Introduction to Minesweeper

Empty Minesweeper board

You look at the mysterious board full of little squares and digits and you wonder: what is this game about? What should I do? How to play? In this article we will try to answer these questions and explain everything in detail.

The first thing you need to know is that to start the game you have to click anywhere on the game board with the left mouse button. Then, based on the numbers you see, you have to figure out where the mines are and secure them with flags as well as discover more numbers to find even more mines. With that little introduction in mind, let us show you in practice how to beat a Minesweeper game.

Tutorial

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 1

Here is how a typical Minesweeper game starts. A board with a lot of squares. We call these squares “fields.” Initially, each field has a cover. We can uncover a field by left-clicking on it. If the uncovered field was hiding a mine, the mine blows up and we lose. Fortunately, the first field we uncover never hides a mine. For your first move, you can choose any field you like. This time we will choose the field in the middle: we start this game by left-clicking on the field marked with a blue circle.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 2

The first move opened up a large area. We see a lot of empty fields right in the middle of the board and two patches of covered fields surrounded by numbers: one patch on the left and one on the right. Thanks to these numbers, we can deduce which covered fields contain mines. For example, let us consider the field marked with a red circle. It has 1 in it, which means that there is exactly one mine somewhere around it. There are eight fields around it in total. Seven of them have been already uncovered: the three on the left are empty, as well as the one below it. The field to the right has 2 in it and there are two fields which have 1s in them: one above and one diagonally towards bottom-right. Since these fields are uncovered, they cannot contain mines. The only field which is still covered is the one diagonally towards upper-right, marked with a blue circle. There is only one mine around the 1 in a red circle and there is only one place where this mine can be hidden: in the field marked with a blue circle. Therefore, we can mark this field with a flag. We can do it by clicking on it with the right mouse button.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 3

Now that our first mine has been found and our first flag has been placed, we can use these recent discoveries to find nearby fields which do not hide mines. To do this, let us consider the field marked with a red circle. This field has 1 in it. There are six uncovered fields around it: three empty fields to the left, one 1 below it, and two 2s: one above and one diagonally towards bottom-right. There are also two covered field nearby the 1 with a red circle: one to the right, marked with a flag, and one diagonally towards upper-right, marked with a blue circle. The reasoning is as follows: there is only one mine near the field in a red circle and this mine has already been found in the flagged field to the right. Therefore, the remaining nearby fields cannot contain mines. The only remaining covered field is the field with a blue circle. Since it cannot contain a mine, we can uncover it by left-clicking on it.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 4

We can now repeat the move we made in step two. Take a look at the two fields with red circles. Both have 1s in them. Both have only one covered field nearby, marked with a blue circle. Therefore, the two fields marked with blue circles must contain mines. Let us mark them with flags by right-clicking on them.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 5

Again, after flagging some mines we can look for fields that do not contain mines. Let us focus on the two fields marked with red circles. Like before, each of these fields has a 1 inside and each of them already has a flag nearby. Moreover, each of them has exactly one covered field nearby which has not been flagged yet. These covered fields are marked with blue circles. Since the 1s with red circles cannot have any more mines nearby, the fields with blue circles cannot contain mines. We can thus left-click on both of them to uncover them.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 6

In the previous step we uncovered new numbers. One of these numbers is the 2 marked with a red circle. This 2 already has two mines around it: one below and one diagonally towards upper-left. Therefore, there cannot by any more mines around this 2. All remaining surrounding covered fields can be safely uncovered. There are four such covered fields: three to the right and one above the encircled 2. We can left-click on all four of them to uncover them.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 7

One of the fields we uncovered in the previous step was empty and the game automatically opened up a larger area of empty fields as well as some fields with numbers. We can now focus on the field with the number 2, marked with a red circle. Because it is a 2, there must be exactly two mines nearby. And there are exactly two covered fields nearby, marked with a blue ellipse. These two covered filed must contain mines, and so we can place flags on them, using the right mouse button.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 8

This is the step in which we finally deal with the right side of the board. We notice that the 1 marked with a red circle already has a mine nearby – we marked this mine with a flag in the previous step. Hence, there can be no more mines near this 1, including in the covered field marked with a blue circle. We can left-click on this field to uncover it.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 9

