know the rules – and so do I. Each player has 30 minutes to win as many games as possible. There is no penalty for losing a game. You cannot move any cards until Spider GM appears at your table. You can resign the current game and start a new hand whenever you want. Undo is not allowed.

Commentator 1: “The name sounds familiar – Kamath used to play Chess …”

Commentator 1 pauses. He suddenly realises this is a charity event after all and nobody is supposed to mention the C word that is rhyming slang for Paul Keating.

With all players seated at their tables and ready to play, the formalities have concluded and the games can begin.

As predicted, the Eagle is the first to win a hand. The Lion does the same soon after. Most of the players perform to expectations. But there are some sharp-eyed members in the audience. Big Shiny Red Question Mark has this weird habit of glancing to his left every now and again – but never when Spider GM has appeared at his table.

The time limit is almost over, and the commentators’ voices reach a crescendo (as one does in the pointy end of horse races).

Commentator 2: “We’re into the home stretch, last five minutes … hey rot13(jung gur shpx)?  Big Shiny Red Question Mark is about to win a hand!”

Commentator 1: “I don’t believe it – two suits removed, three empty columns. There is no way he can lose from here. Only two face down cards. Plenty of time on the clock … and”

Commentators 1 and 2 (simultaneously): “Big Shiny Red Question Mark Resigns The Game!!!! Unbelievable!!! Rot13(haorshpxvatyvrinoyr!!!). What is this madness???”

n the post-game interview BSRQM explains there were no useful moves detected – therefore he had to resign. He squirms in his seat while the press continue to ask uncomfortable questions. Thankfully the absolute train-wreck of a post mortem doesn’t last long and everyone can head home. BSRQM is never heard from again and everyone lives happily ever after.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Cheats never prosper.


I guess that got pretty pathetic

Some time ago I played with a Spider Solitaire app for iPhone. And I have to say its features are more bewildering than the infamous “At first condemn our very feeble excuse for everything that follows constant negative press (7)” tweet from 2017 US politics.

Earlier this year I could load the program and deal a hand. Unfortunately I couldn’t see any cards!  I eventually decided to update all my apps, but only because Gmail also needed an upgrade for some reason. A few days ago I played my first game and lost narrowly. On the very next game this happened:

(Text version):

Suits removed: Diamonds, Spades

Stock: 0 cards remaining

Column 1: Ks

Column 2:

Column 3: Kh,Qh,Jh,Th,9h,8h,7d,6d,5d,,4c,3c,2c,Ad,8d,7c,6c,5c,4c,3c,2c,Ac

Column 4:

Column 5: 6h,5h,4h,3d,2d,As,2s,Ah,7c,6s

Column 6: ?,8c,Qd,Jd,Tc,9d,8s,7s,6c,5s,4s,3s,2h,Ah,9c,Kh,Qh,Js,Td,9s

Column 7: Kc,Qc,Jc,4d,7h

Column 8:

Column 9: ?,Kd,Qc,Jc,Tc,9c,8c,5h,4h,3h,2h,Ac

Column 10: Kc,Qs,Jh,Ts,9h,8h,7h,6h,5c

Ummm … excuse me? Do I not even get a chance to turn over the last card in Column 9? Like I said, this is more bewildering than the infamous “At first condemn our very feeble excuse for everything that follows constant negative press (7)” tweet from 2017 US politics. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

At the risk of insulting the intelligence of Captain Obvious, I have removed two suits and obtained three empty columns. I know from experience this does not automatically guarantee victory (especially if you are playing a certain server). But this game state is not even close to being one of the exceptions. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to verify the game is mathematically won regardless of the permutation of unseen cards.

Not every Spider Solitaire player has above average IQ and all game developers must cater to the whole market instead of a single expert player – yes, I get that. But whoever wrote this software doesn’t understand the fundamentals of the game. Therefore I am deleting this app.

The good news is Humanity has not (yet) been completely surpassed by its Artificial Intelligence counterpart. While I cannot pretend to understand the detailed game-theoretic specificity of AlphaGo’s Move 37 against Lee Sedol I can still sleep at night knowing AI has some catching up to do when it comes to playing Spider Solitaire.

