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Help For Hex


Welcome to the network Hex server. The rules of Hex are in the FAQ below. The Hex "challenge" commands is described here. Other commands are the same for all pbmserv games.

hex challenge [ -handicap=X ] [ -size=X ] userid1 userid2
Start a new game between userid1 and userid2

If a positive handicap is specified, the board is made narrower by the number of rows specified. If a negative handicap is specified, the board is made shorter by the number of rows specified.

If a size is specified, it changes the size of the board. The default size is 11. (-size=11)

HEX: Answers to common questions.
This FAQ is copyright 1994 by David Boll.  The rules are copyright by
Piet Hein, and are used here without permission.  Any suggestions, questions,
or comments should be sent to David Boll:

    1) Origin/Background of Hex, Literature on Hex
    2) Rules of Hex
    3) Elementary concepts:  the 2-bridge 
    4) Edge techniques
    5) Advanced strategy:  Forced moves, ladders, etc.
    6) The opening
    7) Sample Game 
1) Origin/Background of Hex
Hex was invented/discovered by Piet Hein and John Nash.  It a connectivity game, 
in the same family of games as Twixt, Bridge-It, and has some afficinados
among Go players as well.  It is a perfect example of one of those 'a
minute to learn, a lifetime to master' games.
There's really not much Hex literature that I am aware of.  Martin Gardner
introduced the game in one of his Mathematical Recreations column, 
reprinted in his first book (I think), the one with Hexaflexagons & other
All other material I've read has been in the form of proofs of first
player wins or variations on Hex.  I'm not familiar with any strategic
discussion of the game.
2) Rules of Hex
Hex is a two player strategy game played on a NxN rhombus of hexagons, as 
illustrated below for N=4:

          . . . .
           . . . .  Right
    Left    . . . .
             . . . .

Players alternately mark hexes.  The goal of the first player is to form 
a unbroken chain of his hexes that connects the top to the bottom,
while the second player attempts to form an unbroken chain of her hexes
connecting the left side and the right.  To make subsequent diagrams
clearer, the 2 players will be referred to as H)orizontal and V)ertical,
with Vertical having the first move.  For notational purposes, the board
is indexed by letter and number, like so:
         A B C D 
       1  . . . .
        2  . . . .
         3  . . . .
          4  . . . .
3) Elementary concepts: the 2-bridge

Connectivity is the key to hex, consider the following game with V to
move next:
         A B C D 
       1  V . . .
        2  . . . H
         3  . H . .
          4  . . . V

No matter where V moves, H has the game won! There are only four hexes
that matter in this game:  A4, A3, C3, and C2 and H has a response to all
four of these moves.  If V moves A4, H moves A3 (and vice versa), and if V
moves C3, H moves C2 (and vice versa).  So, hex players consider
hexes such as B3 and D2 to be connected, even though they do not touch,
because a connection can be trivially forced.  By playing moves of this
type, you can extend two rows at a time rather than one.  This document
will refer to hexes 'connected' in this manner as a 2-bridge.
However, your opponent is not likely to let you march across the board, 
forming 2-bridges at will!  Usually, connections are formed more
subtly, as in the following example:  (H to move)
           A B C D E F G H I
         1  . . . . . . . . .
          2  . . . . . . . V .
           3  . . V . . . . V .
            4  . . . V . . . . .
             5  . . . . . . V . .
              6  . . V H H H V . .
               7  . . . . . . H . .
                8  . H . V . H . . .
                 9  . H . . . . . . .
Although the game might appear close at first glance, V has a clear win.
V is connected from the north edge to hexes C6 and G6 (if you don't see
this, refer to the section on edge tactics).  And, each of these hexes 
are one move away from being connected to hex D8.  Hex D8 is connected to
the south edge (clearly), and one move away from being connected to the
north edge in two different ways.  H can't stop both of these connections
with only a single move.  So, if H and V were good players, H would 
resign.  Of course, if H and V were good players, the game wouldn't 
look like this, but that's beside the point!
4) Edge techniques

It's handy to know when a hex is connectable to an edge regardless of
what the other player does.  This section discusses connection to an
edge from 2, 3, and 4 rows out, using a connection template.  A 
connection template is a pattern of OPEN hexes that will allow
connection even if the opponent moves first, regardless of what the
opponent does.

2 rows away:  This hardly needs explaining, but suppose V was one row from
the bottom edge, the template looks like this:

          . V
           - -    <- edge

If the 2 hexes below V are clear, V is connected.  If H moves to one of the
dashed hexes, V moves to the other.  If H moves elsewhere, V should
also, since this connection is guaranteed.
3 rows away:  The template is the following:

       A B C D
     1  . . . .
      2  . . V -
       3  . - - -
        4  - - - -

If the dashed hexes (or their mirror image) are clear, V has a connect-
ion.  The basic idea is that either B3 or D3 will connect, and H can't
stop both.  V need not defend this connection unless H moves into one
of the dashed hexes.

