How to Play Tic-Tac-Toe

tic tac toe

The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

Tic-tac-toe is a simple, two-player game that, if played optimally by both players, will always result in a tie. The game is also called noughts and crosses or Xs and Os.

Tic-tac-toe is a game that is traditionally played by being drawn on paper, and it can be played on a computer or on a variety of media. Other games, such as Connect 4, are based on this classic.

History of Tic-Tac-Toe

An early variation of the game was played in the Roman Empire, around the 1st century B.C. It was called "terni lapilli," which means "three pebbles at a time." The game's grid markings have been found chalked all over Roman ruins. Evidence of the game was also found in ancient Egyptian ruins.

The first print reference to "noughts and crosses," the British name for the game, appeared in 1864. The first print reference to a game called "tick-tack-toe" occurred in 1884 but referred to a children's game played on a slate.

More Advanced Tic-Tac-Toe

A relatively simple game usually played on a grid of 3-by-3 squares, tic-tac-toe is mainly enjoyed by children. Tic-tac-toe can be made significantly more complex by increasing the size of the board to 4-by-4, 5-by-5, or even up to a 20-by-20 grid.

advanced tic tac toe
The Spruce / Margot Cavin  


The goal of tic-tac-toe is to be the first player to get three in a row on a 3-by-3 grid or four in a row in a 4-by-4 grid. 

To start, one player draws a board, creating a grid of squares, usually 3-by-3 or 4-by-4.

In a 3-by-3 grid game, the player who is playing "X" always goes first. Players alternate placing Xs and Os on the board until either player has three in a row, horizontally, vertically, or diagonally or until all squares on the grid are filled. If a player is able to draw three Xs or three Os in a row, then that player wins. If all squares are filled and neither player has made a complete row of Xs or Os, then the game is a draw.

One of the game's best strategies involves creating a "fork," which is placing your mark in such a way that you have the opportunity to win two ways on your next turn. Your opponent can only block one, thereby, you can win after that.

The gameplay is the same if you are playing on a 4-by-4 grid. The "X" player goes first. And, players alternate placing Xs and Os on the board until a row is completed horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, or all 16 squares are filled. If all 16 squares are filled and neither player has four in a row, the game is a draw.

tic tac toe gameplay
The Spruce / Margot Cavin 

Other Variants

Tic-tac-toe can be also be played on a 5-by-5 grid with each player trying to get five in a row.

The game can also be played on larger grids, such as 10-by-10 or even 20-by-20. For any grid of 6-by-6 or greater, it might be best to make your goal to get five in a row. This turns the basic game of tic-tac-toe into a much more complex game with similarities to the board game Pente, meaning "five" in Greek. Similarly, the goal of Pente is for a player to score five marks in a row.