Tic-Tac-Toe Strategy Guide

Tic-Tac-Toe Strategy Guide

If you never want to lose in tic-tac-toe again, I have a strategy guide to help you with just that. Tic-tac-toe is a very easy board game, that is played between two players. Easy it is, but you must know the tricks for there are essentially 9 (9 factorial, i.e. 362880) ways to place your crosses and zeros on a tic-tac-toe board. Don't get discouraged, this article is here to help you with that winning placement.
Tic-tac-toe was my favorite game all through my school days and like most people, I shifted over to chess as I grew older. Before beginning with the full-fledged strategies, let us begin this article with a brief introduction of the game and what it entails.

Tic-tac-toe is a game known by many names, namely 'crosses and zeros', 'noughts and crosses', etc. It is a board game played on a 3x3 grid of squares (total 9 squares). Unfortunately, the game is only interesting till you have discovered the unbeatable strategy, after which the players tend to move on to more sophisticated games. In a game of tic-tac-toe, one player has crosses and the other has noughts. The first player to get three of his symbols in one line (i.e. three crosses or three noughts in a straight line) is the one that wins the game. To avoid losing, each player must play one of the following in the order of importance at that phase of the game.
  • The first and most obvious way is to play for a win, i.e. if you already have two in a row, play the third one the same way in order to win the game.
  • In order to stay in the game, if the opponent has two squares in a row, it is imperative to block the third square.
  • Always be on a look out to create a fork. A fork is where you are in a position to win the game in two possible ways. Even if the opponent blocks one route there is another that you can take and win in the next chance of play.
  • Be aware of the probability and placement of your opponent's fork and play to block it.
  • The ultimate tic-tac-toe scheme if you are starting, is to always play the center square rather than the corners. Corners give players the smallest scope of defense to avoid losing.
  • If the opponent has made a move in an empty corner, play the opposite corner. If you are stuck for play, play an empty corner or an empty side, whichever lends itself to the game.
Now, let us move on to some tic-tac-toe strategies. Master this strategy and you will never lose another tic-tac-toe game ever in your life.

Strategy 1: If You Go First
If you are playing first, you should place your 'x' on any of the corner squares. There are three possible moves for your opponent to make after that.

Move One
Your opponent puts an 'o' on a corner square too. This is now fairly easy for you for all you have to do is to place your 'x' on another corner square (in all now, three corner squares will be taken out of which two will be 'x'es). Your opponent will have no choice but to block you and as soon as he does that, you can snap up the last corner square. You will have created a fork for yourself and no matter where he now places his 'o', you have a guaranteed win. Here's a snapshot of how your grid may look like.

X O
OX
XOX

Move Two
If your opponent puts an 'o' on a side square, just place your 'x' on the center square and force your opponent to use his next move to block you. If his block requires you to use your next move to block his advance, your game could end in a 'no result', but if this is not so and you are free to make your move, you should place your 'x' in a corner square that is not beside an 'o'. Again, you will have made a fork for yourself and guaranteed yourself a win no matter what move your opponent makes. Yet, this strategy does not guarantee a win, because it all depends on whether you are forced to back your opponent or are free to make your move. Your board could look like this.

O O
OX
XXX

Move Three
If 'o' goes to the center square, you should take up the corner square diagonally opposite to the square that you had initially picked. If 'o' is played on the two other remaining corner squares, you can block him by taking up the last remaining corner and creating a 'guaranteed win' fork for yourself. If however, 'o' is placed on a side square and not on the corner, the game is most likely to end in a 'no result'. Your grid could look like this, if you are able to make yourself that fork.

O X
OO
XXX

Strategy 2: If You Go Second
If you are playing second to your opponent and he has started off with any of the non-center squares, there are three ways that you can reply with. Depending on his start, your strategy will change accordingly. Here's a look at the three ways to win/salvage the game after you have claimed the center square with your first move after his start.

Move One
If your opponent began with a corner 'x' and supplemented it with an 'x' on one side for his second move, you should play your 'o' in the corner square that is opposite to his 'x'. Block his advance and get yourself a draw. Your grid may look like this.

OXO
XOX
XOX

Move Two
If your opponent has placed both his 'x'es on any of the side squares, there are two probable outcomes to this. If both his 'x'es are besides the same corner, you will have to play for a draw by placing your 'o' in that corner square. If they are placed like this, you can play your 'o' on another side square. When x blocks your win, you can play your 'o' beside an 'x' such that it creates a fork in your favor, and you will be the winner. If that happens, your grid will look like this.

OOX
XOX
XO

Move Three
If both you and your opponent's 'x'es have come on corner squares, you will have to resort to playing for a draw by playing your 'o' on a side square. Your grid may look like this.

XXO
OOX
XOX

It pays to remember that sometimes, the best strategies are not the ones that give you a chance of winning but the ones that do not leave a chance of you losing. I hope this article helps you in mastering the game so that you may never lose one again.
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