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STRATEGIES FOR
PLAYING TETRIS

Getting Started

There are three things that you are going to have to learn in order to become a Tetris master. You will need to learn control, placement, and speed; in that order. Speed will not do you any good if you can't place the pieces in an appropriate space. Placement is useless if you can't control where you want the piece to be placed. So once you learn control, then practice your placement of the pieces, and finally, go for speed! Learning some of the vocabulary used in Tetris and for the understanding of this guide is also recommended.

Baseline - This is the average height of all the blocks in your playing field.

Block - A block is the physical make-up of the Tetris pieces. Tetris pieces are made up of 4 blocks. Two blocks can not occupy the same area.

Cliff - A cliff is when there is a height difference of 3 or more blocks from one column to the next.

Double - This is when you complete two lines with one piece. You can make a double with any piece in the game.

Gap - A gap is an empty space that has a block hovering above it. Generally, a gap can easily be filled by sliding a piece left or right into the gap.

Hold - This is used as a storage container to hold a tetromino that you want to save or that you do not have a good spot to place it in your playing field. Not all Tetris games have this option.

Hole - A hole is an empty space in a row that has been surrounded by blocks making it look impossible to fill.

Line - A line is made when you fill a row with blocks. In any standard version of Tetris, you will need to get 10 blocks in a row.

Next - This is an area on the screen that shows you what your next piece is going to be.

Piece - This is what I call tetrominos.

Pit - This is a section of your playing field that has cliffs on both sides of it. A pit is 3 or more spaces deep and can only be filled by using the "I" piece. It is required to make a pit if you want to get a Tetris.

Playing Field - The playing field is the area that you play in. It can also be referred to as the well. In a standard game of Tetris, the size of the playing field is 10 spaces wide and 20 spaces high.

Single - This is where you get 10 blocks in a single row to complete a line. Singles are the easiest to get.

Space - A space is just a unit of measurement. A block is equal to one space. A space in the playing field can either be empty, or filled with a block.

Tetris - This is when you clear 4 lines at once. It can only be done with the "I" piece.

Tetromino - A piece that consists of 4 blocks. There are seven tetrominos used in Tetris. These seven pieces are named after the letters that they resemble: I, J, L, O, S, T, and Z.

Triple - This is when you place a piece and it clears three lines at once. A triple can only be made with the "I", "J", and "L" pieces.

Wall - A wall is either side of the well or playing field.

Well - This is just another name for the playing field.

Control

Control is the easiest step to learn. You simply need to know what the controls are of the Tetris game that you are playing. If your game has an instruction booklet, then the controls should be listed there. Many games on a PC or mobile device will have the control settings in the option menu, which they will sometimes also allow you to change the controls to whatever buttons you want.

Moving The Piece Left And Right

The buttons used to move pieces left and right and usually the left and right arrow keys. Most Tetris games will move the piece all the way over to one side if you hold the button down. Unless I'm placing a piece against a wall, I generally count the number of spaces I want the piece to move and that's how many times I tap the button.

Ghost

If you are new to Tetris, then I suggest learning how to play on a version that uses the ghost piece. A ghost piece indicates where your Tetris piece is going to land. This makes it much easier to line up the piece with where you want it to go because it will show you right where it's going to land.

Rotation

If you are playing Tetris on a video game console, then you'll probably have two buttons for rotating the piece. One button rotates it clockwise and the other button rotates it counter-clockwise. Many of the Tetris games on the computer only have one rotation button, which is usually to rotate it clockwise. Very few Tetris games only allow you to rotate counter-clockwise. When you get to the point where you gotten your speed up, then it is preferred to have both rotating buttons. It is faster to press the CCW button once than to press the CW button three times.

Dropping Pieces

Depending on which Tetris game you are playing, there may be one or two buttons that can be used to get your current falling piece to the bottom of the playing field faster. One option is called the soft drop. The soft drop only speeds up the falling rate while you're holding the button down. Oddly enough, the other technique is called the hard drop. When you push the hard drop button, then the piece falls straight down and locks into place right away. It is preferable to have a Tetris with the hard drop option, especially when you're going for speed.

