So you want to be a Grand Master?

Semi-requested by SuzakuRider/CrazedRevenG.  I honestly think most of this is actually useless crap, so I’m bolding the extremely important stuff.

So you want to be a Grand Master?

A rant of mostly-useless advice by DDRKirby(ISQ)

Tetris: The Grand Master. We all love it. We play it to death. Some of us play -Death- to death. We’ve played it for hours on end, we’ve spent money on fancy hardware, we’ve played it as we’re falling asleep, …

This is just a small advice rant from me. It’ll contain things like, “stuff I wish I knew when I was starting to play”, and “bad habits to avoid while you’re a developing TGM player”. I’m only semi-qualified to write this as I’m not really -that- great of a TGM player, but I have Death M (you will too Sean, don’t worry), Shirase 500, TGM1 GM, TAP S9, and I’ve been playing for 3 years now, so I can at least tell you -something- useful.

So, you ask…how do I get better?

Well, I’m going to split this into two parts. One part will be about the actual game. This’ll cover things like how to move your pieces around, where you should move them, and what you should do when all hell breaks loose. The other part will be about meta-game. It’ll cover things like what mindset you should be playing with, how to practice, how to learn, what to aim for in the long term, and things like that. You’re probably more interested in the first part, so I’ll try to keep the meta stuff short, but really the meta stuff is a lot more important in the long run, so pay attention. In fact, IF YOU READ ANY PART OF THIS AT ALL, you should be reading:
1) the links to other, better guides (because this one is horribly incomplete and it sucks)
2) the section on how to improve (because that’s actually important)

PART 1: The Game
The great thing about TGM is that it’s an extremely deep game, so there’s A LOT of different facets about it that work in tandem. Unfortunately, this can also make it sort of overwhelming for beginners, and there’s NO WAY that you can be expected to grasp everything at once.

So you just have to take it in chunks.

For now, I would recommend that you read through at least the beginning parts of these two very, very excellent TGM guides:

In fact, you may want to read through them in their entirety just to expose yourself to advanced concepts, even though you probably won’t remember or understand them.

In addition to these, the wiki at has even more information if you browse through it. For example:
(note that some of the pages on the wiki are geared towards Tetris games other than TGM. Read carefully!)

“Okay, but what about YOU? don’t YOU have any tips for me?”
Well…okay, sure.

Again, you can break this down into multiple parts: the first is where to put your pieces. the second is how to get them there. the third is…other stuff. Much of this will be reiterations of

*Where to place your pieces*

This seems obvious, but if there is a place in your stack that can only be filled by a certain piece, then that piece SHOULD GO THERE. You should be looking at your stack and realizing “oh hey, I need a J to go there”, and then the next J you get automatically goes there. This is much better than looking at your current piece, thinking “hm, where does this fit?” and deciding like that. This advice is -especially important- for L, J, and I pieces, and I would say I sometimes spend maybe like 75% of my games with a “plan” in mind for the next L, J, or I piece that I get.

Keep in mind that the randomizer doesn’t like giving the same piece to you, so you should aim not to create a need for a J with a J, for instance. This is even more important for Is. Placing an I in a spot which creates the need for another I is REALLY BAD.

Also, in general, avoid creating structures that require Is to fix, as much as you can, as they’re generally annoying.

Placing an O one piece to the left of where it spawns is almost always a Very Good Move. This is because it keeps column 5 high (good), and allows you to easily get I pieces over to the left (good).

When you are choosing where to place a piece, you have to balance several different things…like the resulting stability of the stack, and overall shape of the stack, and whether you made any holes. Here’s some general rules to follow for this:
-Never, ever, ever make a hole in column 5. Holes in column 5 are your WORST ENEMY.
-On the other hand, holes in columns 1 and 10 are a piece of cake to fix. Columns 2 and 9 are pretty okay as well. Beginners tend to try and avoid holes at all costs, which leads to very unstable structures. It’s better to keep a neat stack with holes on the edges, than a really ugly stack that happens to have no holes.
-Keeping column 5 high is important. On the other hand, overall stack stability is more important.
-Keeping the left side clean is important. If you keep the left side clean and dump all your mess on the right side, it’s much, much, much easier to clean. As one TGM player put it, “Don’t fuck the left side, or it will become shit hell!”

What do I mean by “stability”? It’s somewhat of an abstract term that you honestly won’t feel that well until you play a lot. But basically, a “stable” stack is one that can accept a lot of different pieces, and provides you with a lot of different options. Whereas a stack that is “unstable” might be considered unstable because your movement options are restricted. “stable” stacks are ones that are mostly flat and not too pokey.

In addition, -overhangs- can be very useful. The way I learned how to use overhangs is by learning a few “set” overhangs that are very easy to fix. For example, placing an S or Z rotated once creates an overhang that is extremely easy to fix with an L or J (or T).

*How to place your pieces*

When you first start playing, it doesn’t matter how you get your pieces where they need to be. But at higher speeds and higher levels of play, you want to be placing your pieces with maximal efficiency–that means in the shortest amount of time, with the least amount of room for error.

There are several techniques that will help you here:

DAS: You should almost never, ever have to tap a piece more than TWICE in order to get it to where you want. It’s always possible to DAS one way, then tap the other way, and you should never have to tap 3 times. Sometimes via clever use of rotations, you can tap only once instead of tapping two times (hard to explain without an example).

IRS: Learn it, use it all the time.

Wallkicks: Read up about them and learn to love them and abuse them for everything.

