Near the start of my last post, I mentioned that if you have ever read the rules from the physical board game of blokus (or looked for strategy tips on the blokus.com website), you would have seen that the first piece of advice was to head toward the center. This post will be about the second piece of advice from that same place: “Try to use the biggest pieces at the beginning of the game. If you save them for the end of the game, there may not be space for them.”
This is also good a good piece of advice (one would hope that the writers of the rules should know something about strategy), but maybe this suggestion seems somewhat obvious – as an extension of the first idea this suggestion might seem clear: if you want to move toward the center of the board, then you should do it with the pieces that get you there as quickly as possible, which are the biggest ones. Of course, even after you have moved to the center of the board, you should try to use your 5-pieces before your 4-pieces when possible.
Though when said out loud it almost seems silly to say this, one of the most common mistakes that new players make is playing a 4-piece when a 5-piece can accomplish exactly the same goals. It will sometimes happen that there is a move you want to make early on that requires a 4-piece, and there is no 5 piece that will accomplish the same things, and in this case there is nothing wrong with playing a 4-piece, but if you are going to play such a move you should always try to ask yourself the question: is there a 5-piece that takes up the same 4 spaces, and one more space as well? Most of the 4-pieces are contained within quite a few of the 5-pieces (other than the o4, all the others are contained within at least three), and sometimes checking for this is not as obvious as it sounds. Once you get used to doing this mental check it will become more natural, but I have seen players make the mistake of using a 4-piece when a 5-piece could accomplish all the same goals even in a tournament final game – two of the top 3 players in the world (at the time) were involved in that game – so it can certainly happen to anyone.
In this snapshot, R decided it was time to play the L4 into blue before Y blocked that spot with the 1 – however the U would have been a better piece to play there since it accomplishes all the same goals, but uses a bigger (and less important) piece.
Remember to take the time (if possible) to check for this whenever you plan to use a 4-piece, and it will really help tighten up your game. Though it may not seem like a big deal to place one single square less on an early turn, sometimes the 4-piece you could have saved will be exactly the piece you need later on, and the 5 piece will just not do the trick. You should be especially careful when using the L4, T4 or Z4 early on, as these pieces are often needed late in the game for key blocks, and can also often fit into small holes very easily when trying to get rid of as many pieces as possible in the end game.
Sometimes, one is tempted to use a 4-piece instead of a 5-piece in order to save that 5-piece for a perfect block later in the game. This happens most often when trying to save the F (and wanting to use the Z4 or T4 in its place), but it is not uncommon for this to happen with the X (wanting to use the T4 instead) or the Y (wanting to use the L4 instead), and it does occur from time to time with other pieces as well. While a perfect block is nice, and sometimes this is a good move, one should be very hesitant to do this, and think very hard before making such a move. While a perfect block is always an attractive play, sometimes it is not necessary to have your space completely protected. If your opponent never bothers to attack the zone that you want to use your saved piece to block with, then saving that piece might have turned out to be useless. Similarly, sometimes your second colour can make up for an imperfect block. Also, sometimes you can get “too busy” dealing with threats in one part of the board, and you don’t end up getting to play your “perfect block” after all, in which case the piece left in your hand is the 5-piece you were saving instead of the 4-piece you COULD have been saving. Again, while this may not be so bad, that 4-piece might have been able to fit somewhere else that the 5 piece couldn’t, and so you could end up losing 5 points by attempting to save your 5. The general rule of thumb is not to save a 5 piece for blocking.
In the above image, the first frame we see the board position from a game where Y played the T4. Y chose this T4 (which is not optimal) because of the desire to save the F for a perfect block on B later on, the position of the perfect block is shown in the second frame. Y should have played the F as in the third frame instead – though he would not have a “perfect block” on B anymore, he would still have lots of good options for very good blocks, and he gets the added advantages of using a 5-piece earlier, and of blocking an important R corner as well.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule, times when it is a good idea (or even necessary) to save a 5 piece, but one should be very hesitant to do it. One very important and specific class of exceptions will come up later when I make a post about Unlocking New Space.
Alright, time for the summary:
1. Use your 5-pieces before your 4-pieces when possible, since they are worth more points
2. If you plan to play a 4-piece early, try to take the time to double check that there is not a 5-piece that does all the same things at that 4-piece which you could play instead
3. Try to avoid using a 4-piece now in order to save a 5-piece for a perfect block later, more often than not this will turn out to be a mistake