4 rows away:  This is more complicated:

     A B C D E F G
   1  . . . . . . .
    2  . . . . . . .
     3  . . . . . . .
      4  . . . - V - .
       5  . . - - - - -
        6  . - - - - - -
         7  - - - - - - -

If H moves into this region, but doesn't move to one of {D5,E5,D6,C7,D7},
V simply moves to D6 for an easy connect.

If H moves one of {D5,E5}, V moves to the other and has a valid template
from 6 rows out.

If H moves to D6 or C7, V responds F5 and has 3rd row template.

What if H plays D7?  You may want to try to work out a connecting strategy
for V that stays within the confines of this partial board.

The key response by V (to a D7 move by H) is E5.  At first, this appears
to be moving directly into the defense, but V is now threatening to
connect from the second row out at both F6 and C6, and H can't stop
both of them.

There are several other 4 templates, but this one is the most compact
and symmetrical.
5) Advanced strategy:  Forced moves, ladders, etc.

We discussed earlier how a 2-bridge is a fundamental connection concept
in Hex.  As we saw, if a player moves in one of the two link hexes, the
other player moves to the other link hex to maintain the connection.
Interetingly enough, however, there are cases where moving into your
opponent's 2-bridge can be a good move - because the hex is valuable
to you later.  Here's a rather contrived example:  (V to move and win)

                    A B C D E F G H I
                 1   . . . . . . . . .
                  2   . . . . . . . . .
                   3   . . . . . . . . .
                    4   . . . . V . . . .
                     5   . . . V . V . . .
                      6   . . . . . . . . .
                       7   . . . H . H . . .
                        8   . H . . . . . . .
                         9   . . . . . . . . .
From our study of edge connection techniques, we know that the hexes  
D7 and B8 are effectively connected to the left, and F7 is connected
to the right.  So, as V, we better jump in between these two links and
play E7, right?  Wrong!  E7 is easily defensed by D9.  The correct move
by V (one of 'em, anyway, there's at least 2 others) is C8.  A move
to C8 pretty much forces a response of C7 by H, and now V plays E7.

Under this scenario, H's defense of D9 won't work at all, V just moves
to D8 to secure the connection.  The idea is V made a move that forced
a response by H (If H responds to C8 with E7, V wins with C7), and
the hex C8 turns out to be a valuable one later on.  Moves such as this
are termed forcing moves, and understanding them is important.
Another important concept in hex is the ladder.  Ladders occurs when
both players place their pieces along one row or column.  They're
usually forced by one of the two players, and they usually occur near
an edge.  Here's an example, H to play:

                    A B C D E F G H I
                 1   . . . . . . . . .
                  2   . . . . . . . . .
                   3   . . . V . . . . .
                    4   . . . . . . . . .
                     5   . . . . . . . . .
                      6   . . V . . . V . V
                       7   . . . H . . H . .
                        8   . H . . H . . . V
                         9   . . . . . . . . .
Note that H is connected from the left almost all the way across, but
was one hex shy of having a valid 3-template on the right side with
hex G7, prior to V moving to I6.  H could force a ladder here with a 
sequence like (H6-I5-H5-I4-H4-I3-H3-I2-H2-I1) - but there would be no 
point in it.  Worse, after a continuation of (I7-H7), H loses the game.
But, suppose the situation was ever so slightly different:  suppose H 
has an additional piece at H2, so the board looks like this: 
                    A B C D E F G H I
                 1   . . . . . . . . .
                  2   . . . . . . . H .
                   3   . . . V . . . . .
                    4   . . . . . . . . .
                     5   . . . . . . . . .
                      6   . . V . . . V . V
                       7   . . . H . . H . .
                        8   . H . . H . . . V
                         9   . . . . . . . . .
Now H can play the same ladder sequence as before - but this time,
H 'ladders down' to the piece at H2 to win the game.

I'll close this section with some strategic generalities about hex:

     1) Always look for useful forcing moves.

     2) When trying to connect to an edge, it is usually better to get an
        unassailable link to the edge first, then try to connect to the link.

     3) Play defense first, offense second - even when ahead.

     4) Remember the potential of ladders, and learn to see them as a single

     5) If you move first, you will win with perfect play.  Another way to
        look at this is:  Unless you make a mistake, you have a winning line
        (as the first player).  Find it.  Often the knowledge that you 'should'
        have a win helps you find it.

     6) Know the fundamentals of opening and edge connection.
6) The opening
If you're the first player, the opening move is easy:  open in the center
hex.  The second person has a few semi reasonable choices, marked with 
small letters in the diagram below:
                  A B C D E F G H I J K
               1   . . . . . . . . . . .
                2   . . . . . . h . . . .
                 3   . . . . . . f g . . .
                  4   . . . . . d c e . . .
                   5   . . . . . a b . . . .
                    6   . . . . . V . . . . .
                     7   . . . . . . . . . . .
                      8   . . . . . . . . . . .
                       9   . . . . . . . . . . .
                        10  . . . . . . . . . . .
                         11  . . . . . . . . . . .

