My opinions about the rule change

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38 posts in this thread

Jussi Ikonen
#1 2008-04-06 20:52:26

Hello friends,

For the last few months I have been debating whether or not to express my opinions about the current rule change process, here at my blog. A while ago I was fairly close on writing an article with a topic something like renju a dying game. Most of you who have been in recent GA meetings or other meetings, where I have spoken out about the matter, know my passionate feelings towards this subject. Until now I have decided against writing this article, mainly for two reasons: first, TWC event is coming and I dont wish to create any harm feelings or tensions and second, as Finland is yet very new country in renju I felt it is maybe not a place for one of us to speak. Due to the recent development, which is in my opinion towards a wrong direction I finally decided to speak out some of my ideas and feelings. And as I said mine, I meant that even as I know many others share many of these opinions I am writing as an individual, not a chairman of Finnish Renju Federation etc. This article is a response to several online blogs, posts and discussions mainly referring to these two: Newsletter abut the EGA agenda and Ants Blog message. In my opinion it seems the decision about the rule change is already been done behind the curtains, so with this article I am not expecting to make any real difference. I just felt like writing it now, instead of after the damage is done. In this article I try to approach the subject with a rational and analytical approach leaving emotions a bit to background. I ask you as a reader to do the same (and not get personally offended by any of the following).

Popularity of the five-in-a-row game

Let me start with a few ideas about popularity of a game, since it is certainly one of the key goals nowadays. Here in Finland most people know how to play crosses and noughts. It is just a basic five-in-a-row game with paper and pencil (almost as gomoku, except overlines win also). I would say 99,9 percent of the population in Finland recognizes the game. As I see they like the game for few really simple reasons: first, the rules are simple (5 in a line wins thats it!) second, it doesnt require much equipment to play (just paper and pencil(s)) and third, it is easy to find interesting games whether or not you are a beginner or more experienced player. At the moment I can estimate with a great confidence that only a few dozen players in Finland knows about (and how to play) the sure win. This is why people still do enjoy the game with no extra opening or forbidden rules.

When introducing current RIF rule to them many find it a bit complicated. It is natural. Why should there be an opening procedure? Why does the black have forbidden moves? Within time they get to understand these reasons, but the key is often the passion they have for the game. If they are interested enough, they will eventually put enough effort for studying the basics. In order for them to play sufficient RIF rule games they need to learn both theory and tactics of the game. For a beginner this means that he/she would have to learn at least hundreds of variants of basic theory before being able to seriously compete against an opponent with basic theory knowledge (~1 Dan level). When realizing that this might take a year or two of extensive practice, many find it to be too much. I personally know several high level gomoku players who have decided not to play renju for this very reason. They have found that it does take too many years to reach a level of theory knowledge to become skillful enough to compete with the best. In my opinion this is the biggest single reason why for example thousands of active Polish gomoku players in game site are sticking with gomoku (swap gomoku etc.) without significant efforts to turn to renju. At this point I must note that current swap and swap2 rules are getting more and more popular and in fact the games are more and more similar to five swap renju. The key point I am trying to establish here is that in order for the game to become popular it should be with simple rules and easy for even beginners to have a fighting change without having to learn huge amount of theory first. With Yamaguchi rule the opening procedure is even more difficult for a gomoku player or total beginner to understand. It also adds even more theory study work for them compared to current RIF rule. Tarannikov rule would, however, be simple for everyone to understand (it takes only a moment to explain that the game starts from the center and for the five first stones there is a possibility to do swap) and players could make interesting and also more easily equal games with more experienced players by just using their tactics skills.

On a side note: In order to popularize the game in Europe and in North America, also many other things besides just the opening rule must change. The game must get finance. Current yearly RIF budget is good for a hobby sport, but not for a global mind sport association. In order to popularize the game in western countries an international organization and its operation must become more professional and effective. This however requires another topic for another time.

