3 in a Row: How to Win Tic Tac Toe

Maddy Marcus / June 22, 2020

Noughts and Crosses. X's and O's. Boxin' Oxen.

No matter what you call it, tic tac toe is one of the most popular games all around the globe.

Having originated with the Romans as a game that used pebbles on a drawn board, tic tac toe is a simple game that people of all ages can enjoy. However, most people who love the game don't know that there are ways to maximize your chances of winning. Here, we're going to discuss how to win tic tac toe every time you play, so read on to earn bragging rights as a tic tac toe master!

How to Play Tic Tac Toe

Though most people likely already have an idea of how to play tic tac toe, we're going to outline it here in case you've never played before.

The first thing that you'll want to do is draw a 3x3 square grid. It should have 9 squares in total. There's no need to put a box around the grid- it can be as sloppy as you want! You can draw it on a piece of scrap paper, on a napkin, or in sidewalk chalk in your driveway. You can even play a game online to try your skills against the computer. Tic tac toe is awesome because it can be played literally anywhere!

After that, you'll choose one person to play 'Xs' and the other one will play 'Os'. Generally, Xs go first, but Os can if that's what you and the other player agree on. You and your opponent will take turns drawing your shape in the grid. The first person to get three in a row wins!

Rules of Tic Tac Toe

One rule to note is that the game is always over when all nine grid squares are full. Even if no one has won yet, it's a draw (otherwise known as a cat's game). In fact, tic tac toe is what's known as a 'zero-sum game,' which means that no one is liable to win if both players are playing their best.

Also, a winning row comes in three different forms: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal. Getting three in a row, no matter the direction, results in a win.

How to Win Tic Tac Toe

Now that you know how to play tic tac toe, it's time to take a look at some ways to win at the game. Read on for some tic tac toe strategy tips no matter whether you're Xs or Os!

When You Go First

When you go first in tic tac toe, you're most likely to win. In fact, mathematically, the following outcomes are possible:

  • There are 91 distinct ways that X can win (assuming that X makes the first move)
  • 44 different positions in which O can win (assuming that O goes second)
  • 3 distinct positions that result in a cat's game

However, there are some measures that you can take to ensure that you play your best and achieve this win.

Play your first X in a corner. If your opponent responds by putting their O anywhere besides in the middle box, you can guarantee a win for yourself.

Assuming that your opponent knows this and does put their O in the center, you should play your next X in the opposite corner of your first one. If your opponent puts an O in one of the two remaining corners, you can easily win.

Put your third X in the remaining empty corner. When you do that, you'll have two ways to win and your opponent can't stop you from putting your 4th X down in a winning location!

When You Go Second

If your opponent makes their first move in a corner, you need to draw your O in the center of the grid. This is the only way that you can win when making the second move.

If your opponent starts on an edge that isn't a corner, you can also try to win. This is a rarer situation, but you can put your first O in the center and hope that they put their second X on the opposite edge. If this happens, you can block their row of two Xs with your third O and win with your 4th O.

However, these exact moves must be made in order for you to win here. If this doesn't happen, hope for a draw.

If your opponent starts in the center, the best thing you can probably do is to force a draw. Winning tic tac toe as the second player is significantly harder than winning as the first player, so a draw is a pretty good outcome until the next time you can start first.

You can force this draw by placing your first O in a corner. Just keep blocking your opponent from scoring until the board is full!

Tic Tac Toe Variations

There are tons of variations of tic tac toe that you can play to spice things up if you keep on ending in draws!

Tic tac toe can be played with grids larger than 3x3. Try 4x4 or 5x5 tic tac toe for a fun new spin on the game that you know and love!

3D tic tac toe is also a lot of fun. Draw three tic tac toe boards on three different pieces of paper and stack them on top of each other. To win, you need to get a line standing through the cube!

You can also challenge yourself with an online game of strategic tic tac toe to really test your skills.

Get Started

While tic tac toe may seem like a simple game- after all, you've been playing it all your life- there are some skills that you need to know in order to play it well.