The left side of the board is much trickier than the right side. There are no more obvious moves, in which a digit like 1 or 2 is exactly matched by the surrounding covered fields. This time we have to do some serious thinking. Let us consider the 1 in a purple circle. There must be exactly one mine next to it. There are two covered fields next to it, marked with a green ellipse. Hence, we know that there must be exactly one mine inside the green ellipse but we don’t know which of the two fields actually hides the mine. Now let us consider the 1 in a blue circle. We already know that there is a mine inside a green ellipse. The ellipse is entirely near the 1 with a blue circle, which means that other covered fields near the 1 in a blue circle cannot contain a mine. Specifically, the field marked with a red circle cannot contain a mine. Why? Because if it does, then the 1 in a blue circle has two mines nearby: one in a red circle and another one in a green ellipse. The green ellipse sure contains a mine, so the red circle cannot. Because of that, we can click on the field marked with a red circle to uncover it.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 10

Now things are much easier. We can quickly figure out that the two fields marked with green circles must contain mines. Why? First, because of the 2 in a blue circle. This 2 has only two covered fields nearby and so these fields must contain mines. Secondly, because of the 3 in a red circle. This 3 already has a mine flagged nearby. It also has two covered fields nearby which must hide the remaining two mines. Hence, we can put flags on the two fields marked with green.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 11

In this step we see two fields with numbers that already have enough flags around them. Let us take a look at the 1 in a red circle, and the 2, also in a red circle. All covered fields near these two cannot contain mines, and so we can uncover them safely. Therefore, let us left-click on all fields marked with blue.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 12

This time we go back to searching for mines. Let us focus on the field with a red circle. There should be two mines around it. One has been already found: there is a flag right below it. The other one must be in the only remaining covered field – the field marked with a blue circle. Let us click on this field with the left mouse button.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 13

Now let us consider the 1 marked with a red circle. It already has a mine nearby and so the other covered fields next to it – the ones marked with a blue ellipse – can be safely uncovered.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 14

Take a look at the counter in the top-left of the game board. Currently it says “002”, which means that there are two mines remaining to be found on the board. In this step we are going to find them. Let us consider the 1 and the 2 in red circles. Both of them have only one covered field nearby and both of them indicate that there must be one more mine near them. Hence, the remaining two mines must be hidden in the fields marked with blue circles.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 15

All mines have been marked with flags, but the game has not been won yet. This is because the condition for winning the game is to uncover all fields that do not contain mines. In fact, you don’t have to use flags if you can remember where the mines are. But this is a challenge for more advanced players. In this tutorial we use flags and in order to win, we need to left-click on the two remaining covered fields, which are marked with a blue ellipse.

Minesweeper beginner tutorial, step 16

Take a look at the picture of the happy yellow face in the sunglasses at the top of the gameboard. It indicates that the game is over and you have won. Now take a look at the counter in the upper-right corner of the game board. It indicates the elapsed time. “231” means that it took us 231 seconds to finish the game. This is not a particularly good result, but this is a tutorial for beginners, so there is nothing to worry about.

If you prefer, you can also watch a video tutorial on YouTube:

Patterns

You have already learnt the basics. You know how to find mines and how to find places where there are no mines. But all this logical thinking takes so long. Of course, the more you practice, the quicker you are. But is there a way to play really quickly?

Yes. When you play long enough, you notice that there are certain patterns of numbers that indicate where mines are and where they cannot be. With practice, you learn these patterns by heart and you can recognize them quicker and quicker. Eventually, there is no logical thinking involved. You just see some numbers and you immediately know where the mines are. Let us look at the simplest example, that is the “1 in a corner”.

The '1 in a corner' pattern, unmarked The '1 in a corner' pattern, marked The '1 in a corner' pattern, solved

1 in a corner is an “obvious” pattern that we already used earlier in the tutorial. Look at the first picture above and try to identify all 1s that have only one covered field around them. They are marked with red circles in the second picture. These are the “1s in corners.” We already know that next to each of them, there must be a mine in the only available covered field. Locations of these mines are marked with bombs in the third picture.