Current development

According to Mr. Jonssons proposal the Yamaguchi rule is to become chosen as a second official rule for the next three years. I see many problems with this situation. Let me point out some of them here:

After 3 years it is not realistic that any other opening rule than Yamaguchi will be chosen as the official RIF rule
Many game servers will have to modify their systems for just 3 year trial period.
There will be really contradictable and conflicting information about the renju game in various gaming information sites in the Internet. It will take really long time to get it straighten out after the 3 year period.
I bet the current opening rule will be chosen over the new one still more often in tournaments during the 3 year trial period.
I dont know more than handful active players who actually likes Yamaguchi rule. I know several dozen active players who like Taraguchi rules.
Are RIF countries still capable to arrange tournaments with Taraguchi or other opening rules during the 3 year trial? If not, then there becomes a contradiction with RIF statutes.
As a reason for the proposal it was mentioned that Players all over the world do not know what will happen. I dont understand that how this course of action will ease those players confusion. Isnt this just adding over three more years of confusion to the matter?

As stated at previous discussions I also strongly believe that Yamaguchi rule will only give more playable variants for a few years of time (up to perhaps 10 years) and after that RIF will face the same situation again. During this time I believe five swap renju will become many times more popular among renju players. It is truly a pity if RIF refuses to take that path now, instead of later.

At the end I would like to state my will and commitment to keep on promoting five swap renju (Tarannikov and Taraguchi opening rules) no matter of the following RIF meeting decision.

I thank you for reading my blog and I welcome all comments and ideas about the topic.



EDIT (7.5.2010): Corrected some of the grammar errors and made the text a bit more readable.

Ando Meritee
#2 2008-04-06 22:34:53

Since blog is a place of personal opinions only, I will also just speak on my own behalf. I do not represent RIF, Estonian Renju, ORC, RenjuNet or any other organ in this blog. I represent only myself as a player and a fan of renju game.

Jussi wrote very good article. He pointed out many serious issues here. I personally do not like the idea of "official trial periods" either, because it will make the whole situation very chaotic. The modern renju world has its information on Internet. There are thousands of web pages mentioning renju game and renju rules. Some of them might be updated when rules change, but some never will. After 3 years, if another change will come (into what? Another good question by Jussi), the renju related information online will become even messier and contradictive - it is not good if we want renju game treated as a serious sport.

The reason why I have not finished my renju theory books yet is the anxious waiting of new rules, to be able to make the book be compatible with new rule. If the rule is just for 3 year test, it does not encourage book writers to spend hundreds or thousands of hours to make a book that might "expire" very soon. Without books, the game cannot make rapid popularization.

Long time ago I wrote that for the current top players it is more convenient to adopt Jonsson or Yamaguchi rules, because they can adjust to new situation with least effort. But it is just because these rules are "nearer" to current RIF rule than 5 swaps rules and many others.

But the "gap" between RIF and Yamaguchi/Jonsson rules is unfortunately in the wrong direction - further away from beginners.

The 5 swap rules have bigger gap from current RIF rule, but it is in a good direction - towards beginners. So we have to think about what is good for us - to have more newcomers or to keep the changes as small as possible.

For my own good, it is better to have smaller change, if I want to have good results in tournament with least necessity to learn new things. But such thinking would be very selfish. I think it is more important to let the game be popular by introducing simple rules.

I do not know how many ideas for simpler rules exist now, but I think Taraguchi rule is very simple. Maybe there can also be some modifications of that rule, to simplify it further (such as no need for swap after 1st and 2nd move, etc).

I think the main principle of simpleness of 5 swap rule has been repeat many times before - the beginners can ignore swap rules in their first months of renju study, while playing their games without violating official rules. The Jonsson/Yamaguchi rules require knowing all elements of opening rule from the very beginning, if the player does not want to make a rule violating move. And it is very difficult to tell the beginner all the rule elements at once. Which means, the player will first play "different game", and later "switch to another rule". That is not good. Whereas with 5 swap rule, if a new player later one knows about swaps, his games will have smooth transition - in fact even top players may sometimes ignore all 5 swaps.

I would compare this with learning table-tennis (a random example that just came to my mind). First you just learn the rules like how to serve (ball must hit board on both sides of net) and how to receive. This is enough to play for a while until you get better. One day you learn, there is actually an additional rule that says, one player can only serve 2 times in a row, after which the opponent will have the right for 2 serves. Having known these 2 new rule items, has no contradiction with previously learned things.. The player can apply all the previous knowledge and skill so far, and smoothly start using the additional rule item.

