Renju FAQ part 2

Other Five-In-A-Row games

A lot of new players often have their own opinion of the rules of renju. Some players are more interested in the rules and how they could be changed than to play the game. As I wrote above discussions about the rules belong to the history of Japan. Many organizations and players have had their own opinions and some groups have been created with other rules than the official renju rules. Vladimir Sapronov in Moscow suggested different as he thought easier rules and his rules got the international name "Five-In-A-Row". Therefore the name in Sweden for these rules is "Russian GoMoku (Ryskt luffarschack)".These rules usually are ment for beginners. However if you start to analyze using these rules you cannot usually use your analyzes playing renju.

The rules of Five-In-A-Row

The rules are

a. Rule 1-2 above using a renju-board of 15x15 intersections.

b. Black starts in the center intersection.

c. The 2nd move i.e. the 1st move for White can be put anywhere.

d. the 3rd move Black must make outside the zone of 5x5 intersections with the same center as the center of the whole board. The 5x5 zone is a prohibited zone.

e. No overline counts as a victory for either opponents but no overline constitutes a fault (i.e. an overline means nothing)

f. Double-threes and double-fours are allowed for both players

These rules seems simple and enough to get an equal game and Vladimir Sapronov thought so. However, after using these rules in tournaments some years most players agreed that these rules are not enough. To get equal rules to these rules also must be put additional rules. Players in Russia are testing to play with the following additional rules:

g. Black´s Choice (rule 12) are used both for the 5th and the 7th move for Black.

My opinion is that the Renju rules 1-13 is enought and all the best players of many countries are satisfied with these rules. All rules have their history also in other sports. If you want to start from the beginning and create perfect rules you have to offer many years playing with the best players in the world testing your ideas before you know if the rules are enough to get an equal game for Black and White. With the renjurules 1-13 all these experiment are already made by the best players in the world during all this century. I prefer to play with these rules that a big majority of the players of the world like. At all events the rules of renju are very easy if you compare with example many computer games. For an enthusiast of the free rules1-2 seeing the renju rules the first time they seem extensive but after playing only a few games they will often change their mind.

Other Five-In-A-Row Games

If you are a good player using rules 1-2 above or 1-13 or a-f or a-g you are in principal a strong player also in the other variations. However it is possible to add such rules to rules 1-2 above so that the good renju-player meets quite a new game. Such a game is Pente. Pente is a registered game owned by Parker Brothers and the Swedish Association has got the permission from PlayMix AB (The Swedish distributor of the game) to write about it.

The main rules of Pente

A. There are two ways to win the game:

1. Win by getting five-(or more)-in-a-row, either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, with no empty points between the stones, or

2. Win by capturing five (or more) pairs of your opponents stones.

B. Playing begins in the centre of the board and the same rule as d) above is used for the 3rd move.

C. Whenever your opponent has two stones (and only two) which are adjacent, those stones are vulnerable to capture. The pair can be captured by bracketing its two ends with your own stones.

D. A stone may legally be played onto any empty intersection, even if that point has been previously occupied, and even if forms a pair between two enemy stones. No capture is made by the enemy in that case.

E. Multiple captures are legal.

F. A Pente-board has 19 vertical and 19 horizontal lines like the Go-board.

G. White starts the game (which differs from Renju and Go).

Pente was introduced by Gary Gabrel from Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA in the end of the nineteen seventies and Pente became very popular in the USA in the first half of nineteen eighties and in the USA also World Championships were arranged, but as I know with participants only from USA. We also arranged for six years Swedish Championships. I won two times. I do not know about the popularity in USA by now. In Sweden we have a few players but very little or almost none serious competitions. Maybe we will arrange Swedish Championship again if there will be enough interested players. Among the best players of Pente in the USA there were discussions whether the rules of Pente are enough to get equal chances for White and Black. The World Champion Rollie Tash thought that White had a sure win and proposed a change of the rules. He proposed Keryo-Pente or taking up some of the rules of renju into pente.

