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  Jussi Ikonen's Blog  
My opinions about the rule change2008-04-06 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 don’t 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 – that’s it!) second, it doesn’t 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. Jonsson’s 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 don’t 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 don’t understand that how this course of action will ease those players confusion. Isn’t 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.  

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