The 5 swap rule has been introduced to beginners in Europe, also here in Taipei, and I have seen any problem about it - they understand easily. So where is the problem then? Where is the resistance to the 5 swap rule which includes all the history and existing theory?

The only resistance today is the mystical "old Japanese men" somewhere, who never play renju as a sport and merely use renju as an entertainment in their retiring years. They are not interested to re-learn anything, because it is not convenient for them. The fact that the new rule does not let newcomers come to renju compared to easier rules, does not bother them much. However, somehow they seem to have some power of influence, and Japanese renju official organ gets their policy background from there.

As Jussi said, there are maybe a handful Japanese active players who support Yamaguchi rule and play renju as a sport. Mr Yamaguchi himself is no longer focusing on renju as a sport (you can see his latest writing about himself in RenjuNet Profile) and his passion is to help renju have more newcomers.

Seeing that I feel even more confused. Now that having more beginners is the main priority, Mr Yamaguchi could perhaps start supporting 5 swap rule instead. It would be nice.

If someone says that is is difficult to teach someone 5 swaps rule, it is ok, I am willing to spend my time to give that teacher some tips about how to teach easily 5 swap rules and let newcomers enjoy renju. There is no need to blame the rule or students for that. If a student has an interest towards renju, but thinks the 5 swap rule is difficult, then it is teacher's problem. That is what I can say with my experience as a teacher.

If the only obstacle of the rule change are those "mysterious old men who do not understand many swaps", then I feel very worried about the future of renju.

Before Mr Hayakawa was a Japanese renju leader. It was very easy to talk to him. He was very confident, and he always expressed his ideas to the world clearly, on his own behalf. His big passion was to let renju become world famous game. Maybe pretty much thanks to him, the renju is today a world-wide game. I respect and admire Mr Hayakawa very much!

Unfortunately, after he retired, most renju players today do not eve know who is the leader of Japanese renju now, and what is his vision about the future of renju. At least one thing is evident to me - whoever the decision makers are now in Japan, it is difficult to see how they care about the renju development, especially about the renju popularization worldwide. Their main focus is to keep renju tradition as unchanged as possible (It is a good thing in some extent of course) together with all its flaws. Maybe it is a wrong perception by me, but at least this is how I see things based on the limited information that comes from Japan.

It is a rare situation that the top leaders of national federation absolutely do not communicate directly with leaders of other renju nations. It makes me feel as if they do not really want to have an international organization any more, or furthermore, they see a threat in RIF to Japanese traditional game, and that is why they do not want to socialize with us. A language barrier cannot be a reason - Mr Hayakawa did not practically speak English either when he started to spread renju in world. Important was the willingness and passion to communicate.

Now the whole information about Japan comes to us mostly with the help of Kawamura, Okabe and Yamaguchi, also some others. They are the spokesmen of Japanese renju. Big thanks to them for keeping Japan connected to the rest of the renju world in the terms of information.

So from my thoughts above, I wonder, is it good to go into a "trial period" with a rule which is supported only by those "mysterious and anonymous old men who do not play renju as a sport", and which creator and main supporter Yamaguchi himself does not care about renju as a sport any more either.

So will renju just regress to be the game of old men who can entertain themselves in the retirement years? Or can it become a world-wide serious sport like Go or Chess?

I so wish I could just talk face-to-face to those mysterious lobbyists in Japan who are making or influencing the decisions of Japanese renju today. But it seems rather impossible, because they do not want to have a direct and open discussion with us.

I also wish that Mr Hayakawa could return to be a Japanese leader again. I know he cares about renju development so much and it would be so easy to communicate with him, because he is interested in (!!!) communicating with us.

I am sorry if my statement is too straight and critical. I have had these thoughts for so many years, and now seeing Jussi's article, I think it was a good timing to speak up and express my own position.

