Week 19 – Omok (Renju/Gomoku)

Total Time – As much as you like (or in my case, way more than 5 hours)

Total Cost – Free

On a normal evening last week my girlfriend and I were each taking part in our normal evening hobbies. I was settling in to what was probably my third straight hour of Rocket League 1v1 games, and Nayoung was chatting away with her friends back home in Korea on Kakao Talk. After a few quiet minutes she looked up from her phone and said something to the effect of, “You know, we don’t have many similar hobbies.” Fixated on my game, I passively suggested “Why don’t you play games with me?”. “Okay” she replied, “how about Omok?”

If you grew up in a Western country like me, chances are good that you’ve never heard of Omok before. Or Renju, or Gomoku, which are all different names for what is essentially the same game of “connect five” played on a Go board.

A bit apprehensive of learning a new game, I suggested we play Chess as it was likely much more of an international game. Nayoung agreed, so we downloaded a chess app on my phone after unsuccessfully attempting to locate a chessboard in our house. I handed her the phone to make the first move as white, and she asked me “which way does the horse move?”

Needless to say, I laid down a chessic beating on Nayoung. I’m far from a Chess master, but having played on and off since elementary school I had enough Chess experience to make the gap between our skill levels far too big for what we could consider a mutually interesting hobby.

“How about we try Omok?” She suggested.

“Won’t we have the same problem as Chess?”

“No, Omok is a simple game.”

Knowing I was likely to get my ass handed to me, I begrudgingly agreed to learn Omok and downloaded the app Dr. Gomoku from the app store. We launched the app, joined a room where we could play each other from our own phones (though the app does have a feature to play 2 players on the same phone) and got started.

Much to my surprise, Omok (the Korean name for the game, which I will be using in this article) felt very familiar to me even though I’d never before played it. Omok is played on a Go board with the familiar white and black stones, black goes first, and the object of the game is to connect 5 stones of your color in a single unbroken line (including diagonally). That’s pretty much all there is to it. Incredibly simple to pick up but far from easy to master.

Needless to say, Nayoung kicked my ass the first four or five games we played. Once I got the hang of some of the basic strategies, however, I was able to luck myself into my first victory after only fifteen or so minutes of play thanks to a simple mistake by Nayoung (something which likely would have taken Nayoung months to do against me at Chess given our current difference in skill).

After my first victory I was hooked. I insisted we keep playing until I won again, which took much longer to achieve than the first one. We stayed up an hour or two past when I should have gone to sleep for work, having fallen victims to “one more game” disease. Over the course of the next few weeks Nayoung and I have easily played 100 or more games of Omok against each other, on top of the 100 games I’ve personally played on Dr. Gomoku’s online play system.

omok.png

Having not played my first game of Omok until a few weeks ago I was quite pleased with my overall 58% win rate after 100 games. I was the only American player I ever saw online, with about 90% of my opponents being Korean and the rest a mixture of Japanese and Singaporean. I tried several times to find something of an advanced or intermediate guide to the game of Omok, something which went beyond describing the basic rules and actually went into concepts like openings and end game strategy, but was unable to find anything quite like I was looking for. The best I was able to find was the guide Renju for Beginners, which was certainly useful but was overall poorly formatted and geared towards players slightly more advanced than myself.

Seeing as the Omok guide I was looking for didn’t exist when I was just starting out, I took it upon myself to write a true beginners guide to the game of Omok, my new favorite strategy game. Enjoy it here!

Cheers,

Aleco Pors

 

 

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