  a:  Likely to get a response of H4 by V.  If H then tries G5, V replies
      H5 - and H is being locked out of the right edge.
  b:  Weak.  V plays F5 or E5, and is one row closer to home.
  c:  Now V responds with E5
  d:  Could be good, provided V can't connect with G4.  I've never tried to
      work this out.  I3 also looks to be a decent response for V, and both
      plays are strong defensive moves as well.
  e:  Like c, only weaker
  f:  The 'classic' defensive move.  Recall that moving in this position is
      the key to the best defense from 4 rows out, it's also typically the
      best position from which to defend on a wide open board.
  g:  Weak, leaves the left side of the board too wide open.
  h:  Seems to be a good defensive play, but I've never used it or seen it.
      Less offensive potential than f.
So, if both players move typically, the opening will be 1. F6 G3, or some 
rotated version of this.  After this, it's hard to say.  D5 is tempting, it 
threatens to connect to F6, and is in the 'classic' defensive position
with respect to G3.  D4 looks OK also - it establishes a edge link at the
cost of weaker defense on G3.  H3 and I3 have possibilities as well, they
both establish a link and play defense on the weaker side of G3.  I tend
to lean toward D4 and I3; one of my playing partners (who is a stronger
player than me) seems to prefer D5.

Opening variations:  The advantage of the first move is quite strong, and
sometimes you want to neutralize this advantage.  The following are some
ways in which this can happen:

  1)  The first player cannot open on the main diagonal.  I've only played this
      version twice as the opener, one time I opened as close to the center
      hex as possible, and another time I opened at F4 (on a 11x11).  The
      first player still has the advantage.
  2)  The often-discussed 3 move equilization:  One player constructs a
      position with two moves by V and one move by H, and the second player
      chooses who plays which side.  If the opening position is carefully
      constructed, the game is quite playable.
  3)  Even simpler:  one move equilization.  It has been proved that opening in
      the acute corner is a losing move for V, so perhaps placing a V near
      an acute corner, then letting the other player choose sides would be
      workable in Hex.  I've tried this once, and it seemed OK.
7) Sample Game (11x11 board)

The following is an annotated transcript of a hex game.  Follow along 
with this on a board, and you could learn all kinds of stuff.  The 
players are H and V, V moves first.  H is a bit weak in the opening,
but the mid game is wide open after a questionable move by V.  V ends
up preserving the win by carefully maintaining the winning line
throughout some tricky positions. 

   Moves     Comments

   1. F6     The center hex, the strongest opening move for V.
         F5  H chooses a weaker line of defense, G3 is usual. 
   2. H4     V presses the attack on the north edge.
         I1  H plays the "classic" defensive move.  Note that G5 may look
             tempting here, but H is in trouble after H5.
   3. E4     V shifts focus to the right side, threatening, but not estab-
             lishing, a link to the north.
         E3  H's piece at I1 allows this defense, but F1 might have been
   4. G2     H can stop V's connection to E4 or H4, but not both!
   5. I3     V is now connected from the north.  J2 or H2 both get the link,
             and H can't stop both.
         E9  H shifts sides and tries to play defense on the south.
   6. H7     Nice, aggressive, offensive and defensive move.
         G10 H's game is all defense at this point.
   7. I9     V connects to the south, choosing to fight for the link in the
             middle rather than along the edge.
         J2  H's first sign of life on offense.  H threatens H2 or I2, which
             links H from the right out to F5...
   8. H2     But, V shuts the door on that!
         H6  This piece is linked to the right, even though it's not the
             usual 4th row template, thanks to the H piece at H2,
   9. J5     V tries to block,
         I4  And H saves the link.
  10. G7?    Not a terrible move, but D9 was probably better.  V links up in the
             center with this move.
         G6! If V responds with a knee-jerk F7 to save the link, H looks
             pretty good after G5.
  11. D6!    A nice reply to H's strong move.  V de-fuses F5, and extends from
             E4, which could end up being connected to the north.
         G5  H makes the link anyway.  Perhaps H would have been better off
             moving on the south side here.
  12. F3     V keeps the sure thing to the north.
         F7  H is now connected from the right out to F7/E9.
  13. C9     Once again, V gets a link and plans to fight for connection in
             the middle.
         D5! A very sneaky threat.  If V plays a knee-jerk E5, H plays D9,
             and forces V to choose which side of C9 to play defense on.
             If north, H attacks south at B11, with some north ladder help
             at D5, and east ladder help at G10.  If south, C8 wins for H.
  14. C6!    But V sees right through all that!  This move strengthens ties
             to C9, and allows V to stop H even if H makes the E5 link.
         G1  H tries to throw some doubt in V's ability to stop H from 
             connecting from D4 to the left.
  15. F2 F1  V forces two ladder steps, which restores ability to stop
  16. E2 E1  H after H's threat of E5.
  17. H1     Now this is safe for V.
         C8  H's last gasp at a win.  Inexact play by V could lead to a
             ladder east then north to H's link to the east edge.
  18. E7     The only win-preserving move in the area.
         D8  Forced.
  19. E8     Threatens to connect at D9 or F8; H has run out of tricks.
             H resigns.


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