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Pente Puzzle World
Scott Justice's puzzling look at Pente®
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Pente® (pronounced Pen tay), a fast moving board game, gained popularity back in the late '70's and early 80's, disappeared for about fifteen years, and now enjoys a resurgence on the web. Ease of play, combined with surprising depth, makes this tic-tac-toe like game a great one-on-one match where the pressure builds with each stone played. Like its Oriental ancestors GO, Niniku-Rinju and Go-Moku, Pente® is played on a 19x19 board. The first player (by tradition named white, although in practice can be any color) places his stone at the center intersection. The stones are played on the intersections instead of the squares. Players take turns placing one stone each until someone wins.

There are three ways to win in Pente®:

1. Win by getting five (or more) stones in a row with no empty points between them. The winning line of stones can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal. This is the most common way of winning.

2. Win by capturing five pairs (or more) of the opponent's stones. Captures add to the complexity of Pente® and make it more than just an advanced tic-tac-toe game. Whenever a player has two of his stones adjacent, they are vulnerable to capture. The pair is captured when an opponent surrounds it at both ends. Here's a quick, elementary example:

++++ Four intersections (use your creative ability here with me)
+00+ A pair of stones at risk
x00+ A pair of stones really at risk
x++x A pair of stones captured and removed from the board

3. Win by forfeit. Your opponent fails to make the required number of moves in the allotted time.

Since the first player has a distinct advantage, competitive Pente® has what is called the tournament rule which dictates that the first player's second move must be at least three spaces from the center point. That's all there is to it.

Two methods of notation are used to record Pente® games. They are the algebraic system and the old way. I'll describe the old way first, since I like it best:

The center point is used as a reference. A move onto this point is written "0". Each move is recorded by its distance from the center, using "R" for Right, "L" for Left, "D" for Down and "U" for Up. For instance, a stone placed three spaces to the right of the center of the board and one space up would be notated "R3U1". The horizontal position is always listed first, then the vertical. If a stone is played on the "axis line", then the zero coordinte is left off. For instance, a stone placed three spaces to the right of center would simply be notated as "R3". Captures are indicated with an asterisk (*).

The algebraic system assigns a letter along the bottom of the board and a number along the vertical. Each move is notated by its alphanumeric position with the letter first, then the number. For instance, a move to the center is K10. Now, if you have been paying attention, you would say that is wrong. However, as my football coach used to say, "Boys, there is no "I" in team and there is no "I" in the algebraic system used to record moves in Pente®! Now, huddle up!" Other than the missing I, which was left off so you would not confuse the I (i) and the l (L), my only other complaint is the difficulty of picturing "N11" when playing on a real board that does not have the the corresponding letters and numbers. It's much easier for me to picture "R3U1" instead of the "N11".

Copyright © 2001 by Scott Justice