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Spider Solitaire: A Strategy Guide For Beginners

Spider solitaire is a well-known solitaire game, which has gained a lot in popularity since Microsoft have started shipping it free with windows. It is very hard though, and many people want to know how they can increase their chances of winning.

The aim of spider solitaire is to build an ascending suit sequence in the foundation zone. But this is easier said than done! Particularly when playing 4 suit spider, it can sometimes seem nearly impossible to finish the game.

But there are strategies you can use to dramatically increase your chances of winning. But before I go into that, a quick note. In this article, I assume you have a solitaire game that allows multi-undo, and that you don't mind using it. Some people don't have a solitaire program that supports multi-level undo, or feel that using undo is somehow "cheating". These people can still get something out of this article, but not everything they read may apply.

So what is the golden secret to winning spider solitaire?

It's simple! Empty-Columns are the key!

The first objective of spider solitaire is to get a vacant column. The objective after that is to try and get another vacant column. Once you have 2 vacant columns, the game starts to become winnable, but if you can, try and form yet another empty column. Once you get to 3 or 4 empty columns, you have a very good chance of winning, unless you get an extremely unlucky run of cards.

Getting The First Empty Column... The first move you should make in the game is whatever the highest rank card that can play is. If given a choice, play from the stacks on the right hand side, as the 6 right hand stacks start with one less card.

From then on, play cards in this order or priority:

  • If a stack is closer to other stacks to being complete, play that card (if you can)
  • If you can't play from the stack which is closest to being emptied, than play the card with the highest rank.
  • If 2 or more cards have the same high rank, and one of them can be played into a same suit sequence, then play that one.
  • Keep playing like this, until a column is emptied, or you run out of moves

    Once a column has been emptied, the focus of the game changes a little. There are now 3 main objectives, "cleanup", "re-arrange", and "expose". An overriding principal at this time is to try and keep the empty columns. Vacant columns give you a lot more choices in the game, and whenever possible, you only want to fill your empty columns temporarily.

    The first objective for the second phase of the game is "cleanup". This is my term for re-arranging columns so that they become same-suit sequences.

    For example, suppose you had 2 columns. The first one has:

  • 7 Diamonds
  • 6 Hearts
  • and the second one has:

  • 7 Clubs
  • 6 Diamonds
  • We can temporarily use the empty column, to rearrange the columns so that these columns become:

  • 7 Diamonds
  • 6 Diamonds
  • and:

  • 7 Clubs
  • 6 Hearts
  • We do this by moving:

  • 6 of Diamonds into the empty column
  • 6 of Hearts onto the 7 of Clubs
  • 6 Of Diamonds onto the 7 of Diamonds
  • The main thing to note here, is that after we have finished cleaning up this sequence, the empty column is still vacant. This is critical, because we always need to keep our columns empty when possible.

    After we have cleaned up any sequences we can find, the next objective is to re- arrange any columns. This is simply moving any sequences we can, to form longer sequences. If moving the sequence will expose a new card (or a card that is not part of the sequence), then we always move it. The rest of the time it's a judgement call, based on whether the new sequence will be the same suit, as well as what other cards are holding up the game at the moment.

    Lastly, we try and expose new cards, whilst trying to maintain our empty column. We do this by using multi-level undo:

    • Move a card/sequence into the empty column, which exposes a new card.
    • If the new card allows us to move the original sequence back do so.

    If the new exposed card does not allow us to move it back, try moving a different card/sequence instead. If you can't expose any new cards whilst keeping the vacant column, then try dealing some cards from the talon.

    The most important thing is to create empty columns, and try and keep them empty! Now, will these strategies help you to win every game? No, they won't. Are there better strategies? Yes, and you'll probably come up with some of your own as you play the game some more. But the strategies above should prove a good foundation to help you start winning more games.

    Dan Fletcher is a developer at dogMelon. They make Classic Solitaire, a fun solitaire game for Mac, Windows and Palm. Try out a free demo of Mac Solitaire today.

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