Othello tutorial, p. 3 – How to begin well and not end badly?

In previous parts of my Othello tutorial I wrote on strategy basics and quiet moves. This is very important in the middlegame but in this part I’ll tell you something about starting the game.

In most strategy board games each game have three phases.

  • Opening – the first moves, when players prepare for the fight.
  • Middlegame – often most critical phase in which players realize their plans and try to gain superiority over the opponent.
  • Ending – the last moves. Player who gained superiority tries to “knock out” the opponent, and the opponent tries to “escape”, to end with a draw or even win surprisingly.

Previously we discussed Othello problems more important in the middlegame. Today I want to focus on openings.

Different games, same moves at start

Let’s start from the very beginning of the game. There are four discs on central fields. Black moves first and he (or she) has 4 possible moves: F5, E6, C4 or D3.


Are there better and worse choices here? No, because the effect of each move will be exactly the same. Let’s say Black plays F5. The resulting position is shown on the image below – it looks like the black “letter T” with one white disc “glued” to it.


Starting a game with a different move (not F5) will result in same position, only rotated or mirrored. The picture below shows all 4 results of 4 possible first moves. Everywhere you see the same “letter T” with “glued” white disc.


At this point I want to show you one interesting feature of Othello. Each position in game can have several different “images”. Just rotate it by 90 or 180 degrees or apply a mirror effect to it. It will always be the same position regardless of rotation. Some Othello computer programs even have the option to rotate the board during the game so you can look at the same position in different forms.

In practice many players starts a game with the same move (often C4). It makes easier to remember and recognize repetitive patterns.

Parallel, perpendicular and diagonal opening

So… we know we have the same position after the first move. White plays next. If Black played F5 then White will have three options (shown on the image below – F4, F6 or D6).


Of course this position could be rotated or mirrored, but the pattern of possible moves would be always similar. After the first move White always have three options – to capture enemy disks vertically, horizontally or diagonally.

At this stage White decides on the nature of the opening. A result of his move will create one of three basic openings shown on the image below.


If White would play F4, he would start the parallel opening. Practice shows this opening gives advantage to Black, providing him more mobility and ability to play quiet. For this reason many people avoid parallel opening. It’s rarely seen on tournaments.

If White would play D6, it would be perpendicular opening. This very popular opening in recent years, the most common in tournaments. In this type of opening many people play C4 E3 F4 C5 D6 F3 (or analogous moves).

If White would play F6, it would be diagonal opening. It was popular in the 80s, but it often led to good mobility for Black, so popularity of this opening has declined over time. In recent years new experiments with this opening are observed. Popular first sequence of moves is C4 C3 D3 C5 (or analogous).

As a beginner you should remember one thing. White decides on the kind of opening and the parallel opening usually does not pay off for him.

Of course, Othello – like many other mind sports – has a deeper open theory of openings. There are some “classic” ways to start a part and they even have cool names: bat, rose, chimney, etc. But at first it’s important to learn some strategy rules important in the first phase of a game. And the first rule is…

Sweet 16!

Sweet 16 it’s a fancy name for 16 squares just in the center of the board. They are shown on the image below.


The experience of other players shows it’s good to:

  • play in Sweet 16 at the beginning and…
  • force opponent to play outside Sweet 16.

Why is it so? Because discs in the Sweet 16 can’t stay frontier discs for long, even if they are frontier discs initially. The game has to develop sideways so these disks will not be stable. And playing outside the Sweet 16 can help the opponent to reach the edge faster and this is not good. In the next lessons we will discuss playing on the edges.

Of course the “Sweet 16 rule” should be treated with some distance (this applies to all strategy rules). In many cases it pays to stay within sweet 16, but there are other things to keep in mind during opening.

Stay central in compact position

In previous posts on Othello I stressed that each disc must stick to other discs. All discs on board form one figure. Controlling the center means you are trying to keep your discs in the middle of this figure, away from the periphery. In most cases keeping control in the center require to make quiet moves, but sometimes it’s good to play louder to keep the central position.

It’s also important to keep a compact position, without “holes” between your own discs.

Let’s look at the example below (Example 1). It’s White’s turn and he has four possibilities – C7, C3, E3, and E7 (squares marked with stars).

Example 1

In this situation many beginners would play E7, C7 or C3. All these moves flip only one disc so they seem “secure” and quiet. In fact E3 is the best move, even if it flips two disks (E4 and D4). Why? Because this move ensures a strong and compact position in the center and this is good for further play.

