Thursday, January 01, 2009

Spider Solitaire


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.


  1. 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.

  2. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, take whatever extra moves are required to get runs in a single suit instead of multiple suits.

  3. 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.

  4. Don't be afraid to use a column as a kind of scrap heap of widely mixed suits in a run.

  5. Don't put Kings into voids if other cards are available that are not part of runs.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.
Good luck. Let me know how you do!

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:


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. The keyboard shortcut to deal a fresh slice of cards is D. Don't hit it twice!

  7. 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...




44 comments:

newine said...

Have you ever pondered the theology implied by our common human desire for a "do-over"? I used to be a crazy perfectionist with these kinds of games (and others)... always imagining that if I just tried harder I'd play the perfect game eventually.

When I became a Christian, it all made more sense as I pondered amazing grace.

Halfwise said...

I think the offer of a fresh cup of grace every day is a gift beyond price.

Blessings on your 2009.

Halfwise said...

Dear reader and fellow solitaire player,
Please feel free to post a comment or question about Spider and the tips that you have read here. This blog posting is not The Meaning of Life or existential angst or whether there is such a thing as divine grace.
Of course, if you want to write about those things, I am happy to read your comments too.

Secondsmack said...

I have been addicted to this game like you. Play it for awhile, give it up for awhile. Got bored with being able to win at a high rate any time I wanted to so I came up with a real challenge. Thought it was impossible at first but I eventually won after over 200 started games. On 'Advanced' of course, empty all cards onto the piles before you move a single card. Took me over 1500 moves on the game that I won. You have to be very selective and review the deal carefully. I don't know if anyone else has ever been crazy or stupid enough to try this but, I would like to hear about it.

Halfwise said...

Wow, that DOES take dedication. I would think that even the hands that were theoretically winnable could be lost due to mistakes in playing, so congratulations. But it would make me nuts, playing so long and not winning.

Anonymous said...

50%?!? Half? Holy Cr@p, I have played hundreds of games and my percentage in 4 suited SS is puny. I can't say how often I have a good game going and it will deal me something like 4 eights and 3 queens, effectively stabbing the game with a wooden spike. GRRRR

Halfwise said...

Well, yeah, there isn't much you can do when the final deal is all even-numbered cards. I am dead certain this game is not 100% winnable. But being patient and thorough (two things that do NOT come naturally to me) has led me to winning lots, including a recent streak of 11 in a row.

Then I kick myself for wasting all that time...

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I was searching for the highest win percentage when I came across your blog. I'm not sure if it's good or sad, but at the highest difficulty I'm at 62%. Perhaps time to get back to reality.

Halfwise said...

62% is impressive. What happens to me when I have played well for a while is that I play when I shouldn't and then my score drops. When I am sharp and patient, I work through the various alternatives and pick the one I think is best. But when I have been playing too much (because I have been winning) I start cutting corners.

Congratulations on your fine scores. We should now go get a life...

Thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to have to post this because it sets a new bar for you. It is true that the game is not 100% winnable, but it is about 98%. Using undo liberally I have been able to do 98% in two 100 game runs. My best streak was 73 straight. But it is a heroic effort. One game I won after about 5200 moves. You just don't give up. But then there are pathological distributions that are clearly not winnable. I usually give up on those after about 500 moves. So if anyone has done better - well I doubt it. Please believe I am not fabricating this story. I have screen shots which I have saved, but I am not willing to put my identity out, so you will just have to believe me.

Halfwise said...

Anon, that is impressive, not least for the determination that you demonstrate!

I am pleased to say I have not been back to Spider this calendar year. It is a great game, but the clocks and calendars in my house do not come with an Undo button.

gin said...

"It is a great game, but the clocks and calendars in my house do not come with an Undo button."

Amen.
I always tell myself I won't get stuck again into this game, and then I waste 2 or 3 hours in a row trying to raise my winning percentage (which, by the way never went higher than 40%... Grrr...).
Now I definitely see I got to spend my time in some more constructive way.
(Anyway, I KNOW I will fall again. That day, I will keep in mind your useful tips, and try to take advantage of them...)

Halfwise said...

