The Story of Fighting Spirit
By Ando Meritee, 2001

I began to play renju in 1988. Actually, I did not have any real teacher at that time who could teach me about the renju game, philosophy, spirit, theory, tactics, etc. I studied alone, or together with my friend Ants. Since Estonia was still a member of former Soviet Union at that time, we joined the tournaments in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Latvia and learned from the strong players there.
It was quite interesting that most of the players in Soviet Union renju community seemed to have similar play style at that time. People followed Japanese theory without investigating the reasons of why the moves were played that way. So did I. Having the collection of Sagara articles that was translated into Russian, I used the variants in my games. Usually, I did not know the essence of opening variants very well at that time. What I could do was to learn them and memorize them as they were shown. But what surprised me at that time was the low fighting spirit in tournament games. Indeed, I was too young to know much about it, but yet I felt strange to see how hundreds of games ended with draw one after another. It made me feel this is a part of renju, and this is a kind of style.
Some players even proved that draws can lead to good place in the tournament. They showed that passive and careful style can bring more success than fighting and brave style. And people had to agree, the scores of those pragmatic players where higher than others.

In Summer 1990, I was a member of the Baltic team in Soviet Union Team Championship. One thing there I never forget. It was my game with Voskanyan. I was the 4th member of our team playing on the 4th table. I was white against him. After black attack had failed, he offered a draw. The position seemed rather equal. Black had even still a little attacking power left, but it was not enough for win. Voskanyan was a famous player at that time, with big experience. So, I wanted to accept the draw. However, since it is a team tournament, I went to ask my team captain Aldis Reims first. The draw would have been very satisfying result actually. Our team was leading anyway.
Aldis Reims said to me: "Sure, you can decide by yourself about draw or continue playing. But, if you feel you cannot lose that game, then there is no point to make a draw".
So simple words. But so true. So clear. I walked back to my game board, and looked at my game with the new sight. Black had failed the attack, and althought black was still active, there was no risk that I would lose the game. Indeed, why should I make the draw then, I asked myself. My opponent is a famous player and strong one, but the words of my team captain just kept ringing in my head - "there is no point to make a draw if you see you cannot lose that game". I declined the draw offer with a little worry in my heart. But as the game continued, I got more confidence, and I won that game soon.

The draw game became win just because of one wise sentence of our captain. I learned a lot from this. I suddenly realized that there is a fighting spirit in renju. Something that I had searched from that game for a long time.
I fought well through that hard tournament and got 9.5 pts from 11. It was a shocking result to me as well as to others. Especially, considering that I had only played renju for 2 years by that time. I became a fighter, although my knowledge perhaps was not that good. I turned many game endings to my favour and won them. Some even after 100 moves.

I remember making couple of draws without fighting in my life. One of them was the Qualification tournament to WC in Arjeplog in 1993. I had agreed to make a draw with Ants. It was based on our friendship. At that time, it was quite normal, and people did that often.
But from that day, in 1993, something felt really wrong. I guess both Ants and me felt guilty for making a draw without fight. Of course, the game in A-final of WC in 1993 was already full fight for life and death between me and Ants. I blamed myself later about the draw in QT.
Both Ants and me realized the mistake. However, at that time, it was probably just me and him who really started to get the feeling of fighting spirit for real. Nobody else except us would have felt quilty for making a draw without fight.

Since that day, I never made any draw without fighting in my life. I had learned a lesson how disrespectful a fake draw can be for renju. Indeed, I was very young, and I had no teachers telling me about the philosophy of renju. I had to discover all by myself. Believe, it is not easy. If you grow up and study renju in the environment where the low fighting spirit and agreement draws are natural everyday things, it is really hard to open your mind and discover a new feeling about renju. I am glad I did. And since that day, I decided to develop this philosophy, and teach that to others.

One year later, in 1994, the First Team European Championship was held. Since Estonia did now show up with full team and nor did Ukraine, our teams were united 2+2 and we named it an "international team". Ukrainian players (Gulyayev and Segal) made their best result ever!
How did that happen? I remember, in one game the Ukrainian team mate came to me (I was the captain of our team) and said, the opponent had offered a draw. His opponent was a strong and famous player.
Without looking the situation on his board, I told him "Sure, you can decide by yourself about draw or continue playing. But, if you feel you cannot lose that game, then there is no point to make a draw". See, I told him the same thing that Reims had told me 4 years before! The Ukraine team mate sat back to his seat with a fear in his heart because the opponent was very strong, but he remembered my words. He continued fighting. I know that the Ukrainian player used to be from the generation of players who easily made draws in the past. He was now in the new situation. Maybe it was the first time for him ever to reject a draw against stronger player and continue fighting. Well, guess what. He won! Just like I won against Voskanyan 4 years before. The fighting spirit won the fame and fear.

But in order to prove my words, I had to show my team mates the example of fighting spirit. I remember, before the beginning of the tournament, our team gethered together and we talked about the tactics of coming tournament. I told them, half smiling half seriously: "Lets have a deal, I will win all 10 games, and you will win enough games to bring the 1st place." They laughed, and agreed. Of course, they did not believe it. Nor did I, in fact. But, I wanted to believe.
That night, I did not sleep well. I thought deeply of what I had told my team mates. Our team was weaker than many other teams in that tournament. The chance to get to top 3 was small, and the chance to be the champion even maller. But I knew that with true fighting spirit we can do it, even we are weaker. I decided, I will do whatever I can, to get those 10 wins out of 10 games. And next morning, I told the team mates the same. And I reminded them their promise about taking at least as many points as it takes to give us the 1st place. And believe it or not. It happened just like this.
I got 10 wins out of 10, and they made their successful tournament of the lifetime by beating almost everyone, too.
What was the key of our success? We, maybe the 5th ranked team, got the 1st place. How did it happen? It was the fighting spirit in our team and the true faith that helped us to overplay our opponents.

The Ukraine players had got a first touch with "finghting spirit". They were amazed, and they could not believe their success. It seemed unbelievable.
But it is all true, and it is recorded in history. Anyone can find the games of that tournament in any of databases.

Until now, I have been the pioneer of the "fighting spirit" philosophy in renju. My good friend Ants is the same kind of fighter. He fights in his every game and does not accept any fake draw. Ants is teaching this to his Estonian students too.
As you know, Ants even wrote a good article about Draws in last Renju World magazine.

Now it is year 2001. We have a great Renjuclass with almost 100 students from all over the world. The idea of the class is not just to teach openings. The idea is to make all of you the true renju knights, the fighters who dedicate their energy and efforts to get the best of the game, no matter how strong is the opponent. I am waiting the day when the true renjuclass figher will get the title of The World Champion. I have so much faith in you!!

Ando Meritee