Let’s see what would happen if White would play C7. This quiet move flips only one disk and it gives a position shown below.

Example 1 after C7

As you can see White played outside the sweet 16 and thanks to this Black has the possibility to further strengthening in the center. The C6 square makes a real “hole” among White discs. Black can’t play into this hole immediately, but he will be able to do this later so such “holes” are not fine.

If White wouldn’t play C7 but E7, he would make exactly the same mistake – he would stretch his position and made a “hole”, leaving a strong position in the center for Black.

OK. And what if White would play in C3? This move flips only one disc and it’s in the sweet 16 so it probably not that bad? Unfortunately, it will create a position shown below…

Example 1 after C3

… and this will only encourage Black to “patch a hole” by playing in C4. The only result is very strong position in the center for Black.

You have to admit that in this situation the best move it’s not necessarily the quietest move – E3 (it flips two discs). Why? Because this move strengthens the position in the center and at the beginning it’s more important than “loudness” volume. If White will play in E3 it will result in strong central position shown below.

Example 1 after E3

Move that created this position was not the quietest possible, but it will allow to play quiet in the future (and can force black to play loud).

Who wins here?

Another good example is shown below (Example 2). At first glance White’s position seems worse (he has a lot of external discs) but on the other hand his position is central and compact.

Example 2

It’s White turn to move. He can play A3 and there will be only 3 possible moves for Black (marked with black stars).

Example 2 after A3

Look! There are only loud moves left for Black! Playing G7 seems silent but it would cause a quick loss of the corner (G7 is so-called X-square). Actually, the White’s position was not that bad. It was central and compact, and it allowed for limiting black mobility and forcing him to make loud moves.

Remember! Sometimes it is better to make louder move in order to maintain compact and central position in the first phase of a game. This will allow you to perform silent moves later and force your opponent to make louder moves. Of course “playing louder” does not mean “playing as loudly as you can”.

To stay quiet you have to be louder sometimes

Othello experts sometimes argue over the main strategic goals in openings. Some experts stress that loudness is not that important at start. Others say that you should always think about being quiet.

In fact different experts say just the same because not every quiet movement give you the opportunity to make quiet moves in the future. And I repeat again tahth before you make a move, you have to imagine the situation on the board. When we see it in your mind you can forsee what will happen in the next moves.

Silent fail

Playing too quietly in the opening can limit your mobility (paradoxically), because you need a certain number of your own discs to capture enemy discs. So when you have only few discs and they are not placed well, your mobility may be not that good.

There is even a possibility of losing a game by playing to silently in the opening. Thats because you can loose the game also by losing all discs. Let’s look at the picture below (Example 3).

Example 3

In this situation White can play E6 and this seems like a good, silent move. Resulting position is shown below.

Example 3 after E6

Unfortunately, in the next move Black may play E7 to create something like this.

Example 3 after E6 and E7 – Game Over!

This is “Game Over” for White because of losing all discs.

Few classic openings

I mentioned there are some “classic” Othello openings. Some people learn them, and professional players must know a lot of them. In my opinion, it makes no sense to learn openings at the stage where you are but… you can at least look at these openings and think about why good players are playing this way.

Below you can find 10 randomly selected openings. If you have some time and board, you can look at them.

  • Cow – C4 C3 D3 C5 D6
  • Chimney – C4 C3 D3 C5 D6 E3
  • Hyperplane – C4 C3 D3 C5 D6 F4 F5 D2 B5
  • Tiger – C4 E3 F6 E6 F5
  • Swallow – C4 E3 F5 B4 F3 F4 E2 E6 G5 F6 D6 C6
  • Rose – C4 E3 F4 C5 D6 F3 E6 C3 D3 E2
  • Horse – C4 E3 F4 C5 E6
  • Sailboat – C4 C3 D3 C5 D6 F4 F5 D2 G4 D7
  • Bat – C4 D3 D3 C5 D6 F4 B4 B6 B5 C6 B3
  • Buffalo – C4 C3 D3 C5 F6

Play, play, play!

Learning is essential, but practice makes perfect so always try to play a lot. And when you’ll learn something, find your opponent and play. The more you play the more experience you gain.

It’s best if you record and analyze your games. Beyond that, remember the advice from the previous lessons. Always imagine results of move you make.

In the next lesson we will focus on playing on the edges.

Previous parts of this tutorial:

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