Wordle: Midgame Strategies

As a final (perhaps) look at my strategy for winning at Wordle, this week’s blog will focus on midgame strategies. For purposes of brevity, I will assume readers have already read the Spirited Reasoner’s last two posts about Wordle.

Readers will recall that I nearly always begin with the same two opening guesses: BEAUT, followed by DOILY (or vice versa, depending on what I had for breakfast.) That way, I will have eliminated those vowels which are NOT in the hidden word, because BEAUT and DOILY contain all six vowels, including Y. I will also know at least one of the vowels which ARE in the hidden word; however, I must remain cautious of words that contain repeated vowels, such as SLEEP, TOOTH, and ALARM. Note that in all such cases, the correct vowels in BEAUT and DOILY will change color nicely, but I will remain ignorant of how many times those correct vowels appear in the hidden word. (One of the diabolical tricks played by the Wordle managers is the use of repeating vowels and consonants.)

How, then, should I proceed after my first two guesses?

I begin by studying the number of green and yellow letters that were produced by BEAUT and DOILY. In a few cases, I will know enough to discern the hidden word on guess #3. In most cases, however, I must control the urge to leap to a random stab at the hidden word on the third try. Why control the urge? Because, in the vast majority of cases there are dozens of possible answers. (Remember what happened when I guessed HATCH and discovered that the last four letters all turned green. I was then left with a host of possibilities that included LATCH, MATCH, BATCH, CATCH, PATCH, and WATCH.) Guessing randomly, even with a touch of inspired intuition, often serves only to waste a valuable move that could have been used to gather more information.

Let’s pause a moment to remember that my personal goal is not to pounce on the hidden word in three guesses. The trouble with that type of strategy is that it can leave you stranded whenever you know too little after your third guess. Instead, my goal is to use logic sufficient to ensure that I will arrive at the correct word in four or five guesses at most. To date, my “guess distribution” looks like this: In a total of 31 games, I have guessed the correct answer in six moves or less on 30 occasions. (I needed a seventh guess, and therefore lost the game, in one of my early games, while I was still working out the strategy described here. That game taught me a lot about the hazards of random guessing.)

Here’s my distribution chart:

1 guess: 0 times

2 guesses: 1 time

3 guesses: 5 times

4 guesses: 12 times

5 guesses: 11 times

6 guesses: 1 time

As you can see, my strategy has been extremely successful in arriving at the hidden word after 4 or 5 guesses.

So, what’s my third guess? Last week, the hidden word was RENEW. It offers an excellent learning illustration.

After playing my usual BEAUT and DOILY, I knew only one letter for sure: the green E in second position (courtesy of BEAUT.) Thus, I knew the hidden word contained at least one E and I knew it contained no other vowel. I also knew that the consonant Q had been eliminated, since there was no U in the hidden word. At this point, I could have chosen either of two strategies for my third guess: (1) a word like SHARP, aimed at trying four entirely new consonants, or (2) a word like PREEN, which would provide three new consonants while also telling me whether the hidden word had a second E (and, if so, it might even help me place that second E. I observed that PREEN had the added advantage of allowing me to try two new positions for the letter E.)

Given the added positional advantage of PREEN, I selected it for my third guess. When the P was dark while the REEN were all colorful, with the second E green, I knew that the hidden word had the shape of _E_E_ , and that it included the consonants N and R. After pondering possible words with N in the first and last positions and coming up with nothing, I decided to place the N in the middle. Then, having arrived at _ENE_, I tried to imagine words with R in final position. Coming up blank, I decided the letter R belonged at the beginning. I was then left with figuring out what five letter words begin with the letters RENE_. I was too stupid to figure this out quickly. Instead, I counted my way through the alphabet, finally landing on the correct final letter, W. I had arrived at the correct word in four guesses.

If I had tried the other fork in the road—using SHARP—I would have learned that the hidden word contained an R, and that it did NOT contain the letters S, H, or P. I would then have tried another word that included four new consonants, hopefully one with the vowel E in a new position. At this point, I’m likely to learn enough after this fourth guess to correctly figure things out on guess number five.

Key takeaway? Use the first three, and sometimes the first four, guesses to gather as much information as possible about first vowels, then vowel placement, then consonants, before attempting to guess the hidden word. Maximize information by using as many unused letters as possible with each of the first three or four guesses.

Don’t “guess” the hidden word. Infer it.