Playing Tips for Abalone by Wayne Schmittberger
(ex-Editor of Games Magazine and avid Abalone Player)
1) At the start, advance your marbles quickly toward the center of the board
Marbles in the center are much safer, and can move around more easily, than ones near the edge. And, if you can occupy the center, you will also force your opponent’s marbles to stay near the edge (unless your opponent can outwit you and take over the center).
It’s best to start advancing a line of three marbles toward the center.
One possible opening is for white and black to make the moves shown.
2) Keep your marbles together
Your marbles are strongest in a solid group. The more lines in which you have connected rows of three or more marbles, the harder it will be for your opponent to push you back toward the edge.
White’s strong central formation has no weaknesses, while black has no way to prevent his thin line of marbles from being pushed back and cut apart.
White has the advantage, despite black’s current 2-0 lead in marbles.
3) “Divide and Conquer”
Try to separate the opponent’s marbles into two or more groups. Smaller groups will be easier to push back and trap against the edge of the board, where they will be lost.
4) Plan ahead
Wherever your marbles are next to your opponent’s, carefully consider the effect of each possible push. Pushes tend to create many new possibilities for each side, since as many as five marbles can change position at once (when three marbles push two).
5) Think twice before pushing an opponent’s marble off the board
Early in the game, it is usually more important to keep your marbles in the center than to move them toward the edge in order to eject a marble or two. If you fall behind 2-0 or 3-1 in pushing off marbles, you can easily catch up if you have the move central position. And if an opponent’s marble has no way to escape, don’t hurry to push it off, as you will usually have a more important move to make elsewhere.
6) Abandon stragglers
Don’t waste time trying to link up isolated marbles with your main group, unless you can do it in just a move or two.
7) Play patiently
When you’re not sure what to do, look for your least useful marble(s), and try to improve their positions
8) The more marbles that have been pushed off the board, the more important it is to gain the lead in marbles
Although a strong central position is more important that ejecting marbles early in the game, the opposite is throw after each side has lost three or four marbles. If your marbles are badly scattered around the edges after you have pushed off six of your opponent’s marbles, it won’t matter!
9) Try hard to be the first player to eject five marbles
The first player to push off a fifth marble will usually have a big advantage, because the opponent will then have to look after every vulnerable marble, and answer every threat to eject a marble.
10) Late in the game, play accurately and aggressively
If you see a way to eject enough of the opponent’s marbles to bring your total up to six, don’t bother to defend your own marbles unless the opponent can win before you do.
White leads 4-3, but needs at least three turns to eject two black marbles in to the lower right. Black, with the move, wins the race by ejecting one white marble as shown, after which black needs but two more turns to push off the trapped marbles.