Aivo Oll
#3 2008-04-07 05:22:28

I will also speak on the behalf of myself and no one else. Yes, it was about time when someone would say it all out. Glad you did it, Ando. Only reason why the other RIF countries would/will accept this trial period is that at least the stronger players` situation gets a little bit (not sure if it will or not because unfortunately, right now we don`t have much knowledge about Yamaguchi rule since it has been overshadowed by other rules, therefore, any strong tournaments have not been held yet or at least we don`t know about it since Japanese players seem to have serious problems with getting to page)better. The main issue I see here is that RIF countries should think about all the renju players in the world and since the biggest group is beginners, this compromise does not make any sense at all. Mysterious Japanese old men > all the beginners in the world. Well, as I see it, it would be a rather stupid compromise (I would not even call it a compromise at all). Also, you can basically read the Japanese opinion (I wonder does it really represent the interests of all the players or even the majority) from RW nr. 54 and it doesn`t make much sense to me at all (maybe I am just too stupid or my English is not good enough). Only way I see right now to clean at least some of this mess is to start serious (by serious I mean that everyone would participate and they would say exactly what they feel about this situation) discussions and of course, finally there should be arranged at least a couple of serious tournaments with Yamaguchi rule (publishing the games on is a must of course). Then we will have a better picture what to do next and when to do it. If in this year`s GA in Helsinki Yamaguchi rule is accepted for 3 years as a second official rule, it will only be a benefit to some extinct for stronger players and mysterious Japanese old men. So, I urge every renju fan to ask from himself if that is the decision he/she would like to see as the outcome. If not, then raise your voice or at least do something. Just sitting around and crying about it doesn`t make a difference. I apologize beforehand for being so straightforward but that is just the kind of person I am and the current situation has troubled me for a while ( also, I would not have written this comment if I really did not care about renju and its future).

Stefan Karlsson
#4 2008-04-07 19:42:59

Thanks to Jussi, Ando and Aivo for discussing the opening rules in this blog! I think it was very nice words from Aivo stating that the reason for writing so strongly is because he really cares about the game! I would like to say some words from myself as well, also because I too really care aboth the game.

I am for the moment mainly concerned about the World Championship tournaments, which I think are losing in value and status because the current opening rules does not give enough "playable variants". We have all over the renju world had a long discussion for some years without being able to make a decision of new opening rules. There have been played some good tournaments with different opening rules, among them for instance Taraguchi rule in Tallinn Open to mention one. I have taken part there myself and I like what I have experienced there. There have also been other "test tournaments" with various opening rules that I have taken part in. I must say that common for all of them is that I would in World Championship tournament prefer whatever of those opening rules before the one we have!!!

I urge, I wish, I ask, I hope soooo much that we get a change! World Championship tournaments need a change! If we care about renju and our Championship tournaments we must have a change. The problem does not really exist within countries including national championships. There, nations can use whatever opening rule they decide themselves. The problem exist in international championships!

It is clear that Japan will only accept Yamaguchi rule, at least for the time being....

That's why I hope we can agree on Yamaguchi rule for the next World Championship! We don't need to remove the current rule. It can still be used in official tournaments.

Hopefull wishes,


Dmitry Epifanov
#5 2008-04-07 23:16:32

Dear renju colleagues,

As a referee of the Correspondence WC, I see that the number of players playing Correspondence renju is falling down while alternative tournament - WRL championship - is growing very, very rapidly. Lots of players migrate from RIF rules to WRL rules because of opening rules of RIF. I see that lots of players who participated in 2007 now play in WRL tournament...

If we will have the same opening rules next year... it is a pity, but the whole Correspondence WC may collapse.

And... I don't play on PBeM this year. With the same reason.

Best regards, Epifanov Dm.

Yuriy Tarannikov
#6 2008-04-08 12:47:22

>I urge, I wish, I ask, I hope soooo much

Stefan, you played in such many WCs that you have something like "WC dependence". In the present hard situation we must think strategically. We must not lose the future of Renju for minor improvements in few tournaments.

Stefan Karlsson
#7 2008-04-08 13:59:31

I believe there are both a short- and a long term perspective. In the long run there should be really good options. However, just now impossible to reach because we don't have Japan with us.

If we want a change in the short term perspective, we don't have any choice. And as also Epifanov clearly states, for the correspondence World Championship this is really crucial. So, I think there are a huge benefit also in the short perspective, at least for the World Championship tournaments!

#8 2008-04-08 16:15:58

Dear friends:

For the conveniences of beginners, there are two points should be thought clearly.

Point 1: Is five swap rule easier for beginners? I think it is "yes". There are two major reasons: "the transitions from the beginning to experienced games are smoother", and "beginners are much easier to find a favor move than numbers of playable moves".

