Windows comes with a couple of really addictive solitaire games. FreeCell is one; every card is visible and every game is winnable (potentially) but making that happen 100% of the time is hard. Fortunately every FreeCell game has an infinite number of do-overs and only one loss is counted on any given game. There was a time when I was hooked on Freecell and would play until the wee small hours, to the detriment of important things in my life.
Sadly, I substituted an addiction to Spider Solitaire for my addiction to FreeCell, and have played only a small handful of FreeCell games in the past two years. Spider differs from FreeCell in a number of ways: only some of the cards are visible, luck plays a role, and every do-over counts as a new game. It also has an "undo" feature which counts as a move every time a move is undone. Best of all (or worst of all) Spider comes with beginning and intermediate levels to get you started as well as the difficult level that I got hooked on.
I am giving up Spider Solitaire for 2009. Given that each game takes 10 or 15 minutes, and that I played up to hundreds of games in a week, this is no small resolution, but it should help me find time for important things.
Here as a parting gift is my set of hints and tips for Spider Solitaire. My winning percentage at the Difficult level was over 50%, so there is some value here. But please, once you feel you have mastered the game, give it up.
- Use the undo feature to explore every option. The difference between winning and losing is more often determined by your patience than by how the cards fall.
- Whenever the opportunity presents itself, take whatever extra moves are required to get runs in a single suit instead of multiple suits.
- And when given the choice between shortening a tall stack or a short stack, empty the short stack to create a void. This implies preferentially stacking cards up on the left side of the table in the first couple of rounds, all other things being equal.
- Don't be afraid to use a column as a kind of scrap heap of widely mixed suits in a run.
- Don't put Kings into voids if other cards are available that are not part of runs.
- Once you have created a void, you will not be able to leave it open when it is time to distribute a fresh slice of cards. But your chances of winning increase when only two moves are required to re-open that void. (That is one of the reasons to delay putting Kings into voids; you lose the void until that suit is complete from King to Ace.
- If you lose an unusually high number of games in a row, walk away; it means your patience or your analytical capability is sub-par and you will just keep racking up losses.
- Reset your statistics from time to time so that your average is not dragged down by the games you lost when you were getting the basics figured out.
Update Jan 1 2011: I avoided Spider for two years, and then thought I would play "a game or two" a few days before Christmas. Well, I played a couple of hundred, still with the 50% winning percentage, and it is time to give it up again. Yikes this is a compelling game.
Here are a few more tips and clarifications:
- Before you move the first card, look over what has been dealt. If you don't like what you see, ie if there are not at least 4 potential moves available, hit F2 and re-deal. It will not cost you anything in your win/loss ratio. While I don't see a big difference in winning percentages arising from holding out for the "perfect" deal, having nothing but, say, even-numbered cards right out of the gate is no fun. The free re-deal is only good until you move a card.
- This game is a measure of your obsession / willingness to explore options and your ability to optimize based on what options are available. Even if the cards all seem to fall together and you have a pretty good set of moves going, you probably had a choice earlier of which 8 to put on that 9, and you explored only one of those choices. Well, undo everything you did, and try the other 8, and see where it leads you. And then there will be choices within the choices. The big winning percentages come from testing all these choices.
- Sometimes you move enough cards that, say, another 9 comes up as you move all the cards around and you get to move that second 8 anyway. That's good, obviously, as it means you don't have to undo everything to see what was under that 8.
- Before you distribute a fresh slice of cards, look at your face-up arrays. How many of them can be moved intact (all the same suit)? Can you rearrange cards so that there are more runs in the same suit?
- Say you have a void, and no further moves available. What do you put into the void? I would look under every top card in every array that I could, just to see what was there, followed by Undo, then I would be highly likely to split an array that consists of two suits, and put the lower suited run into the void. That way I have two easy moves available after the next slice of cards has been dealt.
- The keyboard shortcut to deal a fresh slice of cards is D. Don't hit it twice!
- Good luck and best wishes. Make good choices with how to use your time.
UPDATE in late 2011!
The Windows 7 version is easier, because you can "undo" to go as far back as you want, even to the beginning. I have a 15 game and an 18 game win streak at the top level, so we can safely conclude that most games are theoretically winnable.. But these streaks come with a hint of their own: unless there are 5 or more moves visible on the first deal, hit F2 for a redeal before moving any cards, and you will get a fresh set of cards without posting a loss.
Damn this is addictive...