Connect ZERO. I feel like an idiot.
July 14, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Why am I so bad at Connect Four?

I don't think I've ever, EVER, in my entire life, won a game of Connect Four. This all came back to me the other day when I downloaded a Connect Four app for my phone and proceeded to lose to the computer, on EASY difficulty, twenty times in a row.

I read some Connect Four strategy websites but they all seemed to focus on "advanced play", whatever that is.


1) How does one go about winning this stupid game?

2) What's the name for the kind of reasoning involved in Connect Four? I want to know what it is that I'm lousy at. How do I get better at this "logic skill" in general? I'm pretty sure it has something to do with my inability to plan my moves in advance, since I'm equally bad at games like Chess and Checkers (yes, even Checkers).

posted by hamsterdam to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I got drastically better at Connect Four when I forced myself to stop thinking horizontally. It's all very well and good to stop those threes on the bottom row, but you need to be aware of vertical stacks of two -- those can easily lead to diagonal and vertical fours.
posted by freshwater at 7:35 PM on July 14, 2010

Isn't it like Tic-Tac-Toe?

The only way to win one of those games is if the other player makes a mistake. You have to set up the pieces so that you will win no matter what the other player does. E.g., you need to set up the pieces so that you have more than one way to connect four on your next move, and your opponent can only block one of them.
posted by twblalock at 7:41 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Start thinking two turns ahead. Then three. Keep going.
posted by box at 7:43 PM on July 14, 2010

AI game programming isn't easy. Well, it's easy to make perfect AI and hard to make AI that appears to make mistakes elegantly.

In other words, it's not you, it's just bad game balancing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:44 PM on July 14, 2010

Part of the trick is that you're not trying to make rows of four - you're trying to make groups of three that are open at either end. That way, you can't be blocked from winning. Watch the diagonals, watch vertically and horizontally and always think about what your opponent can do after you make a move. This is the strategy I've used since I was eight. Hope it helps!
posted by lriG rorriM at 7:46 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I played many a game of connect four in high school maths. On paper, down the back, pretending we were working on a problem.

Two things: before every move you should look at every piece of theirs and think about how they're trying to beat you. When you see them lining up two in a row that could turn into a winning 3, block it. Similarly, you should look at every piece of yours (not just that one you think will win) and look at which ones can be easily blocked, and which ones can potentially form a winning three (i.e., three in a row with a blank on either side, forcing your opponent to block one end leaving you to win with the other).

Secondly... hmm. I was sure I had a second thing. Apparently not.

Hope that helps!
posted by twirlypen at 7:52 PM on July 14, 2010

I don't know what the specific reasoning and logic skills are that go into games like connect four and checkers, but I have a guess about what might be holding you back in those games. It's not just planning ahead that's required - it's planning ahead for the other player. If you do all right at logical thinking (try some of these: ), but not these games, the problem is probably that you're focusing too much on your own moves, and not enough on what your opponent is planning and how they can take advantage of your moves. It might help to actually sit down with someone else and have them talk through their thinking while you play a game.
posted by lriG rorriM at 8:01 PM on July 14, 2010

The only way to win one of those games is if the other player makes a mistake.

This is true of tic-tac-toe, but not connect four. From wikipedia:

With perfect play, the first player can force a win by starting in the middle column. By starting in the two adjacent columns, the first player allows the second player to reach a draw; by starting with the four outer columns, the first player allows the second player to force a win.
posted by advil at 8:06 PM on July 14, 2010

my strategies for connect 4: don't build your own towers, think diagonally.
posted by kch at 8:10 PM on July 14, 2010

The only way to win one of those games is if the other player makes a mistake.

This is true of chess as well; just a matter of how long after the mistake the win occurs, and how many ways you can get the other guy to make a mistake.
posted by Some1 at 8:32 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Forcing a win in connect four involves creating a column such that if your opponent blocks your current three in a row, you have another three in a row above it where you place your piece and win. This can be done with
posted by garlic at 9:33 PM on July 14, 2010

O O O _

This arrowhead is the pattern you want, where O is you and Z is either you or your opponent.
_ is the next empty slot. If you go there, you complete a row of 4 horizontally.
If your opponent goes there, you go right on top of them and you've just completed a diagonal row of 4. Basically the arrowhead gives you two ways to win, two turns in a row, so no matter where your partner plays next, if you have an arrowhead, you win.