Hold

Some Tetris games have a 'hold' feature. What this does is places your falling piece in a holding cell for later use. If you are just starting out, I'd suggest finding a version that has this option. This is also useful for when you don't have a place to put the piece that is falling.

Pause

Most Tetris games have a pause feature, because if you're like most people then you know that life happens. The kids cry about something, the dog wants out, the phone rings, dinner is cooking, and there's someone at the door for you. If you are playing Tetris online against other players, then there's probably not a pause button.

Get To Know Your Pieces

It's important to know the pieces that you are working with. Tetris uses pieces made up of 4 blocks each. These pieces are called tetrominoes. There is a possibility of seven different tetrominoes often referred to by a letter of the alphabet that they resemble the most. Those pieces are "I", "J", "L", "O", "S", "T", and "Z".

"I"

The "I" is four spaces long. It is the only shape that is capable of making a Tetris, which is clearing four lines with one piece. Since it is the only way to get a Tetris, these pieces are usually placed standing up. It is unusual to find enough room to lay these pieces down. Also, try not to stack these one space from either wall unless you're planning on getting another "I" piece.

When starting the game out with an "I" piece, the only wrong move would be to set it down standing up in the middle of the playing field. Your best bet would be to lay it down in the middle. You could stand it up one space from the wall which would mark the area you will need to fill to get a Tetris. Just make sure that if you do it this way that your next piece isn't "S" or "Z".

"J"

The "J" piece is 3 blocks in a row with the fourth block on the bottom-left side. I generally place this piece standing upright. When placed upsidedown, they are useful for filling gaps that are two spaces deep. The "J" will hang off the left side of a cliff.

If you start with a "J" at the beginning of a game, then the placement should depend on your next piece. If your next piece is "S", then put the "J" standing up on the right wall. If your next piece is "Z", then lay the "J" down next to the left wall. If your next piece is anything else, then it doesn't really matter where you put it as long as you don't place it upside down.

"L"

The "L" piece is the mirror image of the "J". It is also good for filling an area that is two spaces deep and will hang off of the right side of a cliff.

Much like the "J" piece, the starting placement of "L" should depend on your next piece. It will be the opposite of "J". If your next piece is "Z", then set the "L" piece standing up next to the left wall. If "S" is next, then lay the "L" down next to the right wall. If any other piece is next, then it doesn't matter where you put it as long as it's not upside down.

"O"

The "O" piece is a 2x2 square. It can not be rotated. Well, it can, but it just rotates into the same position. The key to the "O" piece is to always have a platform two spaces wide in your playing field at all times so you have a place to put this piece. I suggest not having your platform 1 space away from the wall, if you do, then you'll have to rely on the "I" piece to fill the pit that would form next to the wall.

If you start the game out with an "O" piece, then just put it anywhere. Although, it's probably best to throw it next to one of the walls.

"S"

The "S" is two block high with an extra block on the top-right and bottom-left. The "S" and "Z" pieces are the most annoying piece in the game. These are more commonly placed standing up. While playing, you need to always have a single block step for the placement of these pieces or else you may end up have a gap in the board.

This is a terrible piece to start the game out with. If you have a hold container, put it there and hope that your next piece is better. If you don't have a hold container, then stand it up and put it against the right wall. This will leave a gap. Just hope that one of your next pieces is "I", "J", "L", or "T" so that you can slide the piece under it to fill the gap. If your next piece is another "S", then stack that on top of the first piece. If you get an "O", then stack it on the opposite wall. If by some chance you get a "Z", then I'm sorry. Stand it up on the left wall and wait until you get a piece to slide under that one as well.

"T"

The "T" piece is three blocks long with the fourth block placed in the middle. This piece is the most versatile piece of all of them, as it can fit in the most amount of spaces or gaps. It also has the unique ability of doing a t-spin. A t-spin is when you leave a gap that can still be accessed from the side and you use this piece and spin it to fill that gap. In the more recent versions of tetris, if you use this t-spin method and clear a line with it, only then are you given the credit for the t-spin and you can really rack up some points.