Some books on Pente were written by Tom Braunlich, former World Champion. I also made a compendium on openings and about other literature on Pente in Swedish. In 1987 it was meant to found a World Association but of some reasons this association was never founded. I wrote the International Rules of Pente for this association. These rules were never adopted but the work of constructing them is done. If several people are interested I can publish them.

Rules of Keryo-Pente

Keryo Pente uses the same rules as regular Pente, except that

h. 3-in-a-row may also be captured in addition to regular pair captures

j. To win one must get either 5-in-a-row or capture 15 stones.


Pente is similar to a game that in Japan has the name "Ninuki-Renju" or "Chosen (Korean) Gomoku"(but as I have heard this game is not from Korea). This game has the same rules as Pente (except from the opening rule which probably has not been used). However in Ninuki-Renju some other additional rules are used. The game of Ninuki-Renju had its own organization Ninuki Renju Sha in Japan 1923-1940 but as far as we know by now this game has no association in Japan so the rules may differ from family to family. The additional rules of Ninuki-Renju are:

H. The first to form a "perfect 5" or capture five pairs is the winner.

I.Black starts as in Renju. If a five is made and after that White takes a capture and destroys the five there is no win. This is called an "unperfect 5". However the destroying of the unperfect five must be made with the move immediately following the five.

J. The first player (or sometimes both players) is not allowed to form a double-three, unless it is necessary to do so when destroying an "unperfect 5".

K. An "overline" (six or more stones in a row) does not win and remains neutral (the same rule as e above).

L. A rare case occurs when a fifth capture gives the opponent a five. This occurs when one stone is captured away from a 6-in-a-row, thus leaving 5. In this case, the game is draw.

Ninuki-Renju is mentioned at pages 50,78,85 in the before mentioned book "The Master of Go" by Yasunari Kawabata.

Funny variations

Sometimes you are not in the mood for playing a serious game. Then I know a lot of variations of the five-in-a-row games. I cannot write about all of them here but some variations I want to mention. None of the games have fixed rules. The rules are in the idea-phase where all consequences not are calculated. As a matter of fact regarding all the games mentioned in this article only renju has mature rules with one century´s experience. The first four games mentioned below I was introduced to by Nickolaj Alexandrov, Alexander Nosovsky and Sergey Zanchenko in Leningrad 1987. Usually rule 1-2 or pente is enough as a ground for the additional rules mentioned even if the game has the name renju within the name of the game.


This game was introduced by Sergey Zanchenko from Moscow. In this game you can use only the rules 1-2 with the following additional rule: An open four, i.e. a four which is not stopped by the opponent in either end is forbidden. It means that a three is not so dangerous as usual. The first time you play you will find it difficult ever to win. It is possible also to play Anti-Pente i.e. forbidden open four in combination with usual Pente rules. If in Anti-Pente the fifth capture gives yourself an open four the game is draw.

Renju with a common center stone

In this game the center stone is black when it is black´s move and white when it is white´s move. Black starts the game in the center of the board.

Renju with atomic bomb

Once in a game each player has the right to drop an atomic bomb instead of a usual move. After dropping the bomb this bomb-stone is left on the board but all other black and white to the bomb adjacent stones diagonally, horizontally or vertically must be taken away from the board. Pente with atomic bomb is also possible to play.


This game is a combination of renju, pente and reversi. Instead of capturing two stones these stones are changing colour as in reversi.

Neutral stone

This is a funny variation of pente. Each player has two neutral stones in a third colour. Each player has the right to use the neutral stone for a move instead of the ordinary stones for this player. The neutral stone is not possible to capture by neither black nor white. Combinations of the above mentioned funny games may be possible. I like best Anti-Renju Anti-Pente and Renju or Pente with atomic bomb seems interesting. As I said before there are a lot of more variations published and to find by yourself. However if you want to play seriously in a game with traditions where there are really strong players and where there are a lot of levels to reach before you can fully understand how the best players play renju is of course the only five-in-a-row game.