The Pente Story
Pente – The Classic Game of Skill
Pente creator Gary Gabrel and his friend Tom Braunlich, the defending Pente world champion (who currently lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma), used real diamonds and rubies as game pieces in a publicity match to kick-off the 1983 Pente World Championships in Boston. Gabrel “won” in five moves.
Games were an important part of the early Hideaway story. In the 1970s, Gabrel and other employees would regularly stay after hours to play board games with co-founder Richard Dermer. Popular games among employees at “The ‘Way in the day” included chess, backgammon, poker, Risk, and eventually Pente.
Gabrel was working at the original Hideaway location in Stillwater when he invented the board game Pente, an original adaptation of three popular games: GO, Niniku-Rinju, and Go-Moku. According to Gabrel, Pente (Greek for the number 5) incorporates the best parts of all three, like a sophisticated tic-tac-toe that’s as easy to learn as checkers and as complex to master as chess.
“Games are exercise for the mind, just like sports are exercise for the body,” Gabrel said. “Playing kept our minds sharp and strong, and encouraged us to apply our minds creatively to the business.”
He started a new, mostly student-run company to produce and market the board game, designed an artful board that could be easily rolled into a shipping tube, and hit the road. One year he logged 50,000 miles in a van selling Pente at craft shows from New Orleans to Denver.
Gabrel’s persistence paid off as retailers like Macy’s and Neiman Marcus started carrying the game, and it became popular in night clubs as an alternative to backgammon, some calling it “the new mating game for the glamorous.”
1983 appears to have been the apex of the game’s popularity. That year Gabrel was recognized as “Oklahoma Businessman of the Year,” international fashion magazine Cosmopolitan chose him as its September “Bachelor of the Month,” and Games magazine selected Pente as one of the best games of the 20th century.
When Gabrel sold the rights to Pente – for an undisclosed cash sum – the National Enquirer featured him in a story titled “Dishwasher Becomes Millionaire!”
The success of Pente enabled Hideaway to expand outside of Stillwater with its first location opening on Cherry Street in Tulsa. Although the board game is no longer commercially produced, it can still be found and played inside every Hideaway Pizza location.
Hideaway Pizza is honoring Pente history as part of its 60th anniversary celebration with the creation of a limited edition Pente pizza box (available in March only), so people can play the game at home, and by hosting a series of tournaments at public events throughout the year.
Rules & Strategy
PENTE [Pen-Tay] is a fast-moving game of skill for two or more players which resembles checkers in ease of learning and simplicity, plays like a sophisticated tic-tac-toe, and yet approaches chess in its tactical depth and wonderful variety.
PENTE is an outstanding innovation, derived from several closely related board games that have been popular in the Orient for centuries. Among these games are GO (probably the oldest game in the world), Niniku-Rinju, and Go-Moku. PENTE is a contemporary game which combines the best elements of all three – the simplicity of Go-Moku, the flashy tactics of Niniku-Rinju, and the profound strategy of Go. These games can all be played on the PENTE board.
BASIC RULES FOR TWO PLAYERS
Equipment: a PENTE board and an ample supply of PENTE stones, one color per player.
Object of the Game: There are two ways to win in PENTE:
1. Win by getting five (or more) stones in a row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, with no empty points between them, or
2. Win by capturing five (or more) pairs of your opponent’s stones.
How to Play: Place the board in the middle of the playing area. Start play with the board completely clear of stones. The first player (chosen by chance) begins the game by playing one stone on the center point. Thereafter the players take turns playing their stones, one at a time, on any empty intersection. The stones are played on the intersections of the lines (including the edge of the board), rather than in the squares.
A move is complete when the stone is released. Once played, a stone cannot be moved again, except when removed by a capture (see Captures).
The players take turns adding new stones to the board, building up their positions, until one player wins.
Whenever your opponent has two stones (and only two) which are adjacent, those stones are vulnerable to capture. The pair can be captured by bracketing its two ends with your own stones. Captures can be made along diagonal as well as horizontal and vertical lines. All four stones involved must be consecutive and in a straight line. As soon as the capturing play is made, the captured stones are removed from the grid and placed in view along the border so that both players can see how many stones have been taken.
Moving into a captured position – A stone may legally be played onto any empty intersection, even if that point has been previously occupied, and even if it forms a pair between two enemy stones.
Multiple captures – It is legal to capture two of more pairs with a single move.
FIVE IN A ROW
The five-in-a-row must be consecutive and in a straight line to win. It may run in any direction – horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. It need not be exactly five – six or more stones in a row win as well.
Playing Hint: If you obtain the advantage of having an unblocked four-in-a-row, called tessera, you have practically won the game – whichever end your opponent blocks, you can play on the other end and achieve the winning five-in-a-row.
Therefore, if your opponent has an open three, one end of the three should be blocked immediately to prevent the formation of the deadly tessera.
This axiom, that you must block an open three, applies unless you have a better move – like a move to make four, or a good capture on this move or the next that will remove stones from the row or pose a superior threat. Even if the three stones are not adjacent, they must still be blocked to stop the win.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Does six-in-a-row also win?
Yes, six or more stones in a row wins the game as well.
Can a stone be played on the edge of the board?
Yes, you may play on the very edge of the grid, and also inside the four hemispheres, each of which covers three “invisible” intersections that can be used.
Can I break up a five-in-a-row by capturing one of its stones?
No, when a player gets five-in-a-row, he or she wins immediately. It does not matter if the opponent can “capture across” the winning five-in-a-row, even if that would be his or her fifth capture.