Thanks Gin, for stopping by. I can closely identify with your patterns, that was what happened to me too. Best wishes for discipline in staying away, and for clarity for those occasions when you do play.

Anonymous said...

If you re-deal until you like what you see, then your win percentage is meaningless. Any marginally intelligent and patient person can accomplish a great win percentage by re-dealing until he gets a good starting hand. For those of you who never re-deal, but play what you get no matter what it is, what is your win percentage on intermediate (two suit) games?

Halfwise said...

Hello Anonymous and thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

I take your point about a meaningless win percentage. Then again, it's your own percentage that you are trying to beat, and as long as you play by the same rules (whatever those rules may be, they're your rules) the comparison of win percentages is valid.

What motivated me when I played the game was posting a higher win percentage than before. Unlike Freecell, the maximum is not 100%, so to me the only meaningful benchmark was my previous performance.

My problem with Spider is that because it is so addictive, I don't allow myself to play it anymore. My definition of "meaningless" now embraces anything to do with time spent playing Spider.

So on what constitutes meaningful vs meaningless, we are going to have to disagree. But I am still delighted that you stopped by and cared enough to leave a comment.

Live well!

Anonymous said...

I used to play this game obsessively when I had the XP version. Unfortunately, I didn't save it (well, I thought I did but I must've made a mistake) when I got a new Windows 7 laptop. I don't have an XP disk so I'm stuck with the Windows 7 version of Spider, which I'm finding unwinnable. I also just don't like the LOOK of it. So the new laptop has cured me of my Spider addiction!

I've looked at probably a hundred websites where people ask about how to get the XP version of games. Microsoft should put a disk together since they won't be supporting XP in another year-- how could they lose?

Halfwise said...

Anonymous Apr 3 -- that might be the only way to cure the addiction, once and for all. Make the game unavailable. Of course, in theory you could play with real cards and keep notes on where you found various cards, but that would be like making a cigarette out of damp butts salvaged from the curb...

Enjoy your freedom from the habit!

Catfood said...

I'm at a solid 25% will on 4-suits. I use the undo liberally though... To test out various multi-move options. However, once I reveal a new card, it never undo. That's just cheating.

I too stopped playing. Too busy recently.

Jeff Bodden said...

While searching to find out if all spider hands were "winnable", I happened upon this blog. After winning about 440 hands on two suit, I decided I needed more of a challenge, so I (apprehensively) started to play 4 suit. Yes, I use the "undo" button often, even starting the games from the beginning sometimes 20 or 30 times, but so far, I've been able to complete 25 games in a row on 4 suit. I'm not sure why folks think using the "undo" button is "cheating"...why did they put it there in the first place? I've found the best way to win a game, when you can go no further with some "obvious moves, is to back up and try placing an off 9 card on an off suit 10, even when a suited 9 is available to expose a card.The other thing I find helpful is to walk away from the game for a few minutes and come back. You would be amazed at the moves you see when you return. Tenacity and patience is the key. I don't have a college degree and I "sucked" at math, so I don't think it's a "smart" thing, it's just a trial and error thing. Cheers & Good Luck!
Jeff

Halfwise said...

Thanks for stopping by, Catfood and Jeff. I think of Spider as a game that is ideal for computer use and impossible to play with real cards, because Undo is essential to winning it. Imagine not having an Undo button...or having to put cards back where they came from, without error, ten moves or more after the fact.

Glad you enjoy the game, and remember to use your time wisely. It's all you have.

Ray Muniak said...

I suspect there is a 100 percent wjnning percentage if. I have played 2500 move games in 4 hour hours and won. My question is what is the possability of winning without the back button?


.

Halfwise said...

Ray, there is no possibility of a 100% winning percentage. What happens if all the fresh cards are even and there are no cards left?

As to your second question, just play with real cards and you'll get your answer. Essentially zero, would be my guess.

tim said...

I play the 2-suit, with a win rate of about 85%, and undo is a must-use tool. This suits me just fine, as many of these games seem at some point that the win is in serious jeopardy, then it all falls into place when you get the right sequence. 4-suits just makes my eyes water. So I go with the winning that often is flavored with doubt.

