In a typical episode, the contestant plans their moves effectively in the hopes that he/she will win each round, at the same time trying to keep their opponent from winning. Some familiar moves are explained below. For some of the moves, I will use the first round from the November 9, 1998 episode as an example
The contestant's goal is to get three stars in a row, either across, up-and-down, or diagonally. These winning moves look like this:
In move number 5 in the first round, Fred (Mr. X) took Cindy Crawford and got the square, which gave him two symbols in a row down the diagonal. In move 6, Maryann (Miss Circle) decides to counter with Stephen Baldwin to keep her opponent from winning and does so, blocking on the diagonal. Here's what the board looked like after Maryann made her move:
The Possible Win
At the same time that Maryann blocked her opponent by capturing Stephen's square, it gave her a possible win with Bruce Vilanch down the left column because she already had two of her symbol held by Caroline Rhea and Stephen. The board now looks like this:
The Five Square Win
After Fred blocked with Bruce in move 7, there are still two uncaptured squares in the bottom row (Gilbert Gottfried and Kristen Johnston). However, neither contestant can get three in a row with these squares (Maryann at the present time has 4 symbols and Fred has 3), so they must play for a five square win. Maryann takes Kristen in move 8, but misses, so now each contestant has 4 captured squares (more about this in the Advanced Moves and Strategies section below).
The ninth move belongs to Fred, who takes Gilbert (the only uncaptured square left on the board). He gets his question right, and because he has 5 squares compared to Maryann's 4, he wins the round. The board looks like this:
The Two-Way Trap
There is a possible way that you could win by trapping your opponent two different ways. This is called the "Two-Way Trap" strategy. It forces your opponent to block one way, while you can win the other way. An example of a two-way trap strategy is below (winning square numbers are in bold type):
In the example, X could either win across the top or down the left side. If O blocked by choosing the top right square, she would set up a two-way trap of her own, either diagonally from right to left or down the right side of the board, providing X does not capture the bottom left. A two-way trap can either work for the player or against him
The Dual Implication
Let's go back to the first round example from November 9. Remember on the eighth move that Maryann missed her chance for a five-square win, thus evening the square count at 4 apiece? This now sets up what is known as a "Dual Implication". In a dual implication, either contestant can win by capturing the same square, and in this case Fred and Maryann can both win with the lower middle. After the eighth move, the board looks like this below (colored green for X, purple for O, and white for where the dual implication is now forced):
So now that you know some of the moves, it's time to see how a typical episode is played out. This is the episode from November 4, 1998.