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How To Win at Dots and Boxes: 16 Tips / Tricks / Strategies (Up Your Game)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

You’re probably wondering if you’d ever get better at the dots and boxes game. Not to worry, as usual, we are here to save the day. Here you’d get to learn how to win at dots and boxes.

One of the many tips to winning and improving at this paper-and-pencil game requires that you have a clear understanding of mathematical theorems; these theorems help make players better at creating chains. In addition, adequate rest is one sure way to keep your mind active for your next game of dots and boxes. 

Here are 16 tips that will improve your dots and boxes gameplay.

1. Start Small 

For newbies to the game, dots and boxes can be quite overwhelming. When learning to play dots and boxes, experts recommend that beginners start with the two-by-two board that has 12 moves and 11 turns. These two-by-two boards provide novices with an easy yet incredible learning experience.

However, as the player progresses, they can eventually turn to play larger boards; think three by three or even five by five.

2. Understand the Game

When Edouard Lucas introduced the game of dots and boxes in the 19th century, the game was quickly adopted as a children’s game. However, little did he know that this paper and pen game can be difficult to play and perhaps even harder to understand.

The game begins with players tracing out dots into boxes until the boxes join in a single chain. Any move from groups of one or more adjacent boxes gives the chain to the opponent.

In a 1×1 game board, the player who draws the fourth line wins a point and that box. The winner claims the box by writing their initials. While mid-level players might often adopt a more advanced strategy like “double-cross,” novice players usually start by randomly joining dots to boxes, typically only avoiding the third side of a box.

It is probably a good idea for new players to understand how to implement available strategies for various positions.

3. Enroll in a Math Class

Dots and boxes might be a paper and pencil game, but it is certainly mathematical. Although the game does not require the most detailed mathematical knowledge, it especially helps if players have a fundamental understanding of combinatorial concepts, amongst other things.

4. Learn about Impartial Games

Impartial games are based on combinatorial theory. Games under this category typically have their allowable moves dependent on the position.

The Sprague Grundy theorem can typically organize impartial games. This theorem holds that every impartial game, under the standard play convention, is equal to a Number.

These concepts are the foundation on which the dots and boxes game stand. While learning them might not provide you with hands-on knowledge of the game, it provides insight into the underlying principles of dots and boxes.

5. Deliberate Practice

Active practice is a sure way to become great at everything from the great AP Calculus to dots and boxes. Over time, practice has been shown to reinforce new neural paths created every time you learn something new; the same rules apply to dots and boxes.

You would want to start playing with colleagues at lunch or friends after school hours.

If you cannot find anyone to practice with, you could always download an online version.

6. Pick a Strategy 

When learning to play with dots and boxes, beginners often trace the dots into boxes without much thought. However, to be a successful dots and boxes player, you would require more than blind intuition and native instinct.

There are many strategies employed in the dots and boxes.

We suggest taking the time to look at the following YouTube clip from Numberphile. You’ll probably find it very helpful.

Video Source: YouTube / Numberphile

7. Invest in a Private Tutor

Private tutors might be expensive, but they are a great deal of help in mastering dots and boxes. Dots and boxes can be daunting to brave alone. It is perhaps not uncommon for new players or their intermediate counterparts to invest in a private tutor.

8. Join a Club

With several papers run on the mathematical theories of the game, the dots and boxes game is a nerdy game. The concepts are usually too daunting for a beginner to learn alone, and newcomers often run to the internet for help or—more typically—their immediate dots and boxes community for support.

Dots and boxes clubs might be a little hard to find but not altogether impossible. We recommend you turn to the internet search bar to find the nearest club to you.

If you still can’t find an active community of dots and box players, you could always start your dots and boxes club.

9. Join Tournaments

Although there are very few official dots and boxes tournaments known, tournaments are not only the best ways to improve sportsmanship but also a sure way to improve your skill.

If you can’t find any tournament near you, it’s all right to start one with friends at work or join one online.

10. Practice other Impartial Games

Although impartial games like Nim and Sprouts might differ from dots and boxes, they help provide players with excellent intuitive training for the dots and boxes game.

11. Get more Sleep

From better cognitive functions to improved mood, the benefits of good sleep are endless. Good sleep can also mark improvement in a game of Dots and boxes. So, before going off on your next dots and boxes streak, you should probably get all the sleep you can.

12. Fasting 

Research has shown that the absence of food provides the body with the much-needed metabolic switching required for improved neuroplasticity.

Essentially, intermittent fasting improves cognitive function and, by extension, your dots and boxes performance.

Newcomers to intermittent fasting often begin with the 16/8 method. This method encourages you to skip breakfast, restricting eating hours to 8-hour periods. Beginners could also try the 5:2 diet or the Eat-stop-Eat route.

13. Attempt Puzzles 

Piecing a daunting one-thousand-piece puzzle might not be the best way to spend your Saturday nights, but it is a sure way to improve your dots and boxes game.

Players with poor problem-solving skills typically struggle with impartial games like dots and boxes.

When getting started with puzzles, you might want to start with the easy stuff and then work your way up the difficulty ladder—think 100-piece puzzle or 150.

14. Solve Riddles

While riddles are not nearly as complex as dots and boxes, they certainly have merits. Riddles are an effective way to exercise your mind and train your brain for your next dot and boxes game.

15. Exercise

Exercise isn’t just a great way to bulk up your muscles and burn your belly fat; exercising is a wonderful way to train your mind.

Although it might not be immediately obvious, dots and boxes test a player’s critical thinking abilities. If you find yourself failing at this paper and pen game, it just might be time to hit the gym.

One research shows that active exercise over a long period can greatly improve brain function, while another observed memory activity to be larger in people who exercise.

Cardio is a great start for beginners. Cardio exercises and HIIT workouts have improved cerebral blood flow and attention.

Strength training would not be left out; strength training is a sure way to improve your attention and associative memory.

16. Take Up Chess

Chess is a classic board game that provides players with an immersive board game experience and, over time, necessary problem-solving skills.

If your problem-solving skills are poor, a good start will certainly be your chessboard.

Last Word

While dots and boxes might not be the most popular paper and pencil game, it certainly has a decent number of plays. We recommend adopting some if not all the tips discussed above, as applying them in your daily and dots and boxes game routine will see you become a master in little to no time.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.