How To Master NES Tetris

NES Tetris High Score Screen, reads "You are a Tetris Master."

NES Tetris can seem difficult to master. But with practice, you will become a professional.

Do not overwhelm yourself with the multiple strategies in this game. You only need a few basic techniques to get you started.

The advanced stacking strategies will come to you naturally from playing the game. As well as watching other players compete in various NES Tetris tournaments, such as Classic Tetris World Championship (CTWC) and Classic Tetris Monthly (CTM).

Here are 4 tips to help you on your journey to becoming a Tetris Master.

1. Rotate in Both Directions

You can rotate the Tetris pieces (tetrominoes) in both directions. Specifically, the J, L, and T pieces.

  • A Button to rotate Clockwise
  • B Button to rotate Counter-clockwise

By mastering this skill, you will avoid the need to flip a piece three times (Triple flipping).

It might not seem important in the early levels, but when the pieces drop at higher speeds, that skill becomes important.

Practicing the technique on slower levels will give you time to figure out the direction to rotate a piece. If a piece was triple-flipped in one direction, it could have been flipped once in the other direction.

It might seem complicated at first, but it will become second nature with practice. It personally took me a while to figure out how to master this. Do not worry if you are not figuring it out right away.

If you are having trouble figuring out the difference between rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise, there is a mnemonic called “Time is Always Tight”.

2. The Right Well is Ideal

NES Tetris - Right Well Setup
Right Well Setup

In NES Tetris, clearing 4 horizontal lines in a row (Tetris) gives you the most amount of points. To get a Tetris, a player creates a stack at least 4 rows high, and leaves one column open to create a well. When the I-Piece (Long Bar) shows up, they put that piece into the well to score a Tetris.

The I-Piece enters the board horizontally. Since the board is 10 columns wide, the piece has to favor a side when it is rotated. In this case, it is flipped toward the right side. Because of this, the Right Well is the preferred setup when going for Tetrises.

Because it is difficult to maintain 2 separate stacks, players rarely go for center wells in tournament play.

Basically, the right well is ideal because the I-Piece favors the right side when rotated vertically.

3. Double Well for the Burn

NES Tetris - Double Well Setup
Double Well Setup
Using the Double Well to burn lines with an S-Piece
Using the Double Well to burn lines with an S-Piece

An I-Piece is needed to get a Tetris. The game’s random piece generator may cause I-Piece droughts, which can be fatal when you become dependent on that piece.

Having a single well without any way to burn lines will make you I-Piece dependent. This will increase the chances of topping out during a drought.

Setting up a double well (2 open columns) allows you to accommodate any piece and burn lines. Helping you keep the stack low.

The general strategy is to have a double well on top of the single well. Keeping the player Tetris-ready while having the opportunity to burn lines.

4. Play at Faster Levels

As your gameplay improves, you may find yourself pushing down the pieces to speed up the game. Ideally, you will want to play at a level where you are not pushing down.

Basically, play at a level that is out of your comfort zone, but not too difficult at the same time.

Once you can execute the basic stacking techniques, I recommend practicing on Level 9 starts.

When you get 200K at a Level 9 start, you are ready to start at Level 15. Mainly because the 200K score shows that you are capable of playing at faster speeds.

(In the level select screen, if you hold the “A” button and press “start”, it will add 10 levels to the starting level. For example, if you use that configuration on Level 5, you will start on Level 15.)

And then, move on to Level 18 starts, when you score 300K at a Level 15 start.

Go for Level 19 starts if you consistently reach the Level 19 transition from a Level 18 start.

When I mentioned my 500K PB to another player, they advised me to practice Level 19 starts. That would help me score additional points past the Level 19 transitions during games where I started on Level 18.

General Tips To Master NES Tetris

Basically, keep playing the game and your personal best (PB) scores will increase. With any video game, the more you play, the more you will learn.

If you misdrop a piece, do not panic. You might be able to clean your stack and stay in the game.

More Resources

The best resource to get you started are Jonas Neubauer’s Tetris Lesson videos.

If you do not have the game, there are ways to get it without buying the original NES console. I write about it here.

Join the Classic Tetris Monthly Discord server for more resources.

Previous Post
First Annual Classic Tetris World Championship at Downtown Independent Theater
CTWC Timestamps

2010 Classic Tetris World Championship: Timestamps

Next Post
Classic Tetris Monthly April 2023: Mega Masters Finals
Classic Tetris

Classic Tetris Monthly: An Online Tetris Tournament