1 in a corner is an obvious pattern because you learn it very quickly. Soon after learning basic moves, you no longer do it step by step: look for 1, count all available covered fields and think whether the numbers match. You just look at the board and you immediately see all the 1s in corners and you know that you should place flags next to them. This is how patterns work.

The most popular pattern, which is not obvious, is the 1-2-1 pattern. In this pattern, there is a 1 and a 2 and a 1, in that specific order, next to each other. If you see them, then there are two mines next to the 1s and diagonally from the 2. Any flags already placed near these numbers affect the pattern and should be subtracted before you decide whether this really is the 1-2-1 pattern or not. Hence, sometimes you have a 1 and a 2 and a 1 which are not a 1-2-1 pattern, and very often you have much different numbers that do constitute a 1-2-1 pattern. This sounds complicated, so let us consider a few examples.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 1, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 1, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 1, solved

Let us consider a fragment of the board in the first picture. This is a fragment of the board right after the opening move. In this opening, we can see two 1-2-1 patterns, one oriented horizontally and one oriented vertically. These 1-2-1 patterns are marked with red ellipses in the second picture. An advanced player looks at this and immediately knows where the mines are: for a 1-2-1 pattern, there are two mines, both next to a 1 and diagonally from 2, and there are no more mines touching the pattern. The locations of the mines are shown with bombs in the picture on the right. The locations where there are no mines are shown with crossed bombs.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 2, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 2, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 2, solved

Sometimes the first click opens up an area with a configuration of numbers that is very frustrating to beginner players. An example is shown above on the left. There are no 1s in corners and so it is not immediately obvious where the mines might be. At least, it is not obvious to a beginner player. An advanced player immediately recognizes the 1-2-1 pattern which is marked with a red ellipse in the second picture. With this pattern, mines are always located next to 1s and diagonally from the 2, and there are no more mines in the proximity of this pattern. This is shown in the picture on the right: the locations of mines are shown with images of a mine and locations where mines cannot be are show with images of a crossed mine. The player can safely place flags at the location of the former and left-click of the fields marked with the latter.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 3, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 3, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 3, solved

Here we have a 1-2-1 pattern even though the numbers are 2-2-2. This is because there are mines near the two outer 2s. Whenever there is a flag close to a number, we can subtract 1 from this number and think of it as if it had the new value and the mine did not exist. Here, we can think that instead of 2-2-2 we have 1-2-1 and the mines above and below the pattern do not exist. As a result, an advanced player immediately knows that there are two mines: one next to the upper 2 and the other next to the lower 2, and there are no more mines in the covered fields touching the pattern. This is shown in the last picture: we can flag two mines (marked with bombs) and we can left-click on three other fields (marked with crossed bombs) because there are no mines there.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 4, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 4, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 4, solved

This is another example of a 1-2-1 pattern that emerges from different numbers after taking into account already existing flags. Here we have 2-2-1 but the flag above the first 2 reduces it to 1, so we have 1-2-1. This allows us to quickly find two mines and to find two places where there are no mines.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 5, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 5, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 5, solved

Now, the situation is even more complicated, because there are two flags next to a 3-3-1. After accounting for these two flags, the pattern is reduced to 1-2-1. Both flags are next to the upper 3, and so we need to subtract 2 from this 3. The lower flag is also next to the lower 3, and so we subtract 1 from this 3. As a result we have (3-2)-(3-1)-1 ⇒ 1-2-1. This indicates that there are two mines: one next to the upper 3 and one next to the bottom 1. Other covered fields adjacent to the patter do not hide any mines.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 6, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 6, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 6, solved

This is a simple and common situation when a 1-3-2 next to the board’s border is reduced to a 1-2-1 by a nearby flag.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 7, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 7, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 7, solved

In this example we see how a single flag can affect all three numbers changing the pattern from a 2-3-2 to a 1-2-1.

The 1-2-1 pattern, example 8, unmarked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 8, marked The 1-2-1 pattern, example 8, solved

In the last example of the 1-2-1 pattern, we see three mines modifying a 2-3-3 so that it becomes a 1-2-1. As a result, we find two mines and we find three fields which do not contain mines.

