What it is: A much more strategic version of tic-tac-toe I learned from Math with Bad Drawings (he’s got a great explanation of the game, too)

Best for: Two players

What you need:

  • Paper
  • Something to write with

How to play: OK, so we’re all familiar with tic-tac-toe, right? The normal 9-square grid?

Well, in ultimate tic-tac-toe, you’ve got a smaller grid within each of those 9 squares:

To win the game, you have to win three of the larger squares in a row, and to win a large square, you have to win three in a row in the smaller grid inside it.

Here’s how it works. Say X goes first:

Now, just like in normal tic-tac-toe, O gets to go. But O can’t just go anywhere. The smaller grid O must play in is determined by X’s move. So since X went in the bottom right corner within his small grid, O must go in the bottom right corner of the large grid:

So O goes, anywhere in this small grid he wants to:

Now you know where X has to go, right?

A few moves down, the game might look like this:

See what just happened in the far right middle square? X got three in a row! That means X wins that small grid, thus claiming that square in the large grid:

Then it’s O’s turn again (O is still sent to the small grid determined by X’s last move). Eventually someone will claim three small grids in a row, thus winning the whole game:

Nice job, X!

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of strategy involved. You’ve got to keep in mind where you’re sending your opponent, thinking several moves ahead.

One rule: If the player before you sends you to a grid that’s already been won, you get to go wherever you want. (So try not to send your opponent to an already-won grid!)

Another rule you’ll need to decide on your own will be what to do with smaller grids that result in a tie. You could either count them for 1) neither X nor O or 2) both X and O. Try both ways and let me know which one you like more!

Many thanks to Math with Bad Drawings for this fun and quite strategic game!

Printables: Here’s a free Ultimate Tic-tac-toe board you can use. Just download and print.

Variations: Aside from the normal tic-tac-toe, there’s also 3D triple-decker tic-tac-toe, and, my personal favorite, human tic-tac-toe. Who knew there were so many variations on tic-tac-toe out there?

Oh! Wait! I almost forgot! Many thanks also to my husband’s synesthesia, which helped me decide what colors to color the X and the O in the post artwork 🙂


  1. Sorry if everskies players are complaining, I linked your guide in my profile because so many users did not know how to play at all & would accuse others of cheating because so.

  2. what happens if (for example O) were to land in an already claimed spot? like if X picks buttom right corner but that grid is already claimed

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