The following is an adaptation of the book 'Othello: A minute to learn a life time to master' by Brian Rose. Which can be found found in the Resources section. Some positions and explanations may differ slightly from the original source due to impossible or unidentifiable positions used, however we tried to remain consistent to the source as much as possible. Many thanks to Brian for allowing us to develop this material.
Chapter 5: Basic edge play
At the start of the game there are 60 empty squares on the board, and 28 of those squares are on the edges. Thus edge moves account for almost half of all the moves in a typical game, and I believe that the winner of most games is decided by how well both sides play the edges.
As I discussed in Chapter 4, in the opening there are often many different moves to choose from, all of which result in a reasonably balanced position. On the edges, the opposite is true. Usually there is one move that is clearly better than the rest, and a mistake can give your opponent a huge advantage. As we have already seen, quiet moves are usually better than loud moves, and this holds true for edge moves as well. If your opponent has run out of moves, then a quiet edge move is often enough to decide the game.
We have already seen one example of this in Diagram 3-3. In Diagram 5-1 Black has run out of safe moves, but it is White’s turn. If White could pass, then Black would be forced to move to an X-square and concede a corner. Of course White can not pass, but he can play g1, which has basically the same effect as a pass.
As shown in Diagram 5-2, Black still has no safe moves and must play to an X-square. Moves such as g1 in this example are called free moves: Black can not prevent White from taking g1 whenever he wants, and g1 offers no new safe options for Black. While it is possible to have a free move in the middle of the board, most free moves occur on the edge. Sometimes there will be an opportunity for more than one free move along the same edge.
In Diagram 5-3, White has three free moves along the eastern edge at h4, h3, and h2 (note that they must be taken in that order), and can easily run Black out of moves.
Diagram 4-1: Perpendicular
Diagram 4-2: Diagonal
Diagram 4-3: Parallel
Suppose that you are Black and your opponent has chosen the perpendicular. At move three you have five choices: c3, c4, c5, c6 and c7. How is Black to choose among them? While some experts might disagree with me on this point, I believe that the strategy for the early part of the game really is not all that different than the midgame.
Chapter 3 stressed the benefits of quiet moves and the drawbacks of loud moves, and we will normally look for quiet moves in the opening phase of the game as well. In this case, the definition for quiet moves I gave in Chapter 3 is not all that useful, since all 5 of Black’s choices flip exactly one disc, and both the disc played and the disc flipped will be frontier discs. Perhaps we could refine that definition and say that the quietest move would be c5, since the piece flipped (d5) is surrounded in five directions, and the c5 disc itself would be adjacent to three occupied squares. The loudest move is c7, jutting out away from the other pieces. Indeed, when I first started playing Othello in 1980, c5 was by far the most common choice for Black. It just seemed natural to cut the three white discs in the middle. Meanwhile, c7 was, and still is, the least popular choice. For the diagonal and parallel as well, the obvious choice is to play quietly in the middle, i.e., e6 in Diagram 4-2 and e3 in Diagram 4-3.
Other than loudness, what other criteria could we use to choose a move? Perhaps the biggest difference between the opening and the rest of the game is that with fewer pieces on the board, and no edge squares occupied, it becomes more important to maintain discs in the center. If one player is able to cluster his discs in the middle, that player is said to control the center, and many of the openings played in expert games involve battles over the center. In the opening, it is often worth making a louder move in order to capture central discs and set up quiet moves in the future. For example, Diagram 4-4 shows one of the most common openings used in expert play after move 9, Here it might appear that a quiet move such as d1 is in order, but this does nothing to combat Black’s control of the center. In fact, White often plows through the middle as shown with move 10, establishing a presence in the center.
Compare Diagrams 4-5 and 4-7. The positions are identical except for the color of the disc on f5. Think for a moment about which of these two positions is more favorable for Black.
From what we have discussed so far, it might seem that the position in Diagram 4-6 should be more favorable for Black. After all, in this position White has an extra frontier disc, and frontier discs are usually bad. However, in Diagram 4-5, the f5 disc is very valuable for Black, since it allows him to move to f3, leaving Black with a very compact position (see Diagram 4-5, move 7), and forcing White to play to the outside on his next turn. Black has a considerable advantage.
In Diagram 4-6, White has a lot of frontier discs, but Black has a bit of an awkward position. There are many reasonably quiet moves, but none of them really establishes a presence in the center. The obvious move is probably for Black to just come through the middle as shown in Diagram 4-7, but this would leave White with quiet moves at d3, f3, d7 and f7. Despite the large number of white frontier discs, the position in Diagram 4-6 is considered to be even.
Diagrams 4-8, 4-9, and 4-10 show some common opening errors to avoid. In Diagram 4-8, White’s move jutting out away from the center is bad. It is far better to play move 4, f4, taking two discs in the middle. Diagram 4-9 shows another bad choice for White. This move needlessly allows Black to grab an excellent spot at e6.
In Diagram 4-10, White plays toward the outside at f6. It is better is to play move 6, f4, which looks similar, but is more toward the center. While openings can seem difficult, if you play in the center and keep your moves quiet, you will usually have a reasonable position going into the midgame. The game becomes a lot more difficult when play reaches the edges, which is the subject of Chapter 5.