Out of curiosity I clicked the magic button to see what would happen. The app yanked a full set of clubs from various columns and moved that to the foundations. I’m not sure how this esoteric piece of knowledge will help me in future, but I guess knowing this fact can’t hurt either.

Just In Case You’re Really Bored: can you win the above game with only two empty columns instead of three?

Just In Case You’re Really Really Bored: can you win the above game with only ONE empty column instead of three?

Just In Case You’re Really Really Really Bored: Write a 5000 word essay explaining why move 37 at P10 is more awesome than my attempt to “improve” Grant Woolard’s Classical Music Mashup IV.

Game On (13 June 2021, Alternative Version)

“I think I have discovered the secret of playing well at Four Suit Spider Solitaire,” says the Cat. “I can win about 99% of the time.”

“How is that possible?” asks the Wise Snail. “Our best player is the Eagle, but she can only win about half the time”

“Well, there are many secrets to winning about 99% of the time,” replies the Cat. “The first secret I will like to talk about is minimum guaranteed turnovers. Expert opinion says on average you should have just under 4 guaranteed turnovers if the cards are dealt randomly. But I think it should be significantly higher.”

“How do you make it higher?” asks the Elephant.

“Let me show you,” replies the Cat. The Cat quickly deals another hand. The initial state is shown below:

“Yes. This is a good example,” says the Cat. “Observe that we start with two Jacks and one Queen. Ignoring the other cards for now, most experts will say this is worth one turnover – either the Jack of Hearts or Jack of Spades can move to the Queen in column Three. Most players will choose the Jack of Hearts for obvious reasons.”

“So far so good,” says the Lion.

“Now I want everyone to close their eyes,” says the Cat. “The Wise Snail will count to fifty and then everyone can open their eyes again.”

“Now I have two turnovers: I have superimposed both the Jack of Hearts and the Jack of Spades onto column 3 revealing two cards in columns 7 and 9.”

“This is revolutionary!” says the Dumb Bunny. “I wonder why nobody has ever thought of this before. I like it!”

All the students nod in agreement with their eyes wide shut. The Cat continues to move some cards around. Meanwhile the song I’m A Believer by Neil Diamond can be heard in the distance. Yes, The Singing Monkeys don’t have the best voices but my students are used to that by now.

At last, the Wise Snail reaches fifty and everyone can open their eyes.

“Cat is sus,” says Purple. “As far as I can tell, there are only eleven cards exposed. The Cat has made a solitary move: Jack of Hearts from column 7 to column 3, revealing the other Queen of Hearts.”

“Yes, it appears I have only made a single move,” replies the Cat. “But I also know that column 9 contains King of Diamonds beneath the Jack of Spades. Column 7 starts with Jack of Hearts, Queen of Hearts, Two of Diamonds, Seven of Clubs. Moreover, it is possible to get an empty column – ”

“But how would you know all this?” asks Orange. “You must have cheated!”

“And remember,” yells the rot13(fzneg nff), “the first rule of Spider Solitaire Club is you do not play with undo. The second rule of Spider Solitaire Club is you DONOT … play with undo!”

Purple immediately calls a meeting. A plurality vote is held and all twelve colours from Among Us decide that Cat is indeed sus.

“Sorry I’m late – hey rot13(jung gur shpx?)” I say. It takes me less than three nano-seconds to observe the Elephant has grabbed the Cat with his trunk and is about to hurl the poor thing in the direction of The Singing Monkeys. It doesn’t take long for my students to explain what happened.

“I know I normally don’t play with undo,” I state matter-of-factly. “But I wish to remind you that playing with undo was absolutely necessary for me to publish my paper on Spider Solitaire. And without this paper, I wouldn’t be maintaining this blog – which you are all part of.”

It’s a process, but I am able to eventually convince the Elephant to release the poor Cat. Also, in future when I am late nobody is allowed to give impromptu lessons during my absence.

Nobody ever hears from the Cat again. On the very next day, an unpleasant rumour starts spreading: the cat has somehow been poisoned. Unable to confirm any details, I can only assert that she is simultaneously dead and alive.

The End