How to Play Tic-Tac-Toe

By Carol Finch

Updated September 22, 2017

Items you will need

  • Paper

  • Pens or pencils

Tic-Tac-Toe is also known as
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In Tic-Tac-Toe, two players try to line up three symbols in a vertical, horizontal or diagonal row. With easy to master rules, this is a good starter strategy game for children, as they learn how to balance their own tactics against those of their opponents. Tic-Tac-Toe is a great way of passing a bit of spare time, and you can play it anywhere, as long as you have paper and a pen. You can also play the game online or as an app download.

Draw two vertical parallel lines and then draw two horizontal parallel lines across the middle of the vertical lines to make your Tic-Tac-Toe grid. This gives you an open-sided box of three by three squares, kind of like a straight "#" sign. The grid doesn't have to be that big, just make sure that your boxes are large enough to write in.

Decide who takes the first turn. Flip a coin, play Rock, Paper, Scissors or let the youngest player go first. You also need to choose who will be "X" and who will be "O." Some rules state that the first player has to be "X," but this doesn't really matter.

Tell the first player to draw his symbol in any box on the grid. The second player then draws her symbol in another box. The aim of the game is to get three of your symbols in a row and to prevent your opponent from doing this. If you fill the grid but nobody gets three symbols in a row, the game is a draw -- this is known as a "cat's game" or "cat." Players can shout "cat" if they draw -- this doesn't mean anything, but may amuse younger kids.

If you want to play again, draw another grid and start over. This time, let the player who went second in the last game make the first move.


If you're starting the game, play a corner square or the center first. This gives you more options than playing a side square. If you're the second player and the first takes a corner square, go for the center square to reduce the player's future moves. If the game starts to get a bit easy for you, try variations that build on the skills you've learned. For example, the board game Connect Four works on the same principles as Tic-Tac-Toe, but you have to get four discs in a row; Go Muku extends the row number to five. A three-dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe set is more challenging than the paper version, as you have to handle three grids at the same time.