As you've said, patience is a big part of this game, as is being thorough. My work is the same, and it's intense at times (trading the markets); I've found that when it gets a little too hot & bothering, dialing things back with some Spider, while being able to have the work in a window just underneath, is helpful & soothing, but not too soothing so as to lull my mind to sleep.





Fred said...

I can say with certainty that, if you use undo, almost, but not all games are winnable. I have several times won 97 to 99 games in a row. In one case it took 5500 moves. So if you don't give up, anyone can do it. However, it is possible to construct a game that is not winnable even with an infinite number of moves.

Halfwise said...

Fred, that's interesting -- I had no idea that a win streak that long was possible.

And you are right, it can't be 100% winnable because sooner or later all the cards that come up will be odd and you'll be stuck.

I have been tempted back to Spider a few times recently but have managed to resist. But it's only because I have other ways to waste my time!

Whitey51 said...

I play 4-suit Spider without using undo except to correct mis-clicks, maybe once or twice a game, and I consistently win about 23% of the time. This percentage has held over 1400 games. Also I play every game - I don't redeal if the first ten cards look bad.

Tony Hodge said...

Hi Halfwise,

I don't think I would like to admit to being addicted to Spider Solitaire but it really is a nice alternative to the MMO games that I play. It's a change, a relaxation, a slowing down and solitary obviously.

I've been playing Spider on and off for many years and I've done plenty of testing of myself with different playing styles. The straight and pure version of no F2 reset and no undo is certainly very difficult to solve but I think luck has more to do with the solution than anything else. The quickest way to lose interest in any game is if it is too frustrating. So I play 'F2/undo' exclusively now and I've started to score my win rate percentage in 100 game blocks. Surprisingly each series seems to be a challenge to get to a 50% win rate. Not that I've played many series, but my current record is 54%.

It's an indication of how good a game Spider is that you can never be sure of success even if cards fall well early in a game and blank or void columns open up. Even if you seem sure of solving a game you can be a victim of a bad deal - upside down King/Queen combinations, a flurry of Aces, the same numbers coming up seemingly endlessly. You really have to fight for most games apart from the few that play themselves and fall perfectly. This is why I love it and play it so often.

I suppose like you I felt a need to explain a few of the strategies I use to people who might have difficulty with Four Suit Spider so I put together a Youtube video of one of my games in a text-based style (rather than voice-over) where I broke down the choices I made during the game. It's aimed at the novice of course but I highlighted most of the tips that you give at the start of your blog. You give very good advice there and it is easy to comprehend. I've seen advice that is anything but easy to follow and thats why I did my visual advice. You can see it in a two-part video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuc-dK40uzg for Part 1 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKxTT7HIoew for Part 2. I'm certainly not pointing you to those videos so that people will like it. I simply had some fun putting it all together and I hope someone gets something out of it. It wasn't a particularly great deal or an exciting game.

But no matter how good any game you play is, there comes a time when you become bored and that leads me to the reason why I've come here to post on your blog. In my moments of fantasy I wondered whether an online Spider tournament would be attractive to what must be millions of players. I like a bit of competition and rating myself against others although I'm in no way ultra-competitive and, personally, it would give me more of an incentive to play and enjoy Spider.

I realise there are Flash-based Spider competitions out there but I find the style is not very structured and they don't really pit players against each other utilising specific deals. I won't go into detail about the way I believe these tournaments should be run but there would have to be the same specific deal that each player would attempt to solve. I seem to recall that the first Windows Spider (which must have been the XP version) had a numbered deal with the number of games into five or even six figures. As I said, this is a fantasy, but one which I might follow through with a lot of technical help.

Anyway, I dont want to hijack your blog with my long-winded post but yours is the only place where there is some deeper comment on this great game. I would like to hear your thoughts on my proposal and I will probably start my own blog on this issue. I understand you are trying to give up the time-wasting aspects of Spider but I also think it is very hard to shake the addiction.

Thanks Halfwise.

Tony

P.S. I will be having a go at the method used by Secondsmack where they dealt all the cards out at the start when I get home from work. I can't see a great future in the method but I'm interested all the same. Yes, I'm at work, hence the reason why I can write this long essay.

Tony Hodge said...