How do we know that this is correct? How do we know that in all the above cases the mines indeed are in these places and not in the others? You can figure this out by conducting a logical reasoning. Let us assume that there is a mine next to the 2 in the middle (look at the first vertical example for reference). But there should be two mines next to a 2. So where does the second mine go? There is no way to place another mine next to the middle 2, because there is 1 above and 1 below, and they both already have a mine next to them. Hence, there cannot be a mine in the middle. Mines must be next to the top 1 and next to the bottom 1. And since these are 1s and they can only have one mine next to them, all other covered fields around them do not contain mines.

There is another quite common pattern worth learning from the start: 1-2-2-1. Similarly to 1-2-1, 1-2-2-1 can be solved using logic. However, the solution is the opposite. For 1-2-1 the solution is bomb, empty, bomb but for 1-2-2-1 the solution is empty, bomb, bomb, empty. In other words, for 1-2-1 we have mines next to 1s and for 1-2-2-1 we have mines next to 2s.

The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 1, unmarked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 1, marked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 1, solved

Here we see a vertical 1-2-2-1 pattern. There are two mines next to the two 2s but other places adjacent to the pattern do not contain any mines.

The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 2, unmarked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 2, marked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 2, solved

Here, after taking a flag into account, we see a 1-2-2-1 pattern. The mines are above the two 2s and the fields above the 1s do not contain any mines.

The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 3, unmarked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 3, marked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 3, solved

This is a similar situation. One flag reduces a 1-2-2-2 to a 1-2-2-1 pattern.

The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 4, unmarked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 4, marked The 1-2-2-1 pattern, example 4, solved

In the last example we see a flag which modifies two numbers: 2-3-2-1 changes to 1-2-2-1, because the flag is next to both 2 and 3.

There are many more patterns, some of them popular, some of them rare, some of them very useful, and some of them less useful. If you want to read more about Minesweeper patterns, you can read the Patterns Guide on the Authoritative Minesweeper website or you can read the Strategy Guide on Minesweeper Wiki.

Tips and tricks

Okay. Now you know how to use logic to solve Minesweeper. And you know some patterns so that you can play quickly. Bat are there any tricks to play even faster? The answer is: yes.

Question mark – switch it off. This is a feature that was in the original Minesweeper, so it is often kept in newer versions for compatibility reasons, but for experienced players it is totally useless. Right-click should just plant a flag or remove it, nothing more.

Chording clicks – so far, we talked about using the left mouse button on a covered field to uncover it and using the right mouse button on a covered field to place a flag. However, there are also other clicks possible. When you left-click on a number which already has the corresponding number of flags nearby (for example a 3 with 3 flags next to it), then all surrounding covered fields get uncovered. You can use this feature to open a number of covered fields with one click instead of many clicks.

Playing with keyboard – it is also possible to play using both hands. Just place your mouse over a covered field and press Space to place/remove a flag or press Enter to uncover the field. Pressing Space or Enter over a field with a number, opens all adjacent covered fields if the field with a number has a corresponding number of flags around it.

No flags – some players prefer not to place flags. This means that you they fewer clicks while playing, and so their speed can potentially increase. Whether this really results in faster gameplay is debatable, because you need to remember those places where mines are and you cannot click on numbers to open multiple covered fields at once. Most advanced players sometimes place flags here and there, wherever they think it is useful, but most of the time they do not use flags.

Supersonic mode – some Minesweeper clones allow the player to play using only mouse but without any clicks. How is this possible? When you hover your mouse cursor over a covered field, you automatically place a flag on it. When you hover your mouse cursor over a field with a number, all adjacent covered fields become automatically uncovered, as long as the number of flags around the field matches the number inside the field. This requires the same amount of logical thinking as the regular game, but makes the game much faster because instead of clicking you decide where to place flags and what fields to uncover just by moving your mouse across the screen. Unfortunately, this feature is unavailable in this version of Minesweeper online. However, you can find it in other clones of this game, for example at minesweeper.us.