What happens if I form a pair between two enemy stones? Are they captured?
No, you cannot “capture yourself” by moving into a captured position. Instead, the pair remains on the board.
After making a capturing move, do I have the option of leaving the captured stones on the board?
No. Captured stones must be removed. However, if all players overlook that a move is a capture only to realize it later in the game, the “captured” stones remain on the board.
What happens if the position gets disrupted?
Move carefully, as he or she always loses who drops the pieces and messes up the board!
Who moves first?
The first player has a slight advantage. Therefore, some method of chance should be used to decide who plays first in the game. In following games, the loser of the last game moves first. The advantage of the first move can be eliminated by using the tournament rule (see Tournament Rule in ADVANCED VARIATIONS).
Can PENTE be played by more than two people?
Yes! You can play Partners with two teams of two players, alternating turns, using the same rules as in Basic Two-Player PENTE. And you can play Team PENTE. In addition, there are game variations for 2 to 6 players.
The best strategy for winning PENTE is to try to seize the offensive. The player who is on the offensive can exercise more control over the game’s direction and its outcome. Basically, you get on the offensive by making stronger moves than your opponent, which usually means having more stones in a row, so that he or she must block your rows and not vice versa.
You will find that threes are the basic building block of threats in PENTE and come in a variety of shapes. Use them to gain the initiative by quickly developing a series of intersecting threes and fours and extending them in all directions. Keep moving to give yourself as many options for further play as possible, placing the stones so that they build upon each other, until an unstoppable “double threat” is achieved.
When looking for good moves consider those that seem to come naturally. Moves that give the position balance or symmetry often work very well, as do moves that are visually striking or appealing. Often the point where your opponent would like to play next is also the best place for your stone.
It is customary, but not mandatory, refinement of this game to announce “three” or “tria” when moving to make an open three; also, to call “four” or “tessera” when making four in a row. This is so your opponent will not forget to stop the formation of an open four or five. The idea is not to win because of your opponents blunder or oversight, but to win despite his or her seeing every threat. Pointing out your opponent’s errant move also demonstrates your own confidence and mastery of play.
Team Play & Advanced Variations
TEAM PENTE FOR FOUR PLAYERS
Equipment: a PENTE board and an ample supply of PENTE stones, one color per player (four colors in all).
Object of the Game: One team wins when:
1. One player gets five (or more) of his or her own stones in a row, just as in Basic Two-Player PENTE, or
2. The team captures 10 (or more) stones from their opponents.
How to Play: The players split up into two teams, with team members sitting opposite each other. The first player moves onto the center point. Thereafter the players take turns, in a clockwise direction, placing their stones on the intersections of the lines, just as in Basic PENTE. Each player controls different colored stones and cooperates with his or her partner for a team win.
Captures: In Team PENTE, captures can be made in two ways:
1. Normal Captures – Just as in Basic Two-Player PENTE, a pair of stones of the same color may be captured.
2. Mixed Captures – It is also possible for one player to capture a pair of stones of two different colors. The bracketing stones must be of one color.
It is legal to capture your partner’s stones. However, only those stones taken from your opponents count toward the winning total of 10. You may not capture your own stones. During the game, it is not legal to discuss specific strategy with your partner.
The game of PENTE is readily adaptable to a wide range of tastes. After you’ve become comfortable with Basic PENTE, try out one of the intriguing game modifications listed here.
Points – This variation introduces a certain element of “risk” into the game and provides a new way of keeping score which more accurately determines the relative strengths of the players.
The rules and strategy of POINTS are the same as for Basic PENTE. (Use of the tournament rule is optional.)
Although each game is still won by getting five-in-a-row or five captures, an additional objective is to win by as many points as possible. The first player to score a designated number of points (usually 21 or 50), over a series of games, wins the match.
When the game is over, points are counted and scored as follows:
- The player, if any, who got five-in-a-row receives 5 points as a bonus.
- Each player receives 1 point for each capture her or she made.
- Each player receives 1 point for each four-in-a-row he or she has remaining on the board. (Four-in-a-row is 4 stones, consecutive and in a straight line. Any that were wiped out during the game do not count.)
Playing with points introduces new strategies into the game by challenging both players to take calculated risks to gain as many points as possible. For instance, if one player accumulates an overwhelming advantage, such as an unblocked four, he or she may prefer to delay making the winning move for a while to gain even more points.
Handicaps – Playing points allows for an easy handicapping. For example, in a match to 21, a veteran player may give an intermediate player an edge of 5 or 10 points – thus evening the contest.
Complication – This is a variation which increases the complexity of the game. It is not used in tournaments. There are two parts to this variation:
1. A player must make exactly five-in-a-row to win. Six or more in a row are neutral and do not count for or against a win.
2. A player cannot move to form a double three if both threes can develop into fours.
Note that this restriction does not prohibit moving to make a three and a four, or two fours. Nor is a player expected to obey this “rule of three and three” if the opponent threatens to make a five which can be blocked only by a move that forms two open threes.
Tournament Rule –As players increase their skill, the advantage of moving first in Basic PENTE becomes more and more significant. Therefore, the following modification has been introduced for use in tournaments or other serious games. It neutralizes the advantage of the first player by imposing a slight positional constraint upon him or her.
- The first player’s second move must be at least three spaces from the center point. A square can be drawn between the four inner “stars” on the board. The first player’s second move must be on or outside the perimeter of this square. No other restrictions are imposed on either player.