Hi Halfwise,

I don't think I would like to admit to being addicted to Spider Solitaire but it really is a nice alternative to the MMO games that I play. It's a change, a relaxation, a slowing down and solitary obviously.

I've been playing Spider on and off for many years and I've done plenty of testing of myself with different playing styles. The straight and pure version of no F2 reset and no undo is certainly very difficult to solve but I think luck has more to do with the solution than anything else. The quickest way to lose interest in any game is if it is too frustrating. So I play 'F2/undo' exclusively now and I've started to score my win rate percentage in 100 game blocks. Surprisingly each series seems to be a challenge to get to a 50% win rate. Not that I've played many series, but my current record is 54%.

It's an indication of how good a game Spider is that you can never be sure of success even if cards fall well early in a game and blank or void columns open up. Even if you seem sure of solving a game you can be a victim of a bad deal - upside down King/Queen combinations, a flurry of Aces, the same numbers coming up seemingly endlessly. You really have to fight for most games apart from the few that play themselves and fall perfectly. This is why I love it and play it so often.

I suppose like you I felt a need to explain a few of the strategies I use to people who might have difficulty with Four Suit Spider so I put together a Youtube video of one of my games in a text-based style (rather than voice-over) where I broke down the choices I made during the game. It's aimed at the novice of course but I highlighted most of the tips that you give at the start of your blog. You give very good advice there and it is easy to comprehend. I've seen advice that is anything but easy to follow and thats why I did my visual advice. You can see it in a two-part video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuc-dK40uzg for Part 1 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKxTT7HIoew for Part 2. I'm certainly not pointing you to those videos so that people will like it. I simply had some fun putting it all together and I hope someone gets something out of it. It wasn't a particularly great deal or an exciting game.

But no matter how good any game you play is, there comes a time when you become bored and that leads me to the reason why I've come here to post on your blog. In my moments of fantasy I wondered whether an online Spider tournament would be attractive to what must be millions of players. I like a bit of competition and rating myself against others although I'm in no way ultra-competitive and, personally, it would give me more of an incentive to play and enjoy Spider.

I realise there are Flash-based Spider competitions out there but I find the style is not very structured and they don't really pit players against each other utilising specific deals. I won't go into detail about the way I believe these tournaments should be run but there would have to be the same specific deal that each player would attempt to solve. I seem to recall that the first Windows Spider (which must have been the XP version) had a numbered deal with the number of games into five or even six figures. As I said, this is a fantasy, but one which I might follow through with a lot of technical help.

Anyway, I dont want to hijack your blog with my long-winded post but yours is the only place where there is some deeper comment on this great game. I would like to hear your thoughts on my proposal and I will probably start my own blog on this issue. I understand you are trying to give up the time-wasting aspects of Spider but I also think it is very hard to shake the addiction.

Thanks Halfwise.

Tony

P.S. I will be having a go at the method used by Secondsmack where they dealt all the cards out at the start when I get home from work. I can't see a great future in the method but I'm interested all the same. Yes, I'm at work, hence the reason why I can write this long essay.

Halfwise said...

Tony, thank you for your thoughtful post. I still have Spider on my old XP computer and my XP version is not numbered. (Freecell was numbered but not Spider).

The XP version is much harder to win as the Undo button does not go back past the fresh cards dealt in each round.

Some Sudoku sites enable people to log their times and compare them against other solvers of the same puzzles. One would think that Spider attracts enough players that a site with this basic functionality would generate some ad revenue. But perhaps each time a game is generated it is purely random.

Enjoy Spider, it is indeed an excellent game.

Halfwise said...

A couple of observations, now that I have been playing Spider again (grrr).

First, the deals are not random. Spider stores and can recreate a deal...I just saw the same game for the second time this week. I know it's the same because it beat me the first time I saw it.

Second, if the deals are not random, does it mean they only provide games which are theoretically winnable? This may drive me nuts, as so far three have beaten me despite thousands of moves.

Third, one of the games that beat me gave me a final distribution of cards that could not be placed on each other, basically all Queens and 8s. One would have to note what card lands where and ensure that, for example, one left a suited J-10-9 for the 8 to be dealt onto so one could move the whole string onto a newly arrived Queen.