The ideal starting placement for the "T" is upside down right in the middle.

"Z"

The "Z" is the mirror image of the "S", so everything mentioned in the "S" piece's description also implies to this piece.

If your first piece is "Z", then place it in your hold container if you have one. Otherwise, stand it up and put it against the left wall which will leave a gap. Just hope that one of your next pieces is "I", "J", "L", or "T" so that you can slide the piece under it to fill the gap. If your next piece is another "Z", then stack that on top of the first piece. If you get an "O", then stack it on the opposite wall. If by some chance you get a "S", then I'm sorry. Stand it up on the right wall and wait until you get a piece to slide under that one too.

Maintain A Good Baseline

You're probably asking yourself, what is a baseline? The baseline is the average of height of your playing field. You don't want your baseline to look like a mountain range. Yet on the other hand, it is impossible to keep your baseline looking like the flat prairie land. It should look more like the country hillsides. A good baseline will have the following qualities:

The Two Block Platform

Always try to maintain a place to put the "O" piece. That means always having somewhere on the board that has two spaces in a row that are at the same height. This could also be used to place the "J" or "L" pieces onto.

A Step Up

Somewhere along the top of your baseline, there should always be a left step and a right step for the "S" and "Z" pieces. A step is a height difference of one space from one column to the next, just like a staircase. A left step will hold the "S" piece while the "Z" piece fits onto a right step. If you have a platform next to the step, the it will support both of the "S" and "Z" pieces at the same time, as shown in the picture above.

Avoid Making Cliffs

Cliffs are considered to be three empty spaces or more from one column to the next. If you make a cliff on both sides of a single column, than it can only be filled with the "I" piece. You should keep you baseline set to the point where you don't have to rely on a single piece to fill any open spaces because the chance of getting that piece is only 14%. If you use a "J" or "L" piece, you'll be left with a hole in your playing field. It is alright to make a cliff as long as the other side is open, but then your goal should be to get rid of the cliff by filling in the area next to it. If you have two or more cliffs, then your just asking for trouble. If you are trying to make a Tetris, then having one cliff is fine. Most players will align their cliff for a Tetris against one of the walls.

What's Next?

If you're just starting out and playing on a slow level, then make it a habit to look at your next piece and make sure that you have a place to put it. If you can see a place to put it in 2 or 3 different spots, then that's even better.

Watch Other People Play

There are probably countless videos on YouTube and other videos across the web where you can watch people play Tetris. I suggest trying to predict where they are going to place their piece and then evaluate why the player put it there if it was not where you think it should have gone.

What If I Make A Mistake?

From time to time, you're going to get a piece that is not going to have a good place to be set on the playing field, thus leaving a gap or hole in your playing field. Other times, you may just press the wrong button and the piece lands and sticks out like a sore thumb. The nice thing about Tetris is that if you make a mistake, then it can be fixed. All you need to do is to know how to fix it.

How To Fill A Hole

Do you have a hole in your playing field, or multiple holes? Read on to learn how to work your way back to the bottom of the playing field. Obviously, when there is a hole, you have to clear all the lines above it, but that's only half of the solution. The other half of the trick is to be aware of where your hole is and try not to stack any pieces directly above the hole. This way, when you clear the line above the hole, then the line will disappear and the hole will become a pit which can now be filled. If you have more than one hole, then just try to open up the hole closest to the top of the screen by making lines to clear all the blocks directly above the hole. Sometimes, you may not have a choice but to place a piece above the hole that you are trying to get rid of. All this means is that you are going to have to clear a couple extra lines before you can get to that hole.

Show Me The Points

In most Tetris games, the big points come from scoring a Tetris. In case you don't already know, a Tetris is when you clear four lines at once. This can only be done with the "I" piece.

Speed

Once you have the controls down and you can get the pieces placed where you want them, then you can work on speed. I suggest finding a version of Tetris that keeps track of your high scores, that way, you can always be competing against yourself. If you're not improving over your old score, then you need to figure out why.