Tic Tac Toe is a simple game where you and an opponent make a mark (X or O) on a 3×3 grid once per turn, until one person has made a line of three marks in a row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal).
However, it is so simple that there are only a certain number of permutations, meaning that if you know the algorithm, you can win most of your games (assuming your opponent does not also know the algorithm). This is called a solved game – unlike chess, where there is a near infinite number of ways the game can play out.
First, let’s take the case of you starting first. Put a X in a corner. If your opponent does not put an O in the centre, you automatically win. Your next move is to put an X in any corner away from the O. Your opponent will have to put an O between the two X’s to prevent a loss. Once they do this, you can either put an X in the centre or another corner to create two possible winning moves and your opponent can only block one. You win.
If your opponent puts their O in the centre, things get more complicated. Now you can only win if your opponent makes a mistake – otherwise the game is guaranteed to end in a draw. You can take one of two options:
– Place an X in the corner diagonally opposite to your first X. If your opponent puts an O in a corner, you win by putting an X on the last corner to block their attack and create your own double-attack.
– Place an X on an edge square that is not next to your X. You can win if your opponent puts an O in a corner not next to an X by blocking their attack and creating a double-attack.
If your opponent plays first, then you can never lose. If an opponent starts in the corner, put your X in the centre. All you have to do now is block your opponent’s attacks and you will force a draw.
The same strategy applies if your opponent starts in the centre – put an X in any corner then block every attack. The game will end in a draw unless your opponent slips up.
As you can see, there are only so many ways a game can play out, meaning it is very easy to force a draw.
A more interesting game is omok (오목 in Korean, gomoku in Japanese) – where you put white or black stones on a 15×15 board to try and connect five stones in a row.
Rock-paper-scissors is a fun game that is played by people of all ages and nationalities. But there is also a species of lizards that plays this game, albeit in a rather strange way.
Male common side-blotched lizards, also known as Uta stansburiana, have a mating strategy based on the game, where the chances of “winning” is equal and one type has an advantage over another type while being disadvantaged against another type. The males come in three types, differing in the colour of their necks: orange, blue and yellow.
Orange-throated males are the strongest but do not like to form a bond with the female (i.e. do not want a relationship). They can easily win over a fight against the blue-throated males to win the female, but yellow-throated males can sneak in and win over the female instead. Orange beats blue but loses against yellow.
Blue-throated males are middle-sized but do form strong bonds with females. They lose in a fight against orange-throated males, but can easily defend against yellow-throated males as they are always with their female. Blue beats yellow but loses against orange.
Yellow-throated males are smallest but can mimic females, letting them approach females near orange-throated males. They mate with the females while the orange-throated male is distracted, but this strategy does not work with blue-throated males as they have stronger bonds with the females. Yellow beats orange but loses against blue.
Interestingly, although the proportion of the three types average out to be similar over the long run (much like the probability of a person playing a certain hand), in the short term the preferred strategy tends to fluctuate. For example, orange-throated males may strive with their masculine strength for four or five years, but then the trend will slowly switch to yellow-throated males and their mimicking, female-stealing strategy. After another four or five years, blue-throated males will make a comeback as they win over females with their strong bonding.
Rock-paper-scissors is a game with a long history. The earliest example of the game is a Chinese game called huoquan, which follows a cyclic rule where the frog eats the slug, the slug dissolves the snake and the snake eats the frog. The reason why rock-paper-scissors has been saved throughout history is because of the uncertainty it contains. Any hand you choose, the chance of winning is the same. Ergo, there is no single best choice and there is no move that will always win. But this is still a game played by people. It is not a game played by emotionless machines, meaning that you can use human psychology, the surfacing of emotion and specific signs and movements to help deduce your opponent’s hand. Mentalist Derren Brown can read tiny flickering of muscles in the opponent and microexpressions to pull off his “undefeatable rock-paper-scissors trick”, but this is near impossible for a normal person to try. However, you can use the following strategies to improve your odds.
Use paper on a beginner: Statistically, people prefer using rock. Males especially have a strong tendency to play rock.
Use scissors on an experienced player: People who know the first trick can be defeated by going one step further.
Use a hand that loses to the hand your opponent played: This uses the psychology of the opponent wanting to mix up hands and wanting to beat the hand you last played (which is the same as theirs as you drew).
Say what you will play and play that hand: In a competitive situation like rock-paper-scissors, people tend not to trust others. Thus, if you say you will play a certain hand, they will think is a trap and not play the hand that defeats that hand. For example, if you said you will play scissors, the opponent will play paper or scissors and you will either win or draw.
Do not give the opponent a chance to think: People have a subconscious tendency to play a hand that beats the hand that they played before. Without time to think, the subconscious takes action meaning that you can predict their move. If you do the same as strategy 3 and play a hand that loses against the opponent’s previous hand, you will win.
Suggest a certain hand: This is a form of hypnosis where you suggest something to the opponent’s subconscious. To use this trick, pretend to go over the rules by saying “rock, paper, scissors” then play a certain hand. The opponent will likely play the hand that the subconscious last saw.
If you keep drawing, use paper: This is the same as strategy 1.
Unfortunately, rock-paper-scissors has an equal probability of a win and a draw, meaning draws are rather common. Thus, a computer engineer called Samuel Kass devised a game where two additional hands are added: rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock. Lizard is played by making your hand into the shape of an animal’s head, while Spock is played using the Vulcan Salute from the science fiction show Star Trek, where you make a V-shape with two fingers on each side. The rules are as follows.
Scissors cut paper. Paper covers rock. Rock crushes lizard. Lizard poisons Spock. Spock smashes scissors. Scissors decapitate lizard. Lizard eats paper. Paper disproves Spock. Spock vaporizes rock. Rock crushes scissors.
