Play Othello

The board game that would become Othello was invented in the 19th century under the name Reversi. Sources conflict on whether the game was created by John W. Mollett, Lewis Waterman or by another individual even earlier. The game was rechristened "Othello" in the 1970s by Goro Hasegawa and marketed by the Japanese game company Tsukuda Original, then subsequently introduced to the American market by Pressman.[1] A two-player game, Othello is quite simple to learn, but can take a lifetime to master. The steps below cover the game’s basic rules, along with some of the game's basic strategies.


Setting Up and Playing the Game

  1. Set up the game board and discs. Othello is played on an 8 x 8 non-checkered board with 64 discs which are black on one side and white on the other. One player plays discs black side up and the other plays white side up. Place 4 discs in the center of the board; 2 with the black side up and 2 with the white side up so that the discs with matching colors touch diagonally.
    • The player with black disks typically goes first; in other versions, the players decide who plays first.
    • The modern version of Othello requires this setup for every game. In the older game of Reversi, players placed the first 4 discs however they chose.[1]
    • Online versions of Othello are just as popular as the physical version and follow the same rules.
  2. Place the first disc in a spot that outflanks an opponent’s disc. To “outflank” a disc means to surround a row of your opponent’s discs with two of your own discs. A “row” consists of one or more discs that form a line horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
    • For instance, the first player places a black disc in a spot that outflanks a white disc either vertically or horizontally, as it is not possible to outflank the white discs diagonally (assuming black goes first).
  3. Flip the outflanked disc to its opposite side. Once a disc is outflanked, it is flipped to the opposite color and becomes the other player’s disc. Following the example in the previous step, the white disc that is outflanked is turned to black and belongs to the black player..
  4. Pass the turn to your opponent. The opponent now places the second disc in a spot that outflanks at least one of the first player’s discs. Assuming the second player plays the white discs, they would place one of their discs so a row of at least one black disc is framed by two white discs on each side, flipping the outflanked black disks to white. Remember that the row can be horizontal, diagonal or vertical.

Finishing the Game

  1. Continue taking turns placing discs until a legal move isn’t possible. For a move to be legal, a disc must always be placed in a position where it can outflank a row of the opponent’s discs. If this isn't possible, you must forfeit your turn until you can perform a legal move. If neither player can perform a legal move, usually because all spaces are filled, play ends.
    • Discs may flank the opponent's discs in more than one direction, turning them all over simultaneously.
    • If a legal move is available, you may not forfeit your turn, even if it would be advantageous to do so.[2]
  2. Set a time limit. Another way of ending the game is to set a specific time limit for each player's total moves. This means a game could end before players run out of legal moves and can encourage faster play. A player's time runs while he plays his turn and is paused when he passes the turn to his opponent. World championship rules typically give each player 30 minutes, but you can set a time limit as low as 1 minute if you prefer faster games.[3]
  3. Count the number of discs of each color. Once there are no more legal moves, add up all disks of each color. The player with more discs of his color wins the game.

Learning the Basics of Strategy

  1. Try to establish stable disc positions. While it might initially seem like flipping as many discs as possible is the key to victory, this actually makes you more vulnerable. Most positions on the board can be outflanked; the edges of the board and the corners are the most stable positions.
  2. Try to get a disc in the corner of the board. This will give you a position that can’t be outflanked and is an important advantage as it protects many of your other discs from being outflanked as you reach out from the corners.[4] Getting control of a corner is often enough to turn the tables.
    • Avoid playing discs in the spaces immediately next to the extreme corners, as this gives your opponent the chance to outflank you and gain the corner position.
  3. Think ahead when placing discs. Rather than simply trying to flip the most discs in one move, think about where your opponent might place his disc right after yours. You might be able to flip a large number of discs, but your opponent might play a counter that flips more discs back to their color.
  4. Try to trap your opponent and avoid being trapped. As your skill improves, you’ll be able to set traps for your opponent, much like in chess. Start thinking about your opponent’s likely plays, then push them towards a move that benefits you. Of course, be careful when playing against skilled opponents, as they may do the same to you!
    • For example, pay close attention if your opponent’s discs move closer to the corners. They may be trying to goad you into playing close to the corner so they can outflank you and take the corner.


  • The next most important squares to control after the corners and the spaces adjacent to them are the edges of the board. In contrast, the rows just inside the edge rows can be dangerous, as your opponent can play a disc in the outer row to flank and capture discs from the inner row.
  • To help you track which discs to flip after placing yours, keep your finger on the disc you just placed as you trace the path to the flanking discs of your color. It is possible to flip discs in as many as 8 directions at once.
  • Othello's capture strategy is similar to that of the board games Go and Pente; however, in Othello, captured discs are flipped instead of removed from the board.
  • Illegal moves (i.e. flipping an opponent's disc when there aren't flanking disc at both ends of an opponent's disc) can be corrected as long as the opponent hasn't yet made a move.
  • The 64 discs are shared between players, so it is not possible for a player to run out of discs while there are still legal moves available.

Sources and Citations

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