How to Play Tic-Tac-Toe

How to Play Tic-Tac-Toe the Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe tactics

Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe

Once upon a time, I saw mathematicians crowding around the last game I would have expected: Tic-tac-toe.

As you may have discovered yourself, tic-tac-toe is terminally dull. There’s no room for creativity or insight. Good players always tie. Games inevitably go something like this


But the mathematicians at the picnic played a more sophisticated version. In each square of their tic-tac-toe board, they’d drawn a smaller board:


As I watched, the basic rules emerged quickly.

1. Each turn, you mark one of the small squares.


2. When you get three in a row on a small board, you’ve won that board.


3. When you get three in a row on a small board, you’ve won that To win the game, you need to win three small boards in a row.


But it took a while for the most important rule in the game to dawn on me: You don’t get to pick which of the nine boards to play on. That’s determined by your opponent’s previous move. Whichever square he picks, that’s the board you must play in next. (And whichever square you pick will determine which board he plays on next.) For example, if I go here


Then your next move must be here…


This lends the game a strategic element. You can’t just focus on the little board. You’ve got to consider where your move will send your opponent, and where his next move will send you, and so on. The resulting scenarios look bizarre. Players seem to move randomly, missing easy two- and three-in-a-rows. But there’s a method to the madness – they’re thinking ahead to future moves, wary of setting up their opponent on prime real estate. It is, in short, vastly more interesting than regular tic-tac-toe.


A few clarifying rules are necessary

1. What if my opponent sends me to a board that’s already been won? In that case, congratulations – you get to go anywhere you like, on any of the other boards. (This means you should avoid sending your opponent to an already-won board!)


2. What if one of the small boards results in a tie? I recommend that the board counts for neither X nor O. But, if you feel like a crazy variant, you could agree before the game to count a tied board for both X and O. Tadaaa, it was the Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe ! Now you know the rules. Go play ! And let me know how it goes.

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