How to Play Reversi (and Win): Basic Gameplay & Strategies

Updated August 23, 2021
Couple playing Reversi (Othello) board game

With the refined stylings of a historic game and a simplicity that makes learning how to play Reversi a breeze, this classic game is fun for the whole family. If you're tired of playing checkers for the tenth time in a row and want something a bit more challenging, break out the black-and-white tiles and give Reversi a try.

Reversi's Origins

Lewis Waterman and John W. Mollett originally created Reversi in 1880, with the game receiving an official patent in 1888 and published by the Ravenberger Company as one of its first titles in 1889. The simple strategy game isn't as popular with modern audiences as its reimagined cousin, Othello, is, which came to the fore in Japan during the 1970s. Yet, you can still find some people continuing to practice traditional Reversi around the world as well as find several digital boards that'll let you practice your skills with players online.

How to Set the Game Up

Reversi is typically played on an 8x8 inch grid board and comes with 64 double-sided chips, which are distributed equally between two players. Once these pieces have been appropriately divided, the board is then set up by placing two of each player's chips in the center of the board. Usually, the same colored chips are placed so they're diagonal from each other. From here, the black player makes the first move.

How to Play Reversi

Similar to the goals of Go, players in Reversi attempt to have the largest number of chips on the board by the end of the game. In order to do this, players take their opponent's chips and avoid having their own chips captured. To begin a game, the players should decide who will play which color, with the black chip player making the first move. The opening set up involves each player placing two of their chips in the middle of the game board. After these four chips have been placed, players are allowed to place subsequent chips on any of the squares that permit a capture.

Capturing is vital to Reversi's gameplay as you can only place tokens in positions on the board that will create a capture. Placing chips adjacent to your opponent's chips turns those chips into your territory, though no chips can be moved or adjusted once they've been placed onto the board; once you've captured a chip or multiple chips, you're allowed to flip those pieces over to reflect their new ownership. Capturing can occur through horizontal, vertical, and diagonal placements on the board. Once there's no more room on the board for any placements, the game is complete. Players should tally up their tokens to see who ended up with the greatest number, and is thus the winner of the round.

Differences Between Reversi and Othello

Despite their similar gameplay and board design, Reversi and Othello aren't interchangeable names for a single type of game. Othello developed much later than Reversi, in the 1960s/70s, and a few of its rules differ from the classic Reversi, but many manufacturers and media outlets like to conflate the two games. Thus, pay careful attention to which game you're entering into so that you play it according to the rules. According to the World Othello Federation:

  • Reversi wasn't always played using white and black tiles and a green board, while Othello has always kept this design scheme.
  • Othello has specific opening placements which players must adhere to, but Reversi--at least in its original format--doesn't rely on such stringent openings.
  • Traditional Reversi ended when one player couldn't make anymore moves, while people playing Othello can keep the game going even after someone no longer has a viable move as their opponent can continue making moves until the locked opponent has an opening again.

Strategies to Dominate at Reversi

Don't let this game's basic premise fool you; there are a lot of strategic approaches that you can apply to your next game of Reversi.

  • Claim the four corners - The four corners of the board are the most valuable spaces since they are incapable of being captured. Use this to your advantage, and try to get your pieces into these spots towards the end of the game to retain the best capturing position.
  • Start off soft - Early in the game, try not to capture too many of your opponent's pieces. Lean towards more aggressive play towards the end of the game when you can make big advancements.
  • Box your opponent in - Try to reduce the number of legal moves your opponent can make. By doing this, you will force your opponent to make a move that is undesirable to them but advantageous for you.
  • Control the center - In chess, controlling the center is a strategically significant move to make. This practice also applies to Reversi, and you should keep your pieces grouped together in the center of the board to give yourself the most mobility during play while limiting your opponent's moves.

Flip Into a Round of Reversi

Reversi is the perfect rainy day board game thanks to its compact construction and easy-to-follow rules. Great for people of all ages, you can take a stab at this lesser-known strategy game the next time you host game night. With only a few rounds under your belt, you're sure to become a heavyweight champion in no-time at all.

How to Play Reversi (and Win): Basic Gameplay & Strategies