I am a patient guy, but that would be a stretch.

Halfwise said...

I've now won over a hundred in a row, of the four-suit version where you can undo every move right back to the beginning.

One deal really had me stumped. I came back to it several times over a four day period, eventually figuring it out after 20,904 moves. Yikes.

So I'll go out on a limb and say that all the Spider games you find in Windows 7 are theoretically winnable. This is not the case for NT versions because the undo function does not allow you to go back to the beginning of the game after the first deal of fresh cards.

Best of luck.

Questions said...

I have played thousands upon thousands of 2 deck advanced spider. I can't believe anyone who claims a better than 20% winning rate when the game is played within a reasonable time limit. I suppose it's possible if you make 5000 moves or more to achieve a high winning percentage but where's the fun in that? I play fast and a long game is usually 400 moves or so. As I see it, the game, to be played competitively, must be played with a time limit, say 15 minutes or less. A statistic that accounts for the time would be more informative and more reliable.

Halfwise said...

Hi Questions, and thanks for stopping by.

It's a shame there's no average score, and a shame there's no way to score less than zero because of countless "undo" actions. If there were, we could compare one person's record against that of someone else.

These days I go through as fast as I can, hoping for the cards to fall favorably. My high score is 1106. My typical score is in the 750 - 1000 range but some games have me going back repeatedly, trying new things.

Anonymous said...

I am a programmer and I think the 4-suit Spider Solitaire is 100% winnable which means that every game has a solution. It is true that in real life it is most likely not, but it seems the initial position is always created from a winning (i.e. empty) final position.
Two reasons:
1. I never lost a game if I had enough time to finish it.
2. If programmed it I would do it that way.

By the way it looks like sometimes smth is wrong with the score - say today I got 1123 but with 377 moves (usually it is 1300 in total)

Halfwise said...

Thanks Anonymous.
I agree, every game is winnable if you have the version that allows "undo" to go back to the beginning or back through any of the intermediate dealing.

The score thing is weird...1123 is a great score but that should go with 177 moves not 377.

Cheers,

Anonymous said...

Hi Halfwise,
Here is the screenshot of 1123+377:
Solitaire image

Halfwise said...

I believe you (and can't open the screenshot image) and as I mentioned, that is weird.

Anonymous said...

Halfwise,

Regarding 1123+377.
This is what I found in the Internet:
"You can get as high a score as you want. It just takes time.
Find a game where when you clear a column you get the no more moves screen. You just got 100 points. Click to return to the game and undo. The game forgets to take away the 100 points. clear the column again and get another 100 points (minus the point for the undo and the point for the move to clear the column)...".
(I cannot remember if I did something like that).
And the image is here (just in case):
http://tinypic.com/r/2r6zgjs/8
(this time I checked it from another computer).

Regards,
Victor

Halfwise said...

Victor, you have taught me something new. I had no idea that there were bonus points available. The scenario you describe is one that I recall having experienced once or maybe twice in the thousands of games I've played. This may say more about my memory than its frequency, of course.

Now I wonder whether there are any other sources of bonus points, not that the points matter to me as much as winning. (My current win streak is over 500 games because I am damn stubborn about finding the solution).

All the best!

Anonymous said...

Halfwise,

I managed to construct what had been described in the Internet (see:
http://tinypic.com/r/256y4oi/8)
but it looks like a bug to me (Undo reverts 2 moves instead of one, the score can be unlimited, the "bonus" is 98 points).
I agree that the score is not important but it is interesting if there are other sources of bonus points.
The 1123+377 case looks more like a bonus but it is still not clear how it works.
If I have more info I will share it.

Best regards,
Victor

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading all the comments, not least for the fact that none were negative or obnoxious or rude. Spider players are clearly devoted people, and, even if crazy, are nice about it all. I use undo only to decide which card to move to empty spaces, not to redo whole games, so perhaps that is my winning percentage after more than 60,000 games remains 33%. I've kept track of the games that I never won, thinking some day I might go back to try them again. I do the games in numerical order, so, since newer versions do not permit it, I still use the XP version so I can select which game I play.

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I love to play Spider Solitaire Online. Nice detail, keep it up!

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