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Spider Solitaire - The lonely Ace

The Lonely Ace

Players of the game of Spider Solitaire generally learn very quickly to fear the mighty King, who has the very nasty habit of blocking access to all cards beneath him. In effect, he takes cards out of play. Dealing with the King is not an easy endeavor. It can take a long time to get the hang of.
Another troublesome rank is the lonely Ace. In many ways, the Ace is the opposite of the King. The King heads a complete suited run while the Ace terminates it. Onto the King can be placed any other rank, obviously in order. Onto the Ace can be placed no rank at all.

While the Ace does not restrict access to needed cards, as the King so often does, it represents the end of the line. When an Ace is the bottom of a pile, the pile can be extended no further.
For the player who wishes to become proficient at the game of Spider, they need to learn how to deal with Aces. There are a few strategies for doing so.

The Ace: Early Comers

Early Aces are more likely to cause problems than are late arrivals. What often happens is that an Ace gets so buried under many cards that when it comes time to complete the suit near the end of the game, it can't be accessed.
As with all ranks, it's a good idea for the player to keep tabs on what Aces are in play and where they are. Ideally, the player should attempt to ensure that each Ace will be available when it's needed. Unfortunately, this can be an extremely difficult undertaking and is generally not practical.

Sometimes it comes down to a choice. The player may have an opportunity to either gain access to an Ace or to place the Ace onto a Two and is forced to choose between more than one Ace.
When possible, it's generally better to have an Ace atop of a Two, preferable of the same suit. A bigger run is even better. This way, when it comes time to complete the suit, at least the final cards with be together and can be moved as a group. Even if the ace-terminated run is not all in suit, often the out-of-suit ranks can be swapped for the in-suit ranks from one or more of the other piles.

The Ace: Leaving in Place

One strategy for dealing with the pesky Ace is to simply leave it where it was dealt, or if it was a hidden card, where it turned. Often though, there just isn't an opportunity to move the Ace, and it remains in place. Then, the next 10-card deal solidifies its location in the pile, which is the only way that an exposed Ace can become covered.
The obvious danger comes from the fact that if the Ace is not moved, the Ace, like the King, effectively blocks access to cards.

In the early rounds, this strategy generally only stands a decent chance of working if there are only a few cards above the Ace, and even then, it should be cards that are unlikely to be needed until the end game. The biggest problem is ensuring that the Ace is available when it comes time to build the suit. Also, even the few cards held up by the Ace could end up handicapping the game.
In the later rounds, sometimes purposefully leaving an Ace where it was dealt can work. When more than one pile is terminated by an Ace and mobility is already restricted, forgoing a move that would expose yet another Ace at the bottom of a pile and restrict mobility even more, might be a good idea. But, as with all strategies, it can backfire.

The Ace: Preparing For a Deal

The question is, "When preparing for an impending 10-card deal, should a move be enacted that would expose an Ace?"
The obvious reason why not to is due to the fact that no cards can be placed atop of an Ace, which could mean less mobility following the deal than if the move had been rejected.
This can be a difficult call. Note though that if a chance to expose an Ace comes and it's not just prior to a deal, then unless there is good reason to expose the Ace (such as making use of cards in the pile) then the move should probably be delayed and decided upon when the next deal is imminent. This is because exposing the Ace would use up an asset (a column or an exposed rank). While delaying, there's a chance that the asset might be put to more productive use.

For a move to expose an Ace, it means that the move must eliminate a break in rank. Since a break in rank is generally more difficult to overcome than is a break in suit, it's a valuable improvement to the game. If a move that would expose an Ace is not played when there is an opportunity to do so, the chance to free the Ace might never come again.
On the other hand, freeing the Ace could make it less likely for a column to immediately be emptied after the deal. And, since exposing an Ace means a move either into a vacant column or onto an exposed rank, it would use up an asset that might otherwise have helped to vacate a column.

In the early rounds, when procuring an empty column is the primary goal, it can be very tempting to forgo a move that would expose an Ace and restrict mobility. However, when there are few cards in play and chances of vacating a column following the deal are already low, performing the move is not likely to be the deciding factor in the game. The move is more likely to be an overall benefit than a hindrance. Nevertheless, they may be occasions in the early rounds when the player might wish to forgo exposing an Ace immediately before a deal.
In the later rounds, when much more cards are in play, the chances of vacating a column following a deal are greater. For this reason, rejecting a move prior to a deal that would expose an Ace is more likely to help win the game. This is most true immediately prior to the final deal when if a column is not vacated, there will be no way to win the game (other than undoing moves and replaying the game).

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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