The rules and the history of Renju and other five-in-a-row games


The basic "completely free" rules of all five-in-a-row games

Rule 1. Play alternates between one player who starts the game (in Renju called Black because he is playing with black stones in the intersections of a board with fifteen vertical and fifteen horizontal lines) and another player (usually called White because he is playing with white stones). The renju-board has the limits 15x15 intersections but long ago the board had the same size as the Go-board i.e. it had 19x19 intersections. It is also possible to play writing crosses and circles in the squares of a piece of paper (usually a paper made for mathematical calculations) and then the ground to play on has no special limits because it is possible to add a new paper to the first and make the ground infinite as was usual in Sweden when we did not know about serious playing. Of course it is only possible to put the mark or the stone on an empty place.

Rule 2. The first player to get an unbroken line of five stones (marks) whether vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, wins the game.


In Japan they played with these rules on a 19x19 Go-board since many years and maybe since about 700 A.D. when Go was introduced in Japan from China. The game was often called Go-moku but other names are known for example Kakugo, Gomoku-narabe, Itsutsu-ishi, gobang, morphion. Scientists in Japan are discussing if the very old game kakugo mentioned in a writing from the year 100 A.D. is a five-in-a-row game. When the first book on our game was published in the year of 1858 A.D. the game was called kakugo. The ancient Chinese game of wutzu is also considered to be the prototype of the Five-In-A-Row games. However I think and also other players that the rules are so simple that it is possible that people from different parts of the world may have discovered the game without knowing each other and maybe on other planets Universe they are also playing the game with the rules 1-2 above. As a matter of fact it is difficult to find many other games that probably are played on other planets. I doubt if I think of chess or Go and probably they do not play Renju exactly as we do either.

When the players got stronger they found that playing with the above mentioned "completely free" rules was in great favour of Black (the beginner of the game). It is also proved that there is a sure win for Black when playing with "completely free" rules

6 December 1999 Renju became 100 years old. The name of renju has a beautiful sound and it means five pearls in a row. Goraku Takayama, who was the first permanent Japanese Meijin, named this game "Renju" and made information in Yorozu-Chouhou newspaper 6 December 1899.

In the year of 1899 the Japanese players also began to play more organized. 1899 they tried to play with forbidden double-threes for both players to make it more difficult to win. To make a double-three is to make two threes with the same move. I refer in the future to these figures

To play in 1 is to make a double-three. It is in principal impossible to stop it if the opponent only has to defend himself. Playing with forbidden double-threes for both players is still the only additional rule that is usual for family games of Gomo-ku in Japan. However in the year of 1903 the rule that only Black had restrictions was adopted i.e. only for Black the double-three became not allowed.

In 1912 it was decided that Black will immediately lose if he makes a double-three, even if it is as a defence. In 1916 the rule that Black will lose the game if he makes an overline i.e. a row with more than five stones. Usually an overline consists of 6 stones in a row. To play in 5 is to make an overline. 1918 it was decided that Black could not make a 4-3-3 i.e. a four and with the same move a double-three. However making exactly five-in-a-row is never forbidden i.e. 5-3-3 is allowed even if there were suggestions to adopt such a rule especially about 1918.

In the first half of our century one great player where appointed Meijin for lifetime (Now the Meijin of Japan is the player who wins the yearly final match including 5 games and with the time limit 5 hours/player and game.) The 1st permanent meijin was Takayama Goraku.The 3rd permanent meijin Takagi Rakazan was also a very good Go-player and his dream was to spread Renju outside Japan (You can read about him in the famous book of Nobel prize winner Yasunari Kawabata ." The Master of Go" , Penguin Modern Classics, pages 31,33,78). He proposed two new rules. 1931 he proposed the change from Go-board with 19x19 intersections to Renju-board with only 15x15 intersections. He also proposed a double-four (a move in 3) to be forbidden for Black. These suggestions were discussed for many years and a split into several organizations using different rules occured. The purpose of all suggestions to changes was of course to reach equal winning chances for both Black and White.

In 1966 all the main organizations joined and created Nihon Renju Sha which is still the Renju Federation of Japan. At that time also some opening rules were decided.

Rules of Renju

Besides the first 2 mentioned rules the following rules are used in Renju

Rule 3. Black is prohibited from making a double three, a double four and an overline. If Black makes one of these patterns either accidentally or by being forced to, he loses the game.

Rule 4. White is not subject to any restrictions and may make double threes, double fours, and overllines, an overline having the same value for him as a five.

Rule 5. If neither player has succeeded in making a row of five stones when the board has been played out, the game is called a draw. It is also possible to agree on draw.