Just build your own little arrowhead pattern and make sure you block your opponent's arrowhead patterns (and regular attempts at 4 in a row) as they form.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:45 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sometimes I get tripped up when I'm SURE I'm on my way to a win, and I'm so dead set on setting up a particular configuration of four that I forget to be flexible and to adjust my strategy based on my opponents moves. Always be keeping an eye out for opportunities, for yourself and also for your opponent so you can head them off at the pass.
posted by illenion at 11:18 PM on July 14, 2010

I know this might sound incredibly simple and obvious, but just in case: before you place your piece, visualize what the board will look like after you've made that move and then think about what the other person would be able to do with that configuration. You should always be able to tell when you've lost the game before the opponent has actually made his four, because when you are sitting there considering where to place your piece you should be able to see that no matter where you put your piece the opponent will have an opportunity to make four. If you are not yet at that level and it's still a surprise when the opponent wins, then you need to work on this visualization before you can move on to any further kind of strategy such as planning your future moves: you cannot think about anything in the future if you haven't got this part down yet.

This applies in general to almost all board games, btw.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:12 AM on July 15, 2010

Here are some other tips:

All permutations of the horizontal four include the center column, which means that you must possess that column to make a horizontal four in that row. This has several implications: before even considering going for a horizontal pattern, make sure that either the center is free or you already have it. Likewise if you think the opponent might be going for a horizontal pattern and has not yet claimed the center then you can eliminate that possibility by taking it.

And similarly, all things being equal a center move is more valuable than any other move so if you have a choice, go there -- that is why the opening move is almost always a center move. In fact if you visualize all the possible ways of getting four-in-a-row in any direction, you see that the middle squares participate in many more of those permutations than the outer pieces, both horizontally and vertically, so always try to favor the center of the board.

Very often you will find a scenario where a column is effectively deadlocked even though it's not full: if player A plays that column then it gives player B a winning move and A loses the game, and if B plays that column then it gives A a block and gets them out of a bind. In such a situation it's in neither player's best interest to play that column, and so you want to recognize it when it happens and mentally cordon off that column so that you don't play there. This can really help narrow down your mental workload because eliminating one out of seven possible moves means less to have to think about, and if you keep a running list of such deadlocked columns in your head it's an easy way to not accidentally fumble and lose by making a mistake.

Of course this situation is not symmetrical: it's great for B and terrible for A. If you can get on the B side of two such deadlocked columns then you're really doing pretty good and often times the end-game consists of one or two such columns and a bunch of remaining inconsequential spots. The winner is determined by whether the number of inconsequential slots is even or odd, i.e. who has to 'break' a deadlocked column first.

Also, when columns are deadlocked like this you can't permanently write them off forever: if you are B you have to watch out for the move on A's part where they play the deadlocked column to complete their four. Losing as B this way is the classic 'missing the forest through the trees': you thought they would never play that column because doing so would give you an instant winning move, but their move wins before you get your turn.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:02 AM on July 15, 2010

One of the biggest beginner mistakes is letting the opponent get one of these right away:
Even if you block either side, the opponent is clear for getting four in a row.

Another deadlock is like this:
If you play in the open spot, the opponent wins on the diagonal, but if you don't play they still get the horizontal. There are tons of these, with any possible combination of diagonal, horizontal, or vertical.

At first, don't be too concerned about winning, just play defensively and don't let this happen at all. Pretty much every move beyond the first couple has a purpose, you just have realize what they're trying to do. You sometimes have to avoid going in a column; mentally mark that column and don't go there. You'll get the hang of it. Good luck!
posted by wayland at 7:15 AM on July 15, 2010

I think one of the things perhaps a novice doesn't get is that:

- you can never expect to win from a direct mistake where you opponent has failed to notice those 3 in a row. Seriously this will rarely happen if they are seriously playing

The only way to win is one of various setups where one move on your part sets up two potential 'wins' and your opponent has no move.

if you are always loosing it sound like you are playing move to move which will never win except by pure fluke.
posted by mary8nne at 8:47 AM on July 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

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