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Sudoku: 15 Common Mistakes Beginners Make (Up Your Sudoku Game)

Last Updated on January 7, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Woman playing sudoku game at home

If you just started playing Sudoku and want to move ahead to more advanced levels, you should try to avoid some common mistakes. You can solve Sudoku puzzles in many ways, and there are various ways you can play to win. By practicing and developing your skills, you will inevitably make mistakes. We’re here to help you figure out what to do when you run into these mistakes and, of course, how to avoid them in the future.

Sudoku is played with strategic, thoughtful moves. Still, as you try your best at trial-and-error, there are a few things that you can do to avoid making too many mistakes and getting frustrated. Good concentration and logical skills are crucial, but they can still lead you to make silly mistakes.

The good thing about Sudoku is that it is one of the most forgiving games because if you find that you’re prone to making mistakes, all you need to fix it is an eraser.

Improve your Sudoku game by paying attention to these 15 common mistakes:

1. Guessing where the numbers go.

You may think guessing is a shortcut to solving your Sudoku grid, but it’s not. You actually get off on the wrong track by guessing. In Sudoku, you need to use deductive reasoning to determine where to place each number on the grid. The best strategy is to eliminate possibilities. Another sound system is looking at the big picture. Only put a number in a cell when you know it is the only number that can go there, based on logic.

2. Cluttered notes.

Making notes while playing Sudoku can be helpful. Still, some players might make their grids cluttered and confusing if they write down every single number for every single space. It’s easy to be tricked by the thought that the player will find the solution faster by doing so, but it can actually make you lose focus on the correct numbers. 

It is important to recognize patterns and eliminate options when solving a Sudoku puzzle. Instead of keeping a list of possible numbers for each space, go through the grid and eliminate possible numbers as you go along. Make sure your puzzle is free of extraneous and unnecessary marks as much as possible. 

3. Paying too much attention to one corner of the grid.

Beginner players sometimes think that it’s easy to solve each part of the grid individually instead of moving around and having a broad view of the puzzle. The problem with this strategy is that it also has a high chance of leading you down the wrong path. If you decide to play this way, make sure you’re not losing sight of the overall grid and how all the numbers are connected.

4. Ignoring the counting strategy.

When using the counting strategy, the player only has to count the allocated numbers to find the ones missing from the row or column. It makes it easier for a player to find the right candidate for that blank cell. The counting strategy helps you see the big picture and how the information is interconnected. 

5. Not analyzing single rows and columns.

This error results from not using the counting strategy, and it is especially detrimental in complicated grids. Even though analyzing each row and column may not lead to a solution, it helps eliminate candidates, especially when a number is a confined candidate in another group. The answer will definitely be found within those cells.

Close-up of woman playing Sudoku

6. Overlooking hidden pairs.

Hidden pairs appear within the squares. Two cells have the same candidates, and they are not solutions to any other cell in that 3×3 group. They are usually mixed up with other candidates, that’s why they are hard to spot, but you can eliminate all other numbers when you do. By doing so, you might discover that one of the eliminated candidates is now the only solution to another row or column. 

7. Losing track of the numbers you are looking for.

When you get ahead of yourself and lose track of the numbers you are looking for, you might accidentally put duplicate numbers in the same row, column, or square. Be vigilant and make sure you are keeping track of your notes (mental and physical).

8. Skipping obvious solutions.

We mentioned earlier that tackling the easy groups first isn’t always the best strategy, but there’s always an exception to the rule. If you spot a row, column, or square with only one blank cell, it’s obvious that you should solve that one first. With every Sudoku, you want to recognize the opportunities you have on hand, so look out for these easy and evident solutions because they will make solving the puzzle easier.

9. Not knowing where to start.

Your first move will influence the whole game, and it is often the most difficult one because you have many empty cells. The best is to start by the process of elimination. Scan the grid and look out for easy answers and easy candidates. Marking them with a pencil is very helpful. Once you gain momentum, use other strategies to keep it flowing.

10. Using the same strategy over and over.

Beginner players tend to stick to their familiar strategies for playing Sudoku to be safe. However, working with different techniques can help you become an expert and faster at solving the puzzle. Other methods provide a new perspective on the grid. Study and test them and find the ones that work best for you, but remember always to be adaptable.

11. Wasting time by using math to solve the puzzle.

If you’re new to Sudoku, you might’ve heard that you need to know math to play. Contrary to what many people think, you don’t have to do any calculations when solving the puzzles. There are several strategies to play Sudoku out there that involve math that, although sometimes helpful and fun, are not necessary. If you feel intimidated by the numbers, remember that they are only figures that could easily be replaced by nine different emojis. The result would be the same.

12. Not reading the rules.

Although Sudoku seems pretty straightforward, make sure you really know the rules before you start playing. This will help you avoid silly mistakes that can spoil the entire game. It’s simple, just take a few minutes before playing to understand the rules.

13. Not using notes.

Easy levels don’t require a lot from a player. Solving a 4×4 grid is pretty simple, and just a little bit of concentration helps you find a solution. But as you start experimenting with more complex grids, taking notes is essential. Notes provide a visual aid that can help you organize your thoughts without relying solely on your memory. It gives the brain a chance to analyze your options without getting overwhelmed.

Person playing Sudoku

14. Rushing through the process.

Haste makes waste, right? Sudoku is one of those games that require a lot of patience, especially if you are just learning to play. There’s no need to rush through the process. Paper Sudoku doesn’t come with a timer, but many apps do. Turn them off and don’t focus on solving them fast. Use this opportunity to analyze the numbers and your strategies carefully.

15. Giving up.

Giving up sometimes feel like the only solution left, but it’s not. Reconsider your strategies and options and keep practicing. Your brain might be feeling tired, but know that this is entirely normal. If you feel too frustrated, walk away for a bit, meditate, breathe, but don’t give up. 

Last word

Sudoku is a simple game that requires you to stay versatile and adaptable. It would help if you were scanning through the grid all the time, and be careful not to neglect it by focusing too much on the part that’s easy first. If you are aware of these common mistakes, you can avoid reaching an impossible solution or repeatedly doing the puzzle. If you spot the error early, you can easily retrace your steps and continue playing. Keep in mind that the best strategy to play Sudoku is the one that makes the most sense to you.

JC Franco

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.