Hmm…basically, it’s impossible for me to cover everything about playing the game, and the TGM guides that I linked to already do that. So perhaps I should give you some things to concentrate on in the beginning. So I might suggest focusing on:
-Stacking cleanly, and stacking for tetrises
-Basic 0G movement finesse (DAS and wallkicks)
-Where to put a piece when “there is no good place for it” (hint: when in doubt, put junk at the edges of the screen)
-How to clear through garbage (avoiding overstacking)
-IRS and 20G movement style
-Twists and more wallkicks
PART 2: Playing The Game

Okay, this is the important part. And basically, this can be summed up in one sentence:

Think critically about your game play.

Repeat that with me:

Think critically about your game play.

This is the most important, crucial piece of advice I can give you, because every TGM player has a different style, and different strengths and weaknesses. Some TGM players are known for abusing hold, some are known for really clean stacking, some are known for worse stacking but really aggressive speed play, and some are known for fancy piece movement techniques. As you play you will also find that you will gravitate towards being a certain type of player.

Now, is that good or bad? Well, that depends as well. Only YOU can determine what kind of player you actually want to become. Maybe you really just want to be a speed freak and you could care less about stacking perfectly. If so, then concentrate on movement finesse and playing as quickly as possible. But maybe you’re

All that said, here are some CONCRETE tips to help you practice:
-Prefer shorter practice sessions more often, as opposed to really long sessions once in a while. After a bunch of games, you tend to go into “zombie mode” and at that point you’re not really thinking critically anymore and so you’re just binge playing instead of actually improving.

-Watch replays of really good players. As you’re watching, compare the decisions they make to the ones that you would have made. Are they different? Why? Do you understand the placement that they made?

-Watch replays of yourself. What are your weaknesses? What went wrong? What needs improvement? Do you have any bad habits?

-FINISH EVERY GAME THAT YOU START. I know this is an extremely hard habit to follow and I know that many, many TGM players wish that they did this but a lot of them don’t. But it will really help you if you don’t give up on games just because you screw up somewhere early on. Learning how to deal with your screwups will make you a more CONSISTENT tetris player. Face it, you’re always going to make mistakes. You might as well learn how to correct them.

-Near the beginning of your TGM career, keep learning more and more and more. There is a LOT to learn.

-Depending on what kind of TGM player you aim to be, I would recommend playing through the TGM games in order. The list of “Achievements” at the end of PetitPrince’s TGM guide is a good order to shoot for. But in general, it’s nice to have a very solid foundation in TGM1 before moving onto things like death mode, because TGM1 emphasizes clean stacking techniques and making tetrises.

-Avoid TGM3 for a while, because of two things: one is that hold piece and extra piece previews are complicated and there’s already enough for you to deal with without trying to deal with hold. Another reason is that TGM3 has more lenient movement rules and so if you learn it first, you’ll find TGM1 and TAP to be really hard. As opposed to the other way around–if you stack in “TAP style” for TGM3, it still works fine, even though it’s not the most efficient.

-Strike up a good balance between “fun” and “improvement”. Again, this is up to you, but I think it’s important to do both “what you like” in the game, as well as “what you know you should do” to improve. Take me as an example–I love to play Death mode at high speeds, so I do it all the time, but I know that my 0G finesse is bad and I also know that I have problems stacking for tetrises and efficiently clearing garbage. So I know that I also need to play TGM1, TAP Master, and even TGM+ mode on a regular basis, to work on my weaknesses. So, know what your weaknesses are, and work at them.

-Play a variety of tetris modes.  Stick to TGM1 at first, but once you feel like you’re a “pretty good” player, start playing all sorts of things: big mode, normal mode, TGM+ (please play TGM+, it is REALLY good practice even though everybody hates it), doubles mode, invisible (invisible is really fucking hard but you should start practicing it now), item mode, secret grade…the thing about all these different modes is that they all emphasize different skillsets.  Item mode and TGM+ emphasize knowing how to clear garbage because they force you to get garbage.  Normal mode forces you to think about stacking in a different sort of way and teaches you skimming techniques.  Big mode teaches you how to stack for survival while still making necessary holes.

-From the very start, try to optimize EVERYTHING. Don’t settle for anything less, because you are BUILDING HABITS at this stage, and it absolutely sucks to develop bad habits. This includes things like movement finesse, and…well, mainly movement finesse, but also placement decisions.
If you take me for example: a long time ago I read the advice that it’s good to IRS Ls and Js so that they’re oriented like their letter shapes. I unfortunately took that as a golden rule, and also determined that that almost always gives you the best mobility because you can always triple-rotate them. Turns out though, that it’s easier to just rotate the other way instead of triple-rotating, and at high speeds triple-rotating is just really tricky. And that’s a bad habit of mine that has been really hard to break.
To give another example, I always knew that it’s really important to build column 5 high, so whenever I don’t know what to do with a piece I’ll frequently stick it pointing up with column 5 high. This leads to my stack being very “pointy”, which is a habit that I still have today.
So the bottom line is, think long term–think, “what is the best way to do X? What is the best way to do X at very high speeds? What is the ‘fastest’ way to do X versus the ‘most reliable’ way to do it?” Weigh ALL of these into account when deciding how you choose to deal with X.

But most importantly, THINK CRITICALLY ABOUT YOUR GAME PLAY! (get it yet?)

Unfortunately, you may not even know what kind of TGM player you want to become in the future. That’s fine–even I have a tough time trying to think about it nowadays. But know this–I think it feels much easier to start with good stacking and develop speed later, than to start with dumb speed and try to develop good stacking afterwards. Speed is easy to train and improve–just practice playing quickly a lot. So at least when you are first starting out, try to play smart rather than play fast.

Addendum: you may also, at some point, wish to go through and read the entirety of colour_thief’s death GM commentary, as I found it VERY useful as it explains the thought processes of a very high level player.


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