Interview with Ando Meritee

By Ants Soosõrv

Congratulations, Ando! How does it feel to get this title for the 3rd time?
Thank you! Externally I am calmer than before, but deep in my heart I am very happy and satisfied. I got the result I had always dreamed of. I feel now that the 3rd title has given me the sure champion status. We all remember the times in 1993 when I was the champion but few people really believed in it.

Are you satisfied with your games? Can you play better?
Yes, I am. I am satisfied with most of my games in conceptional point of view. I had prepared for the games by studying each opponent particularly, and planned my opening tactics. The theoretical part was very good. I got many lucky wins thanks to my homework. I would call my games in this tournament as an "attacking wave". It is very unusual for a big tournament that I kept attacking in every game almost from the beginning regardless of the color of the stones. Perhaps it is related to my personality. I like speed, movement, force. On the other hand, I really missed long fighting games, full of creativity and headaches, full of attack and defense. I did not have much chance to enjoy it. That reduces my satisfaction about my games a bit. Can I play better? I think I have given out a lot of myself. This tournament was maybe the peak of my renju career. I do not know if I have any power inside me to do it any better than I did this time. But I know I can play better in the aspect of beauty and fighting part of renju. The more I play the more I enjoy renju. Renju is like a wine that gets better in years (remark: actually I do not drink wine, but I believe what people say about it). And people do enjoyable things better than the ones they dislike. So, probably I will be a better player in the future, too.

Do you have any motivation for the future? For example, would you like to win 10 World Champion titles in a row?
Honestly, I do not have strong motivations for the future as a player. In fact, I did not have motivation for this time either, except that I wanted to show my students the happiness and beauty of renju, to encourage them in their rough renju career. The World Champion title of 2003 is not my goal anymore. I will focus on my renju class and writing books instead. My biggest dream is that my student will get the World Champion title some day. That is my motivation that keeps me working hard on my renju projects.

Who do you think will be the closest competitors for you in the next years?
It is a difficult question. I do not see any real "danger" from anyone right now. Maybe it is because I am not so worried about my performance in tournaments anymore, and I just enjoy my tournament games without worrying about the titles. The closest competitors may come from younger generation, the players who are about the same age as me or even younger. I do not expect any surprises from renju veterans, although I cannot be sure of that (look at Igor Sinyov who has suddenly risen to the top of the renju world in past 2-3 years having played renju over 20 years!). Shigeru Nakamura will always be a dangerous competitor to anyone. He is the strongest competitor for sure.

How long do you think will the present renju rules last after so successful World Championship?
Being one of the serious pioneers of pushing the new rules several years ago, I have stepped back a bit, and let others speak and discuss about it. In the past 4 years people have not heard any comment from me regarding renju rules. At the moment the opening theory has proved quite equal chances for black and white in d3, d8, d11 openings. There were many games in the World Championship where the player spent lots of time trying to decide whether to swap color or not. It shows that these openings will keep up the present rules strongly for quite a long time. Therefore, it is not easy to push the new rules into effect. I do not think anything will happen in next 4 years. Besides, I guess that if the rules will be changed some day, then the changes will not be big. There will probably be a small change of opening rule which would create more playable opening variants. I have no idea what rule exactly will be adopted.

What do you think of Japanese girls?
My first reaction was "no comment" assuming that the question might provoke and indicate my likes or dislikes towards Asian girls. But on the second thought I did not mind giving an opinion as a man about Japanese girls. I did not have much time to meet or talk to females in Japan but I still got an impression of them. In my opinion Japanese girls are very positive, smiling, friendly, cute and smart. They may pretend to be shy and silly, but in fact they are strong and smart. I am just surprised that there are not many female renju players in Japan. In fact, we have only heard of Tatsutomi family daughters playing renju in Japan.

Are you satisfied with your renjuclass students' performance?
Yes, absolutely!! My students showed better games and results than I had expected. Indeed, I cannot take much credit from my students' success in the tournament because some of them had only been members of renjuclass for a very short time and I did not have much chance to teach them. However, I was happy and proud of them. I am happy for Kim (Korea) and Lin (Taiwan) success in International Qualification Tournament as they reached the A-final. Besides that, I am proud of Kusajima (Japan) who got the 2nd place in very tough B tournament in this WC, only letting Hasegawa (9dan) be ahead of him. Also Samotsvetov played very well in his first tournament in 14 years! Excellent results! This was my best memory of the Kyoto World Championship.

What else do you want to do for renju in the future?
As I mentioned before, I will not focus too much on my renju career as a player. I will put my efforts into renjuclass and write some renju books with different topics and for different levels. My wish is to share everything I have learned. I believe this will help the progress of renju in the world. It is naive but a beautiful dream.

What and when is your next competition? How often will you play in the future?
I do not know for sure. If possible then I will play in the Team World Championship next year. Our goal is to bring the Team World Champion title to Estonia. We (Estonians) all dream of it. But it will be really difficult to beat Russians and Japanese (if they will come with the strong team) I will not play very often in the future. I think 1-3 tournaments are enough for me every year. I do not have much time to be an active player. Renjuclass takes a lot of time.

Is it possible to get RIF rating up to 3000? Would you like to try it?
Haha. Speculation about the points?! It think my current rating (2854) is fair enough. I will let others chase the 3000.

What do you think about women renju? Do you see any female player who might play in A tournament in nearest future?
I think women renju is wonderful. It is so cute and sweet to see those ladies playing renju so seriously and with dedication. I am sure all the players of AT enjoyed watching the fights in WT. Even though the level of women is not very high, they are catching up fast. It is not easy to say whether a female player will play in AT in 2003 or 2005, but everything is possible. You have got to watch out for those Asian female players, especially from Korea and Taiwan!

What do you think about Sushkov's play in this World Championship?
I predicted that he would get either 2nd or 3rd place after knowing that Kawamura and Nakamura will not play, and Hasegawa did not pass the QT. Now there was nobody left to stop that young and talented Sushkov who had prepared so well for this tournament. Although he had luck in some of his games, he did very well, and his games showed his skill and strength. If we speculate a bit further, then we may say that if Sushkov had won the game against me then he would have become the World Champion! Therefore, I give my great respect to him for his hard work and confidence that he showed during the tournament. If he will continue studying renju as seriously as before then he may reach all his goals some day. I sincerely wish him success for his future!