As each hand has two ways of winning, the odds of winning is 10/25, or 2/5 and the odds of drawing is 5/25, or 1/5. As you can see, you have double the chance of winning compared to drawing, making the game much faster to play than the original game.
Enemy Dealing Stratagems are tactics you can use when you and the enemy have equal amount of forces. They can be used to increase your chance of winning in a close battle.
Stratagem 7: Create something from nothing
Even if you do not have something, make it look like you have it. Bluff by pretending you have a massive force to disorient the enemy and launch a surprise attack when they are off guard to achieve certain victory.
Stratagem 8: Sneak through Chencang without anyone knowing
Pretend to attack one place and launch a surprise attack some place else. If you hide your intention and deceive the enemy to avoid them, it is far more effective than facing them head on.
Stratagem 9: Watch the fire burn across the river
If there is internal unrest or threat within the enemy, do not attack them. Instead, wait and watch as they destroy themselves.
Stratagem 10: Hide a knife behind a smile
While setting the enemy at ease with a kind exterior, plan meticulously on the inside and wait for the right moment to destroy the enemy.
Stratagem 11: Sacrifice the plum tree to preserve the peach tree
This means to sacrifice the plum tree by letting it take the pests that usually attack the peach tree. If you utilise allies and surrounding countries well, you can deflect the damage you would receive to them.
Stratagem 12: Take the opportunity to pilfer a sheep
Do not look over even the smallest of an enemy’s flaws. Aggressively seize even the smallest opportunities.
The Thirty-Six Stratagems is a book from ancient China that outlines 36 stratagems (a ruse to change the flow of battle or aide a victory). The author and the time of writing are unclear, but it incorporates much wisdom from The Art of War and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Regardless of who wrote it, the Thirty-Six Stratagems is a must-read text as it outlines tactics that are very useful in war (especially the harsh battlefield of life) in a way that is easy for anyone to understand and learn. The thirty-six stratagems are divided into six categories: Winning Stratagems, Enemy Dealing Stratagems, Attacking Stratagems, Chaos Stratagems, Proximate Stratagems and Desperate Stratagems. Let’s learn them chapter by chapter.
Winning Stratagems are tactics that you can employ when you have all the conditions for a victory. They are tactics that utilise meticulous planning and deception to confuse the enemy and make victory certain.
Stratagem 1: Deceive the heavens to cross the ocean People are not suspicious of things they have seen repeatedly. This is a perfect opportunity to seize. Give the enemy false reassurance through repeating a common act and strike when they are off guard.
Stratagem 2: Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao Instead of facing the enemy head on, detour around them to strike their main base. It is a tactic where you capture something the enemy holds dear and using it to control the enemy as you wish.
Stratagem 3: Kill with a borrowed knife Hide yourself while using a third party to bring harm to the enemy.
Stratagem 4: Leisurely await for the laboured If you camp and rest at a strategic spot and strike the enemy after they have tired from a long march, you can raise the chance of winning. Also, laying siege to the enemy when they are short of food and tiring them out is another way to bring victory.
Stratagem 5: Loot a burning house This means that you should strike when the enemy is in chaos when their base is on fire. In other words, take the opportunity when the enemy is in a tough spot and attack.
Stratagem 6: Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west Distract the enemy’s attention to a different place and attack from a completely unpredicted location so that the enemy is unprepared.
According to the ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, there are two ways to victory. The first is winning without fighting the enemy, the second is to win after battling the enemy. The former is the better, wiser option with the latter being the second best choice. Even if you win a hundred battles, it is not the idea victory. Achieving victory without a battle is the far better option. The best method is to predict the enemy’s movements and outwit them. The second best method is to sever the ties between the enemy nation and their close allies, isolating them. The third method is to engage in battle with the enemy and the worst method is to attack them using all means and resources.
To avoid a war and still achieve victory you must anticipate the enemy’s plans and to do this you must gather intelligence. Thus, whether you win or lose a war depends on whether you have the right intelligence. 지피지기 백전불태(知彼知己 百戰不殆, jipijigi baekjeonbultae): If you know the enemy and know yourself, even if you fight a hundred battles you are not in danger. If you fight only knowing your military capabilities and not the state of the enemy, the chances of victory is half-half. If you do not know the enemy’s or your own military’s capabilities, then you will lose every fight.
Have you ever had a moment when something so unbelievable, so improbable that you never would have imagined it would happen, happened? When something you could only dream of actually happened in real life? When something so impossible that you must have stepped into a parallel universe for that thing to happen? The feeling that such a moment brings is indescribable.
Success is not about money and power. Success is not a product of luck. To become successful, one must change their state of mind first. The most crucial thing to understand is that the only limit is that there are no limits. Only when you dare to go past what is possible will you attain anything worthwhile. “To the impossible?” you may ask. No, true success lies beyond the impossible. A place where the possible and the impossible meet to become: the possimpible. Only when you have become the master of the possimpible will you be able to confidently say that you have succeeded in life.
Sometimes in war, victory comes at devastating costs. Such was the case for King Pyrrhus of Epirus when he battled the Romans at Asculum in 279 BC. Although Pyrrhus was ultimately victorious, due to the sheer size of the Roman army Pyrrhus’ army suffered significant casualties (but still less than the Roman casualties). Pyrrhus’ forces had been so crippled that another assault by the Romans would have utterly crushed them and led to a massacre.
This led to Pyrrhus’ famous saying: “Another such victory and I come back to Epirus alone”, implying that the cost of victory was so high that there is almost no gain. Such a victory is now called a Pyrrhic victory – a victory that is not really a victory.