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From T-Spins to Perfect Clear: Competitive Tetris Beginner's Guide

From T-Spins to Perfect Clear: Competitive Tetris Beginner's Guide
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Looking to T-spin your way to the top of the Tetris leaderboard? Here's what you need to know.

From T-Spins to Perfect Clear: Competitive Tetris Beginner's Guide

It's one of the most popular games of all time, right up there with the mustachioed plumber and a hedgehog that loves gold rings.

It's easy to learn, and hard to master. It's Tetris! While millions play for fun, some dedicate themselves to the puzzle classic the same way Tennis players devote their life to the sport.

Here's an overview of what it takes to play Tetris competitively.

Tetris Game Boy Cartridge. Source: Tetris.com - Millenium
Tetris Game Boy Cartridge. Source: Tetris.com

Some History

To understand the game, let's look back at its origin. Russian scientist Alexey Pajitnov invented the game in 1984 on an Electronika 60, a Soviet computer. By 1987, it made its way to the United States on PC.

It released in Japan in 1988 on the Famicon. Nintendo licensed Tetris the following year and packaged it with the Game Boy at launch. The company sold more than 35 million copies.

The game is still popular today, landing on nearly every system since, including mobile. There's even a daily game show featuring prizes and a nightly tournament.

Tetris Illustration. Source: Tetris.com - Millenium
Tetris Illustration. Source: Tetris.com

An Introduction to Tetris

Tetris is synonymous with the puzzle genre. Players use blocks to make lines in a grid. Every line you clear gets points. The more points you get, the better your score. Tetris progresses in levels and speeds up as you continue, making it extremely challenging at higher levels.

You can get a lot of points when you clear four lines at once for a "Tetris." There are seven pieces in the game, called "tetrominoes." There's a long piece, two L shaped pieces, a square, two Z shaped pieces, and one T shaped piece.

If a player can't place any more tetrominoes on the board, they "top out" and lose the game.

A Tetris Match. Source: Classic Tetris - Millenium
A Tetris Match. Source: Classic Tetris

Tetris Strategies

The easiest strategy is to "play flat." That means that you want to drop pieces to create smooth lines on the grid, and leave a space on the end for a long piece to make a Tetris. This is easy on lower levels but can be more difficult when things speed up and there's not as much time to think.

If you have to drop something that won't fit and build a mound, it's best to drop pieces in the center, or more toward the left, and then work out of that jam.

Learn to think quickly, and pay attention to the rotation of pieces. Most games use a universal rotation system, but some, like Tetris 99, do not. Knowing which way to rotate helps with split-second decision making.

The hold is incredibly useful and important. Save a piece that you can use to score later, but don't save it to correct a bad move. Most people will hold a Z piece because they can't use it yet, but avoid that habit and hold on to I pieces for maximum benefit.

Learn to buffer as well. At higher speeds, this means pressing the piece toward where you want it to go BEFORE it drops. For maximum effectiveness, keep an eye on what pieces are coming next. Train your mind to think at least one piece ahead, but if you can train to think three, then you'll know exactly what to do next. A lot of Tetris is anticipation and reaction.

Perhaps the most important strategy of all is practice. Spend time playing the game, and your skills will naturally improve.

Winners at the 2016 Tetris Championships. Source: Tetris.com - Millenium
Winners at the 2016 Tetris Championships. Source: Tetris.com

Advanced Strategies

Master the basics and move on to advanced techniques that require more skill. One of the most important is the T-spin. That means fitting a T piece into a seemingly impossible spot. that looks impossible to get into. Here's a better look:

To make a T-spin work you need to create a base and then an overhang. If you do it right, you'll be left with a T-shaped hole. Once you get the hang of this (it's not easy at first), then you wait for a T piece and rotate (spin) it in place. There are many different ways to set up a T spin, but the payoff is impressive and gives players a lot of points.

Another strong advanced move is clearing the entire board with a perfect clear. It's easier to pull off early, but it's not "easy." Most Tetris games randomize the seven pieces you get before repeating and then randomize again. Knowing this will help you use those to completely clear the board. It takes... a lot of practice.

Finally, combos are great ways to pump up scores. The easiest way to build combos is to leave a two-block wide space on the board and continuously drop pieces into the well to load up on points. It can backfire, but if you're playing against a beginner, you can rack up points quickly. The super-advanced move is the four-wide well, which can be devastating in competitive play.

Tetris 99 on Nintendo Switch. Source: Nintendo - Millenium
Tetris 99 on Nintendo Switch. Source: Nintendo

Competitive Tetris Games and Tournaments

One of the most prestigious Tetris tourneys is the Classic Tetris World Championship, held annually in Portland. This year it's online and starts on Halloween. It's a best of three affair. The highest score wins.

The Midwest Gaming Classic also holds a Tetris Championship, however, it was canceled this year. Hard Drop is a Tetris community with tournaments for all levels.

There are a few stand out versions of competitive Tetris. Tetris 99 is a battle royale. The last player left wins. The mobile Tetris game features competitive play too, and there are often tournaments for Puyo Puyo Tetris, a hybrid mash-up of both puzzle games.

Tetris x Animal Crossing: New Horizons Event

From May 15 to May 19, players will be able to enjoy a Tetris x Animal Crossing New Horizons collaborative event that will unlock an ACNH theme!

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