There is one more important tip which is unrelated to how quickly you play, but is very important to remember, especially for beginner players. When you make a mistake and wrongly place a flag, and subsequently blow up a mine and lose, the game shows you the mistake you made. The incorrectly placed flag is marked with a crossed mine. Many people incorrectly assume that a crossed mine is where a mine should be. Look at the following example.

A Minesweeper board with a wrongly placed flag

What happened here? The player correctly placed three flags along the vertical 2-3-2 sequence. These flags are still depicted as flags. However, the player subsequently placed a flag above the 2. There was no mine above the 2 (recall the 1-2-1 pattern), so the flag was placed incorrectly, and now this incorrect flag is marked with a crossed bomb. The bomb with a red background to the left is the field which the player uncovered and blew up because of a hidden mine there. Many players look at such a picture and see two mines next to a 1: the bomb with a red background and the crossed bomb. These players think that the game is broken because there are two mines next to a 1. But this is incorrect, there was only one mine next to a 1 and the game works perfectly.

Getting stuck

In traditional Minesweeper, mines are placed randomly. As a result, sometimes there is no guarantee that you can solve the game using logic only.

This is how you can get stuck in Minesweeper.

Many experienced players are too familiar with such situations, which evoke tears of frustration, recurrent nightmares or sometimes even mild cases of PTSD. In this example, after a long and exhausting play, the player almost solved a Minesweeper board on Expert difficulty within a decent time. And now, for the final move he or she has to make a guess where the last mine is. Both fields, marked with a red ellipse, are equally likely to hide a mine, and thus no matter what are the player’s skills: the outcome of the game is reduced to a coin toss. This is particularly frustrating to less experienced players, for whom solving the Expert difficulty takes a lot of time and effort. And then, at the end, all this time and effort are often lost due to bad luck.

Sometimes this does not happen, sometimes it happens once, and sometimes multiple times during a single game. Whether having to guess happens during a game is a matter of bad luck and the larger the board is, the more frequently it happens. Sometimes, in Expert difficulty a player may have to guess even four times or more. If every guess is like a coin toss (it not always is, but let us keep things simple), then the chances of solving the game are the same as the chances for getting heads four times in a row, which is less than 10%. Doubling the board size doubles the expected number of guesses and halves the chances of winning. This is why very large Minesweeper boards are not very common – playing them would be too frustrating as multiple guesses reduce your chances of winning practically to zero, no matter what your skills are.

Is there a way to fix this problem? Yes. The trouble with having to guess is present in most Minesweeper versions but not in ours. In our version of Minesweeper, you have the so-called “pure intellect” mode. When you play the game in this mode, the boards generated by the game are always deterministically solvable, that is you never have to guess where the mines are, and you can solve the game using logic only. How is it possible? Whenever a new gameboard is created, the game engine checks whether it is possible to solve this board without guessing. If it is not possible, the game changes the board, checks it again and the cycle continues until the game finds a board that can be solved without any guesses. “Pure intellect” mode is selected by default, so you do not have to worry about getting stuck from the start. Moreover, existence of this mode is the reason why there are the Superhuman and Extraterrestrial difficulties available in our game. We also recommend the “God” difficulty level on minesweeper.us if you want a really large board.

How fast others play?

If you are a beginner player, you may wonder what are the decent times for solving each difficulty. You may consider yourself good if you have at most 10 seconds on Beginner difficulty, 60 second on Intermediate and 240 seconds on Expert. To consider yourself very good, you need 6 seconds on Beginner, 40 seconds on Intermediate and 100 seconds on Expert.

Below are some videos in which you can see how other people play. Keep in mind that this is still a casual player level, not professional.

On Beginner difficulty:

On Intermediate difficulty:

On Expert difficulty:

On Superhuman difficulty:

On Extraterrestrial difficulty:

As far as professional players go, the World Records are as follows: 1 second on Beginner difficulty, 6 seconds on Intermediate difficulty, and 27 seconds on Expert difficulty. To be specific, as of 2022, the best times are 0.49 seconds on Beginner difficulty, 5.80 seconds on Intermediate difficulty and 26.59 seconds on Expert difficulty.

Other resources

If you are still interested in learning more about Minesweeper, here you can find further information: