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Spider Solitaire Detailed Game Rules

The rules of Spider Solitaire are easy to learn. In order to explain them in more detail, it's easier to also explain the layout of the game and define some basic terminology.

Basic Terminology

Playing cards

Cards have four distinct suits: hearts, clubs, diamonds, and spades. There are 13 unique ranks: the king, the queen, the jack, the ten, the 9, the 8, the 7, the 6, the 5, the 4, the 3, the 2, and finally, the ace. Each card has a suit and a rank and a deck consists of a complete set of each of the 52 unique cards. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with such playing cards.

While there are four distinct suits, the game may be played with either 1, 2, or 4 suits. The 1-suit level may be referred to as the easy level, the 2-suit level as the intermediate level and the 4-suit level as the hard level, also called the advanced level.
The more suits in play, the more difficult the game is to win. Many players report not winning any games at the 4-suit level. Most prefer to play at the 2-suit level.


The table can be broken up into three basic areas, the tableau, the stock, and the foundation. While it's not at all necessary to know the names of these areas to play the game, it does make it easier to understand some aspects of the game.

The tableau

The tableau is the in-play area where most of the action takes place. It's sectioned horizontally into 10 equal-sized unmarked areas called columns, sometimes referred to as slots. Each column is simply an area where a pile of cards is usually situated.

The stock

The stock is where the undealt cards are kept. To deal cards to begin a new round, the player clicks in this area, which causes 10 cards to be dealt face-up into the tableau, one into each column. However, for a deal to succeed, there must be at least one card in every column.

The foundation

The foundation is where assembled suits are displayed. While this area is not technically necessary, it helps the player keep track of their progress.

Spider Solitaire Game Areas
Game areas: The tableau (1), The stock (2), The foundations (3)

Columns and piles

While many refer to a column as a pile, there is a distinct difference between the two. A column is an area where cards normally reside within the tableau, and a pile is a group of one or more simulated playing cards within a column.

A column that contains no cards can be said to be empty, vacant, clear, free, open, or unused. A column containing at least one card can be said to be non-empty, non-vacant, closed, filled, or used. While technically, a pile can not exist without at least one card, many refer to an empty column as an empty pile, or even an empty slot or an empty space.

The process whereby the player purposefully moves cards to cause a column to become empty is an extremely important activity of the game. Typically, this process is called emptying a column, vacating a column, clearing a column, or opening a column.
The process of placing a suited run into a vacant column is typically called either closing a column or using a column. Usually, when a column is said to be either closed or used, the implication is that it can not readily be vacated.

Starting layout

The computer will deal a total of 44 face-down cards, 5 into each of the first 4 columns and 4 into each of the remaining 6 columns. These are most commonly referred to as either hidden cards or non-exposed cards because only the back of each card can be seen, which hides its rank and suit.

Immediately after all the hidden cards are dealt, one face-up card is dealt into each of the 10 columns. These are usually called visible cards or exposed cards because their ranks and suits are exposed for the player to see.


Every rank has an assigned numerical value. The king is worth the most, the queen is worth 1 less, the jack, the ten, and so on down to the ace, which is worth the least. However, these values do not matter for playing the game of Spider Solitaire.

Cards can be, and often are, ordered by their ranks. This is accomplished by arranging them in order so that the value of each card's rank is one off from both its predecessor and its successor. There are two different ways to do this, either ascending or descending; however, in Spider Solitaire, only the latter way is significant.

Consecutive cards within a column which are ordered by rank so that the value of each rank is exactly 1 less than the rank before are collectively called a run. For example, a run might consist of a king followed by a queen and then a jack, which would be a 3-card run. The king would be the highest in its column as seen on the screen and the jack, the lowest.

Unless further qualified, a run is dependent only by rank. The suits of the cards within a run need not all be the same. However, if they are, it might be called a suited run, and if it is known that all suits are not the same, it might be referred to as a non-suited run.

Generally, a run is considered to contain at least 2 cards, but a single card is technically a 1-card run and it is sometimes useful to refer to a card as such. For the purposes of Spider Solitaire, a 1-card run is considered to be a suited run.

The concept of a run is extremely important in the game of Spider Solitaire, as it is in many other card games.

Example of runs
Example of runs - Run 1 is unsuited and cannot be moved, runs 2,3 and 4 are Suited runs and can be moved (Run 2 does not include 10 of clubs)

How to Play

The game is played by using a mouse to click and drag a suited run from the bottom of one column and release it either into an empty column or onto the bottommost card in another column. The suited run may contain as little as 1 card or as many as 12 cards. The player must drag on the topmost card to be moved but is not obliged to move an entire suited run. For example, suppose that the {JH, TH, 9H} suited run (of hearts) is bottommost in a column. As long as there is somewhere to move each, the player might move the entire suited run, the {TH, 9H} suited run, or just the {9H} suited run. It is very often in the player's best interest to not move the longest suited run possible.

A suited run might only be dropped directly onto a card that extends the suited run; however, the accepting card need not be the same suit as the suited run being moved. For example, a {7S, 6S, 5S, 4S} run (of spades) can only be moved onto an {8}, but the suit of the {8} may or may not be a spade.

When the player either cannot make any more moves or chooses not to, they then click of the pile of face-down cards located in the stock, which causes 10 more cards to be dealt face-up in the tableau, one into each column. (However, a deal will not occur unless each of the 10 columns in the tableau contains at least one card.)
Play then continues as explained. If after all deals have been dealt to the tableau and the player then fails to win the game, it is considered a loss.

The key objective of the game is to order a full set of all the 13 unique ranks, from the king down to the ace, all of the identical suit. A full set is often referred to as a build and creating such a set as building a suit, building a set, or simple as building. The word completing of assembling may be used instead of building. So with 104 total cards, 8 builds are possible no matter what the level. When all 8 builds are assembled, no cards remain in the tableau and the game is won. In effect, one could claim that the object of the game is to remove all of the cards from the tableau.

Note that the king, having the highest rank, is the only rank that can never be placed onto another card by the player but might only be moved by placing it into an empty column. But the king, as part of a full set of ranks, is removed from play whenever a build is completed.

The ace, having the lowest rank, is the only rank onto which the player can never place another card; however, a deal can and will deposit a card onto any ace that is at the bottom of its column at the time of the deal.


Here at, we award 1300 points for each completed build (100 points per card). A won game will award the player 10400 points (1300 x 8 builds).


As well as playing Spider Solitaire at either the 1-suit, 2-suit, or 4-suit lever, there are a few other variations of the game.

Most players seem to make liberal use of the undo option, which causes the very last move to be undone. Many players refuse to play certain games if they don't like the initial 10 face-up cards. They do this by choosing the new game option in the menu. As well, very many players use the restart game option in the menu when they are sure that the current game will be lost and they wish to again play the same layout. Employing any of these three options makes winning more likely.

Some players play for score, trying to beat either their own best score or someone else's. Some play by time, trying to win in the shortest elapsed time possible. Many play to win as many games as possible, attempting to obtain the highest win ratio that they can. A player's win ratio is simply their number of games won divided by their total number of games played and expressed as a percentage.

There is yet another class of players. They claim to play purely for the fun of it and take little interest in either the score or winning!

Steve N. Brown
I hold a master's degree in mathematics. As well as solving difficult math problems, I've always enjoyed playing games of strategy because they challenge me to think. So, when Spider Solitaire became popular around the turn of the century, it was very easy for me to get hooked on the game. At that time, there were no good books on how to play the game and the online advice was also very poor. So, I learned how to play the game on my own through experimentation, careful observation, and an awful lot of practice. One thing led to another and, eventually, I wrote a book on the topic: 'Spider Solitaire Winning Strategies'.

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