Tetris is a puzzle video game, in which the player places falling blocks (called Tetraminoes) in a grid. Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov in 1984 in the Soviet Union.

How Tetris is Played

In Tetris, the pieces (tetraminoes, from “tetra” which means four, colloquially known as “minos”) used to play are each made up of four blocks. Since the blocks that make up the pieces are arranged so that one side is always touching another block, there are seven possible ways the blocks can be arranged into valid pieces. These pieces are given names based on their similarity to letters in the modern Latin alphabet.

In Tetris, there are many types of games that can be played, but they all have several elements in common: placing pieces in a grid, clearing lines, and not “topping out.” The pieces are placed in grid called “the matrix,” that is typically 10 blocks wide by 20 blocks high. When pieces enter the playing field, they are subject to gravity, and fall down, until they “lock” into place. If placed on top of another piece (or the bottom of the field), a block will lock on top of it. When blocks are placed such that one row is entirely filled with blocks, a “line clear” occurs - the row is deleted from matrix, and the blocks above it are shifted down one row. Depending on the piece used, one, two, three, or even four lines can be cleared at a time. In most game types, more points are scored for clearing a greater number of lines at a time. If a piece is played such that it sticks out of the top of the matrix, a “top out” occurs. Usually, this causes the game to end, but in some game types (eg. multiplayer ones), the field is reset (or partially reset) and game play continues. Pieces can either be dropped along with gravity (a “soft drop”) or a button can be pressed to drop a piece instantly (a “hard drop”). More skilled players will almost always use hard drop, unless a piece is going to be slid under another piece or spun into place (see section on T-spins).

Different Types of Play

As stated before, there are a wide variety of Tetris variants. Some of the most common ones are Survival, Marathon, Sprint, Ultra, and Battle. In Survival, there is no time limit, and a player simply tries to score as many points (or lines) as they can before topping out. Typically, the speed that the pieces fall increases after a certain number of lines are cleared (and the “level” the player is incremented). If the speed does not increase, a skilled played could play forever (depending on the randomization system used). Marathon mode is similar to survival, but with a fixed line or point goal (commonly 200 lines). In Ultra mode, players try to score as many points as possible in a short time limit (typically two minutes). In Battle mode, players compete head-to-head, and try to “send” lines to the other player in an attempt to knock them out (KO them). In most multiplayer variants, line clears other than a single will send “garbage”, which fills one or more rows at the bottom of the matrix with blocks (leaving a one block gap) and pushes up the rest of the matrix. This allows players who can score tetrises, T-spins, or combos to send many more lines than if they just scored singles, thus rewarding strategy instead of just speed. Many multiplayer variants have a mechanic known as “garbage cancelling”, where garbage is not sent until the receiving player places a piece, and if that player clears lines before receiving the garbage, some or all of it may not be sent.

Tetris Guideline

As Tetris became more popular, there was an official Tetris Guideline released by the Tetris Company, that all official versions of Tetris must follow. Some of the requirements are:

  • Colors of the pieces: Z - red, S - green, T - purple, J - blue, L - orange, O - yellow, I - cyan
  • Randomization system: official games must use a “bag randomizer.” A bag consists of all seven tetraminoes, arranged in random order. With this system there will be at most 12 pieces separating one particular mino and the next time it appears, allowing a skilled player to play infinitely.
  • Hold system - the player can store a piece in the “hold” slot by pressing a button, then later swap out the held piece for another piece by pressing the button again
  • Minos spawn in the middle columns (I and O) or one column to the left of the middle (Z, S, T, J, and L)
  • Rotation is determined by the Super Rotation System (SRS), which allows specialized “spins”, commonly used in high-level play
  • Game must include a “ghost piece” (shadow of where the current piece would fall if hard dropped)
  • Matrix must be 10 columns wide and at least 22 rows high (rows above 20 are hidden from view)
  • Although not required, most variants include a preview of at least one of the upcoming pieces (and many show 3-5)

High Level Play

There are several advanced techniques that players can use to gain an advantage, both in single player and in multiplayer games.


With the advent of the Super Rotation System, players could spin pieces into place by understanding how the rotation system works. The quirks of the system can be realized by thinking of pieces either rotating around a pivot, hooking onto a ledge, or kicking off a wall (a “wall-kick”). Since 2005, spinning the T piece into place rewards players with double the amount of lines cleared, and often many more points than a normal single, double, or triple. In many variants, T-spins are the best way to score points, so game types like Ultra where scoring points is the goal often take advantage of this by using methods to score continous T-spins (such as SZ stacking).

Spins using the other pieces are also possible, but are not rewarded in most variants, so are mostly useful for fixing mistakes. Some variants reward other spins (sometimes called “all spin”) the same way as T-spins. The only piece that cannot be spun into place is the O piece.


Popularized in asia, especially in multiplayer variants, combos are an alternative method of high level play that do not involve spinning. A combo occurs when a player scores line clears without placing a piece in between that does not clear a line. Typically, after a certain number (2 or 3 combos) extra lines are rewarded. This adds up fast, and certain techniques for scoring big combos (15 or higher is not uncommon) can send upwards of 60 lines at a time.

There are a few ways of setting up combos. In a game that sends garbage to players, one can simply combo by clearing garbage in an intelligent way (by thinking ahead and taking advantage of piece previews). A common beginner technique is simply create a well that is two blocks wide at the side of the matrix (called “two-wide”), as opposed to the common one block wide well used for scoring tetrises. Any piece that is dropped into the well (except an I piece if there is no piece at the bottom) will score a line. The disadvantage of this technique is that most pieces will score more than one line, leading to a shorter combo. When comboing, one typically wants to only score singles, since the reward of additional combos is much better than the reward of scoring more than one line.

The most common advanced techniques for comboing are the 3-wide and 4-wide techniques. These are similar to the 2-wide technique, but with a well that is three or four blocks wide instead. Both techniques have advantages and disadvantages. With the 3-wide technique, it is often easier (and thus faster) to stack the pieces, and since almost all of the minos are 3 blocks wide, it is easy to score combos without breaking the chain. The 4-wide is harder to setup (requires more thinking ahead), and hard to score without breaking the chain, but is much more powerful. A properly executed four wide combo is the most efficient (per piece, and time-wise) form of attack in many games. Combos have another advantage over T-spins and tetrises in multiplayer games in that the garbage they send is more broken up.

Perfect Clear

Clearing a line such that no blocks remain on the field is known as a “perfect clear”, and in some variants, especially multiplayer ones, is rewarded with a large number of extra lines (typically 12). While most players only occasionally score perfect clears (or PCs), skilled players can purposefully set up for them. The most common use for PCs is as an opening technique to send a quick 12 lines to counter combos.

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