Observe that the double-three is counted as a forbidden double three only if it is in principal not possible to stop for the opponent who has nothing to attack with and who is only playing defensive. For example if there is only space for 5 stones in a line because of playing in a corner it is not necessary to stop a three on this line. The opponent is able to stop the other three and black cannot win with the three limited within 5 intersections. A move in 7 or 15 is not making a forbidden double-three because if the vertical three will be stopped it is not possible to win making the other three to a four. A move in 9 is not a double three because if the vertical three will be stopped it is not possible to win making a move in 11 because making a move in 11 is making a double-four which is not allowed.

Now your questions probably are: How is it possible for Black to win with all these restrictions. As a matter of fact there is still a sure win for Black and Black can always win making a four-three. A move in 13 is a winning move for Black. Because of this in renju we have also opening rules.

Opening rules:

Rule 6. In starting the game, a tentative Black, and subsequently a tentative White, are decided between each other.

Rule 7. The tentative Black plays the 1st move on the center intersection.

Rule 8. The tentative Black also decides where the next move for White should be put. This White´s 1st move and the 2nd move in the game must be played direct or indirect. "Direct" means a move made horizontal or vertical to the 1st move and in direct connection with the 1st move. "Indirect" means a move made diagonal to the 1st move and in direct connection with the 1st move.

Rule 9. The tentative Black plays the 3rd move on an empty place within a zone of 5x5 intersection with the same center as the center intersection of the whole board.

Rule 10. Black has decided where the first three stones, two for Black and one for White, should be put. Seeing the opening pattern that tentative Black has choosen, the tentative White has the right to change sides. If he prefers Black, he changes sides, gives white stones to his opponent, and receives black stones. If, however, he prefers to continue the game with white stones, nothing happens and he simply plays the 4th move.

Rule 11. White is free to play the 4th move wherever he wants.

Rule 12. Black´s Choice. Black has to offer his opponent two possible moves (he deems promising for himself). The two moves must be equal in all respects if you look to the situation in the center of the board. From the two alternatives Black has provided, White tries to evaluate which of the two will be more advantageous to himself and tells Black to make the move he (White) prefers.

Rule 13. There are no restrictions on the sixth and later moves.

The rules 1-13 are the renju rules of the Renju International Federation (RIF).

Supplemental rules: In "The international rules of renju" , the offical rules of Renju International Federation there are also for example rules for recording of the game, use of clock, late arival, the behaviour of the players, organizer of a competition. Rules for time limit and tiebreaking rules differs because of the situation for each special tournament.
Do you want to see the official rules of Renju International Federation?

Comments to the opening rules

Rule 9:Before this sofisticated opening rules were adopted only 12 x2 openings were legal for the first 3 moves. Maybe you will find a presentation of the renju rules with only these 12x2 openings. However, with the present rules it is possible to use all 13x2 openings within a zone of 5x5. Mainly because it makes it easier to explain the rules RIF decided this change of the possible opening patterns.
Rule 12: The two moves must not be equal in all respects. It means that the 2 moves must not give two equal situations after 5 moves.

With the sofisticated rules 1-13, the situation automatically will be even for both players if they want to and if they want to play more strategic and if some of the players want to he can make the situation in advantage for his opponent because he wants to play more with tactics and hopes to lead his into a very complicated situation where the opponent will make som mistake.

Handicap rules for beginners

When you are a beginner you do not need all these rules. You can play with rules 1-2 for a long time without realizing that Black has a sure win. In my club in Jönköping, Sweden we always let the beginners play with only rule 1-2 and when they play with the experienced renjuplayers they will always start the game i.e. play with the black stones. After some time when they have become better players they will begin to win also against experienced players and now it is time for them to play with the complete rules. We are always playing with chess clocks and if we are playing blitz games for the beginners we use he following time rules: Two games are played in each match. The beginner has 5 minutes a game and the experienced player has 30 seconds in the 1st game and 15 seconds in the 2nd game. The experienced player must win both games to win the match. Otherwise the beginner is the winner of the match.

More history

On the 2nd of February 1958 the Swedish Association "Svenska Luffarschackforbundet" was founded. From 1961 this association has arranged Swedish Championship and from 1961 till 1980 the rules were the completely free rules 1-2 and the were played with crosses and circles on a piece of paper. In the beginning of January 1975 for the first time I met Alf Dahlgren who organized competitions in southern Sweden without knowledge about the Swedish Association. I had played the game before but nerver in any organized form. Alf Dahlgren inspired me to play more seriously. In november Alf Dahlgren met the chairman of the Swedish Association, Bertil Bokelius. and Dahlgren´s playing friends joined the Association. I played for the 1st time in Swedish Championship 1988.

In May 1978 the first international match between Sweden and Denmark took place. The danish player Torben Zahle informed Alf Dalgren about the existence of the game in Japan. I made some tries to reach the Japanese players and finally I succeeded through a Swedish Go-player who gave me address to Mr Bozulich at Ishi Press (the Go books publishing firm). Mr Bozulich gave me the address to Nihon Renju Sha.

