My 20 years of playing renju!
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So funny, today in the middle of the night, I suddenly remembered a special anniversary for myself, it made me wake up and come to post a few words in the blog.
Some days ago, on February 13, it was my 20th anniversary of playing renju. I started to play renju on February 13, 1988. That was the day I first joined the renju class in Kullo hobby center in the Saturday morning...
When I went there, many people were playing renju there, some were playing checkers. In fact, it was officially a checkers class, held 3 times a week. But the checkers teacher Arvi Reinap was very open minded and encouraged his students to try another game once a week, so that the students could develop their mental skills even further and there might be some benefit for checkers development as well. So he took out self-made renju boards (I even do not know who made the first boards) and the stones.
The stones were especially interesting - there were red stones, black stones, green stones, yellow stones, all kinds of colors and sizes. The checkers teacher's main job was in the plastic factory that among other things also produced buttons for clothes. He was able to get a huge load of those not-ready buttons from the factory right before the holes were drilled into the buttons. Naturally he picked the size and thickness of buttons which most resembles the size of an actual renju stone, except that they were flat on both sides.
The job of students was to sort the stones according to colors and put them in certain plastic boxes, 25 stones in each box (in a normal game, we never needed more than that. :P) Also, there was always a small race over getting the set of colors closest to perfect tones (black and white). The less important games were played with pink vs green stones for example.
Some of the old stone sets may still exist in renju classroom in Kullo. If you are curious about it, perhaps Ants can show them to you.
Because I was not a checkers player, so I joined the class only on Saturdays. Surprisingly, renju soon became more popular among the students than checkers. As a result, renju games were sometimes played in remaining 2 lessons of the week as well. I do not know if that made the checkers teacher happy or not. However, the process was already unstoppable, because renju started to form a solid social group in Estonia, especially when Ants decided to become a renju teacher in Kullo. Ever since, the renju has become more and more popular, thanks to him. The checkers teacher whom we also owe many thanks, retired from teaching and his main work in the plastic factory some years later and enjoyed retirement days at home instead.
From the early days of my renju career, I remember the games with those colored stones. Strangely, the finished games and variants often associated with certain colors in my mind later. For example, I was rather successful with dark blue stones, so I often looked for same stone set in important games.
We started to play with renju rules almost immediately - the checkers teacher introduced the rules of 3x3, 4x4 and overline and we started to play according to those rules. The funny thing was that the teacher himself did not know much about renju (maybe his level was around 10 kyu) and all he could do was to provide us with renju material, organize tournaments for us, etc, hoping that we could improve that way. I was probably the first student who showed a serious approach towards renju in the class - I bought the renju theory book from Urmas Raude (he was making copies of an Estonian version of some translated theory book) and I started to write down my own games ever since I was 7 kyu. I have those notebooks with my game records until now, they are in my room in Tallinn. Someday, I will publish some of my games from that time, then you will have a chance to get a good laugh about it. :))
Since we had no good examples in early days of our studies, so we developed our own theories. Most common opening was i6. I do not know who first started to play i6, but soon everybody was playing it.
Tens of games ended in the same way as shown above. Since we had no experience of noticing the 3x3 traps too soon, so the players fell into the same trap one by one, some of them even more than once. :)) I was so proud of my invention of 6th move at that time. After a while, most players realized that although the 5th move creates two lines, its perhaps not very good.
Soon after that, the shapes of the games started to look more balanced, as below:
Since we had formed a group of some "leading players" by then, so it was up to us to introduce "modern theories" to other weaker players. The variant of 17 moves was a fashionable theory for several months after that.
I remember, one time I was able to surprise the superstar Ants (he was much stronger than me at that time 6k vs 4k or something) with a sudden change in the "theory" as black, see below:
How did my surprise move work on the diagram above? It is because by then we already knew that "inside moves are bad", and we always tried to extend our lines towards space. So the 13th move ignored the principle of gaining some space and lines, so Ants immediately tried to punish me and he blocked the three from the top on 14th move, and only a move later he realized it was a fatal mistake. Of course, he was also distracted at that time, I remember he was talking with someone at the same time, maybe with a checkers teacher.
When I got the first theory book, I started to study it eagerly, however the book contained too many variants, not easy to learn all the openings in a short time. Therefore I skipped learning the openings which I thought I was already good at, such as i6. :P
And soon I was punished for that. When I joined the correspondence renju tournament (played by snail mail using letters or postcards), I was beaten by Ants so easily, because he studied i6 from the book while I did not. So I lost my game very fast. In fact it took much less time than other games of that tournament, because we were too eager to send out next moves, so we simply called each other by phone and announced the next moves. :)
I lost my game this way:
From that loss I learned that I should spend more efforts in catching up with real theory. So I was reading my book so carefully, very soon knowing quite much about every opening.
Ants was making good progress, too. All those years, he was my main competitor and a training partner. We progressed together, and learned from each other. We tried to develop new variants and tricks to beat each other. We agreed on making a special match until someone gets 100 wins. We used his tiny portable board for playing games, most of the times at his home.
I remember, once he developed a new 5th move in i7 opening that really gave me a headache:
I kept losing so many games that way as white, so I tried to avoid this opening for a while, until I could figure out what white should do there. Finally I found the white win with 6-g8. (only many years later I realized that 6-g10 was even easier win for white and works even in gomoku).
The great race to 100 wins was really tight. When the score was 98:99 to Ants' favor, I was really lucky and won the last 2 games, therefore I was able to win the match with the narrowest score 100:99. Isn't it amazing?!
Soon it was time for serious tournament games. I joined the 2nd Estonian Renju Tournament, it was my first big tournament. I was so nervous, I lost my first game so quickly, to Urmas Raude (I was white):
I had prepared for the tournament so hard and tried to memorize so many variants from books and analysed them myself as well, but his 13th move was so big surprise. I had never seen it and it made me nervous. Finally, I was really blind and missed an easy VCF. At the same time, Ants won his games and only made draw with me, securing 1 point lead and so he got the confident first place in the 2nd Estonian Renju Tournament.
It has been so long time, 20 years, but some things seem so clear to me as if they happened just recently.
Some players have left, some players still play, some have returned. On the picture below, 2 of the players, me and Renee Pajuste, are still active today. Margus Tuvikene is semi-active. We meet him often but he is too busy to play renju tournaments. Can you recognize these 3 people on the photo? :)
It was a happy time, and the fellow players were so nice, the checkers teacher was nice, too. And I was happy that I was able to make good progress right from the start, it gave me self confidence and deeper passion for renju. Above all, I am happy to have met my friend Ants, we have together walked the path of renju all the way until now.
I hope you won't mind.
And there is an interesting question asked by some player: You only wrote your first 5 years. Maybe you can write about all your 20 years' renju experience in future, because a lot of people would be interested. :P
I will try to write more in the future, thank you for asking about it.