tetris basics

I don't know where this came from, but most of the time, it's true.

You have to get worse before you get better.

That applies for almost everything that's worth fighting for. If all we experienced was happiness, we would never appreciate the true extent of happiness because we do not have the perspective of the other side.

Understanding and accepting this helps a lot in self-improvement. When you are down, you realize that everyone else has been down before, and it has always turned out alright. When you can't do it, you realize that if you do finally do it, the feeling of success will be beyond description.

For Tetris at the very least, accepting that you're bad goes a long way in improving yourself to maybe not being as bad. It's like every sport. Sooner or later, you realize that you're only good at the district level, and that there's thousands of people at the provincial level, and tens of thousands in the national level and international levels that would stomp on you any day, and that's not including all the people who play very well, but not competitively.

So once you hit that road block, you can either sit down and accept your fate, or push yourself forward, for a little more pain. Because that's what it takes.


The thing that gets most people is motivation. What's the point of doing better? Shouldn't I worry about X instead? (where X is making friends, having fun, etc)

Well, yes, you should worry about all of those; if you don't want to improve. You may say that this activity is entirely superficial. I have this goal that I want to work towards with this activity, that is directly contradictory to improvement. Then, yes, go for it. But why would you? How is improvement ever detrimental? How is making yourself stronger, faster, more prepared, more athletic, more nimble, more concentrated, more anything ever detrimental?

Pain is temporary. Success is forever.

In my eyes, I never see a reason I should be bad at something if I can do something about it. Why settle for anything that's less than perfect? Why live a life where you are just, mediocre. Why not aim as high as you can? When do you have anything to lose when you try your best at everything you do. Feel the pain, but reap the rewards.

And I try not to make excuses about being bad either. If I screw up, then I screwed up. If I didn't work hard enough, then I didn't work hard enough. I lose because my opponent did everything better. And I know that I can definitely be at the same level as he or she, if I worked harder.


Life is hard work. Improvement is hard work. You are only limited by yourself.

At least, that's the attitude I once had. Now I'm working my way back up there. And above.

You are bad, so deal with it.

Accepting that you are bad means that you understand that your way of thinking is incorrect; sub-optimal. That means you have to accept new methods and form new habits over what you have been doing before.

It's a tough process. But I like to think that the tougher it is, the more that final goal is worth fighting for.

Hey, where does Tetris come in?

Say in Tetris, you've been playing your style for 5-10 years. The traditional 1-line stack, like so.

1-line style

You're so used to this style, that nothing else makes sense to you. 2-line stack? 3-line? t-spin? These are all foreign concepts because you've tunnel visioned yourself into 1-line. You never considered any other possibility because you didn't realize this one was bad. And now it's completely ingrained in your mental and muscle memory.

When you finally realize you've been doing it wrong, it takes that mental effort to overcome your habits and rewire your brain. But oh boy, do you reap the rewards if you do.

You can also see how huge the benefits are if you start without any preconceived notions, and visualize your path right from the start. It gets you a huge advantage over other people who are trying to improve.

By being open, either starting new or starting again, you can be more critical of all your decisions. Why place this block here? Why not over there? Why play this style? Why not... this? And if you are really innovative, you continue keeping your eyes open even as you get better. You notice the limitations, weaknesses, and strengths of each style and each decision. And you constantly question your decisions and your results.

The brightest people usually ask the most questions.

Here are the most basic styles people figured out, and easily enough to get you to level 100 in Tetris. You already saw the 1-line. The standard Tetris grid is 10x20(+2), 10 horizontal.

Start Anew

So let's start completely anew. Forget what you've seen and played of Tetris before.

If you look at your opponents, the first thing you see is that a lot of people who beat you, play this style where they hold an I-piece and make a block with 1-line, then drop two in a row. When you play people who just put pieces randomly, you can't really judge who's going to win or how the game is working. It seems more random, statistically.

If you're really creative, you think, why do they only use this "1-line" style? Why not, "2-line"? Well, is the I-piece that important? The square piece seems to work the same way. Is there something else going on in the background?

Then you can draw some conclusions. Maybe if you clear more lines at once, you are stronger. Conceptually, this is combo-ing. Now, you can somewhat say, combo-ing is stronger than playing random, which is awesome to learn. And using some basic logic, you start to conclude that some combos are better than others, and if you use those more, maybe you are better than people who use them less. Excellent.