In august 1977 Mr Valdimir Sapronov from Russia visited Osaka in Japan. During his visit met Mr Kosho Hayakawa in Kyoto. After coming home to Russia Mr Sapronov wrote in a Russian newspaper about Renju and three University students answered and together these four player introduced renju in former Soviet Union.

The three university students were Alexander Nosovsky (Now he is the chief-editor of Renju World - The International Magazine of the Renju International Federation), Nikolai Alexandrov (Now he is living in USA and recently he informed in some of the Internet Newsgroup about "The First North American Open Renju Championship by e-mail") and Slava Bruver.

In December 1982 for the 1st time Japanese players visited Sweden and participated in the tournament "Swedish Open International Championship of Renju". In 1983 I was the first Swedish player to visit Japan.

In the summer 1985 two Swedish players Peter Jonsson and Jan Palmgren took part in a renju tournament in Moscow.

On the 8th of August 1988 in Stockholm, Sweden The Renju International Federation (RIF) was created. The 1st World Championship of Renju took place in Kyoto, Japan 1989. The second World Championship was organized in Moscow 1991 and the third World Championship was played in Arjeplog, in the north of Sweden 1993. In August 1995 the 4th World Championship took place in Tallinn, Estonia. The winner of the 1st and 2nd World Championship was Shigeru Nakamura from Tokyo, Japan. The winner of the 3rd World Championship was Ando Meritee from Tallinn, Estonia and the winner of the 4th World Championship was Norihiko Kawamura, Japan. Many other international tournaments have been organized since the start of RIF.

The latest results you will find from the RIF first page.

The present number of members RIF and the statues you will find in the RIF Official documents.

Do you want more information about renju?

If you just read the first page of the RIF Web site you will get a short introduction including links to more information. However below is also a short introduction.

There are a more than 2000 writings about renju. Most of them are of course written in japanese and several in russian. Even if you cannot read the text you can understand the games. There are also some writings in English and Swedish.

If you want to read more about renju you are able to subscribe to Renju World

It is also possible to subscribe to Renju Sekai (issued every month) which is written in Japanese. Write to Hideki Nara in Japan, e-mail:,if you are interested.

It is possible to subscribe without paying to my information about news in our renju world "Renju Newsletter". This letter will be sent via Internet e-mail whenever I have interesting short news to inform about. The first issue I sent in the beginning of January 1995. Please write to me if you are interested: Tommy Maltell

If you can read Swedish you may join the Swedish Association and you will receive the magazine "Fem I Rad". Please, write to Stefan Karlsson ( som kan upplysa om medlemsavgiften. Medlemsavgiften kan sättas in på postgiro 929081-8. Glöm ej att ange din vanliga postadress. Most parts of "Fem I Rad" will be possible to reach from this site.

From RIF you can buy a lot of printings. Please, write to Stefan Karlsson ( if you want to buy some of the printings mentioned below. A list in Swedish with more printings is also available. 

1."Renju for Beginners". In English by Andrej Sokolsky and Alexandr Nosovsky. The latest version of this book (in a zipped file) is now possible to download from Alexander Nosovsky´s Web site.

2."From the opening to the middle of the game" by Shun Sagara, Japan and translated into English. If you want to study opening theory this is an interesting writing. Price including international freight:US $ 15.

6. If you are from Sweden we have other information in Swedish. T.ex. finns att låna på svenska bibliotek Tommy Maltells kompendium "Hur man vinner i luffarschack - Hur man spelar renju" från 1980. Där kan man läsa om hur man vinner i vanligt luffarschack.

If you are interested in a computer game program playing very good with free rules + rule e mentioned below try Renju For Windows. You can buy if from RIF. The price without freight is SEK 120.

Alexander Nosovsky (e-mail: can offer you another playing program "Solver" for DOS or for Windows and Renbase  - a program including many games played through the years. You can use the program to print out the games.

Another DOS-program with more than 25000 games included you can buy from Igor Sinyov, Russia, e-mail: There is a free version of his program with 3559 games included. You can get it here. After starting this program press F1,F8,F3 and browse with the arrows between the games played by the élite. Many games from all three world championships will be found there and among them all games played by the world champions.

Another program is
RenLib - Renju Library program (freeware) made by Frank Arkbo, Uppsala, Sweden. It is very useful when analyzing.

More information about the oldest history of our game is published in the magazine Renju World, pages 18-22: "Searching for the of renju. Chapter 1. The root". If you are seriously interested, please, let me know and I can send you a copy by fax or by usual letter. In the 100th Memorial Issue of Syuyu, the organ of Kyoto Renju Kai , January 1980 you can read about the history of renju in Japan in Japanese. This book maybe could be ordered from the Vice President of RIF, Mr Kosho Hayakawa, Fax Japan 075-525-0615.

Other rules

On a special page you can read more about other Five-In-A-Row games and different variants of the rules.