Point 2: Are Yamaguchi and Jonsson rules easier for beginners since it is easier for writing Renju books about these two rules? I think it is no". Although there are several books about RIF Renju, most beginners in the past do not care about the Renju theories. You might already observe that a lot of Renju players used to play the d4/i7 opening hundreds times without knowing the sure wins in the books. It is even more interesting that the existence of too many theories is actually one major reason that prevents Renju from popularity. And it is also the reason that people want to change the opening rule.


Jussi Ikonen
#9 2008-04-08 17:00:27

Thanks guys for commenting the article. Let me make a few notes and replies for your comments at this point.

Ando: Really impressive reply. I must say you pointed out many things at your writing with the spirit I would have wanted to. If your text doesnt cause a reply from Japan I think they are not even listening or just refuse taking part with the discussion at all.

Stefan: Could you please have your blog account activated and make replies when logged in. This way we know its really you making the posts. I have seen your passion for renju and will to save WC tournaments. I believe we all share this passion. However, as Yuriy mentioned, we should look strategically more forward, instead of minor improvements just for a few tournaments. There are also really good explanations reasoning this made by Ando and Aivo. Could you please show us some similar arguments for why it would be good or better to change the WC rules for just a few years, instead of keeping the status quo? If I could say a sentence starting with I urge, I wish, I ask, I hope soooo much I would complete it with that Japan would realize the severity of their actions (continuous usage of veto and refusal for discussion). At the last chapter you mention that: If we want a change in the short term perspective, we don't have any choice. Maybe we do. Maybe that change just requires a change for the setup of the international association structure.

Please keep the discussion ongoing...

Ando Meritee
#10 2008-04-08 17:18:48

About VETO rights:

The rule investigation has become official since 2003. It is almost 5 years already. However, no successful decision has been made by RIF. It feels like it is not a democratic organization where the voice of majority is overturn by a veto of minority.

Renju is a peaceful game, not a war. RIF should not be like UN Security Council with veto rights for nuclear bomb owners. That may be the only place where veto rule is still suitable in the 21st century.

I have not really investigated the reasons why the veto rights of founder members (Japan, Sweden, USSR) were written into statutes of RIF at the first place. Maybe it was suggested by USSR delegation? USSR system itself in the past was control-based, and perhaps the choice of veto was inspired from there.

Today we live in the democratic world, even though we should respect the minority, listen the minority, and if possible, adjust decisions that could help minority voice too, but nevertheless, decisions itself should be done based on majority!

An non-profit organization of voluntary members, which wipes off the majority voice, is to be doomed in the long run. Sooner or later, it will collapse. As long as the minority/majority conflict has not occurred, the organization with the statutes flaws can have a normal life, but the day the conflict appears and the majority voice was turned down, the organization starts its way downhill.

RIF has already lost much of seriousness these years because it cannot make successful decisions. It seems to me that Japanese renju leaders do not even take RIF seriously any more. They do not talk to RIF directly. If RIF talks to them, such as asking their opinion, it will sometimes take months to reply, and even that reply comes through middle-men. It is impossible to have discussions that way.

Since RIF has no power to make majority decisions any more, and is not able to conduct fluent discussions with some member countries, it is about time to do something about it, to save the organization.

The first step, which is very urgent is to change the statutes by removing the veto rights there. Only then RIF can become a democratic organization again, where majority voice matters. I think the sooner the better. If possible, I hope RIF General Assembly can already make a decision about removing the veto from statutes this year, during TWC. Although the agenda has been published, but it is also possible to update agenda by the proposal of any members, and then voting during the beginning of meeting to accept this point into agenda of ongoing meeting.

If the decision of removing veto from statutes gets majority decision, and is then overturn by a veto, then the RIF will have no future, and we will then soon have to start thinking about alternative organizational solutions.

Somehow, I do not believe that the decision of removing veto will be blocked by veto. It would be too authoritarian, and very unsuitable to the democratic and modern world of non-profit organizations, where members have free will to participate, and re-structure themselves if necessary.

Since I only speak on my own behalf, I have no right to propose the removal of veto into this year's agenda. Only a member country or CC can do it, I think. I hope someone of them could actually do it then. I really hope.

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