Let's go back a little bit though. We thought that only the square piece works in the same way as the I-piece. Is that really so? Jumping forward a bit, and using a little knowledge of combos, we can sort of see that, wait a second, can't we just place any piece that fits in that slot? If you put a piece that has a width of 2 somewhere down the 2-line hole, you can see that it will clear a line. Try that several times, and you find out, hey, it's pretty strong! And conclude 2-line is better than 1-line.

So you learn that, hey, if you clear lines consecutively, it's a strong combo. That's an excellent observation again. Let's do the same experiment, but increase it to the 3-line style. You play a bit, trying to put pieces in that 3-line hole to form combos. And after a while, you realize, it's pretty strong! And conclude 3-line is better than 2-line.

You do the same thing with 4-line. Practice a lot, get better at pattern recognition and dropping into the 4-line hole. Eventually you find out that yep, in most cases, 4-line is better than 3-line.

Now what about 5-line? Well, for as hard as you try, you can't get it better than 4-line. You start wondering why.

So we should take a step back and try to figure out what's going on here. Why is 4-line > 3-line, but not 5-line > 4-line?

If you look really carefully, you'll realize the strength of the combo is simply how many of them you can perform consecutively. 14 combos in a row is much better than 9 combos in a row. Now how does this apply to the n-line styles? Let's introduce this concept of a stack, of maximum size 20. The stack is how many lines you can possibly clear, so a basic limit on how many combos you can do.

When you have 1-line, you force yourself into a strong, but quick 2 combo with the two I-lines in a row. Your stack of 20 is now 12, but you can't clear the rest of it because of the way your hole works. With the 2-line style, you start comboing a lot more, because your pieces can clear 1, 2, 3 lines at a time, and you have more blocks to work with. On average, you clear 2 or 3 lines at a time, so 20/3 is theoretically a consecutive combo of 7. In the 3-line style, you only clear 1 or 2 lines at a time, on average 1.5 times. So on a good play, you can look at a consecutive combo of 12. With 4-line, you can go up to 16.

So now we determined that the higher the consecutive combo, the more deadly the combo is. This is amazing, and as far as I'll go. If you are really innovative, you will learn about the t-spin, and understand the t-spin process, but that is beyond a level I can describe with words.

For now, you can appreciate how your mind could possibly progress through thinking about Tetris.

Practice makes Perfect

Perfect means 100%, all the time. You usually miss out on that 'all the time' part. If you notice the arguments between accuracy and precision, you can be really precise, but only hit 75% on the dot every time. You can be really accurate, but only ever get around 90%. You are not perfect. And no one expects you to be.

What you do have control over though is your consistency. You can't be 100% all the time, but you can be 90% all the time. And once you're 90% all the time, making small changes can slowly push you towards 100% all the time.

Games are notoriously good at creating randomness. Think about a free throw shot in basketball. What percentage of that is random, and hard work? Are the best players not sinking the ball almost 95% of the time? High accuracy, high precision. Not perfect, but really, really good.

Increasing that level of randomness is that, even though you perform really well, it's not a guarantee that you win. Score high but lose

If you make a mistake in Tetris at the high levels, you'll probably lose outright. In reality, at high levels, it's more about who can make the least mistakes while performing at the highest level, rather than who can perform at the highest level, though we somewhat use highest level interchangeably with best and winning performance.

Mental attitude and practice are huge components of maintaining consistency, but also fatigue. If you practice something a lot, it makes sense that you'll be able to do it longer. However, there is still a limit, and once you cross it, your performance drops dramatically. It's important to keep this in mind, and take frequent breaks, mentally, and for your hands.

Consistency across an entire game is also just as important. Understand that you will be judged on your worst performance, not your best. Doing poorly even once can be devastating and cost you the game. I remember once where I was 3KO'd by my opponent 30 seconds into the match. I didn't panic, and continued playing a solid, consistent game. I crawled my way back in, he choked a little in the last 30 seconds, and I beat him 4-3. I didn't panic because I knew my game was super tight and consistent. I was comfortable because my pace was strong and my style didn't sacrifice attacking potential. And if I play the style properly, I definitely have a chance. I don't alternate between conservative and aggressive on a whim. I am comfortable the entire game.

As a bit of higher strategy, I don't let my playstyle dictate my pace, like 1-line players do. I attack when I sense weakness, then wait for my next move. I am comfortable at any point because I can control the flow of the game.

When you reach a point where building up is done by reflex, you notice you can employ a lot more strategies. Namely, staring at your opponent's screen and seeing when to attack. Anticipation. Prediction. You'll also notice that you can effectively use the line-clearing bombs a lot more.

When you have a strong foundation, you can add new skills very easily, and they will seem so much more useful and intuitive.


Contact me at lai.victor.vl@gmail.com.