Interview with Oleg Bulatowsky, Gomoku World Championship 2019 Silver Medalist

When did you start to play? How is your rutin of studying gomoku usually?

I did start playing in autumn 2008 when a student buddy of mine showed me an app in Russian Facebook. He was proud of his rank there and I defeated him 4-2 when we played (well not so great, but still a nice result for a newbie). I liked the game so I continued playing there slowly climbing the skill ladder, participating in local tournaments and exploring standard rule theory with a group of guys (we called ourselves Free Renjuists United haha), and it all rolled on..
I don’t really have any study rutin, I’m more of a practice guy, so it’s more like play more, think more, put effort and succeed. I do enjoy gomoku theory, but more as a developer person. As you may know i develop my own software for storing/analyzing gomoku data, so while my EL teammates like to do the actual analysis, I enjoy improving the software, creating new opportunities and features and making the entire process more enjoyable for them. In the end, I always end up indulging in this process myself, especially when I realize that the tournament starts tomorrow and I have no clue what opening to choose against my opponent 🙂

What job do you do, what hobbies do you have?

I work in IT field, mostly development with a bit of involvement in leading and management. Considering hobbies, I do like anything involving any kind of mental or physical activity, the more the better. This can mean cycling for a week straight crossing countries aaaand the next week programming something without ever thinking “ehhh man stop! chill!”. Some people say I’m just unable to rest and this is probably the normal state of mind for me. I do like travel a lot or hiking, as well as reading books or walking around the city aimlessly.

What were your expectations before the event?

I did expect to end up just below the qualified top 5 (since only 5 people get to the finals out of qualification), as usual, and I wasn’t too far on that prediction. It took 3 people’s bad luck to get me in: Edvard not winning his game, Boneslash choosing color in Kozhin’s scheme and loosing (I was devastated to see that, thinking it’s over, he knows the surewin! And was so confused and relieved to see the dude lose). And of course poor Kozhin getting 0-point guy that screwed up his coefficient (otherwise he would’ve been higher than me). Unlike almost ALL the participants of the guessing competition, I did expect to perform nice and solid in the finals, maybe ending up as 6-th or 7-th place with 5.5 points. I’m a very unstable player, but my performance directly depends on motivation to win and amount of time for the game, and oh boy the final tournament gives you plenty of both.

Who did you consider to be your main competitors?

In the gomoku world, Gergo Toth is the person that scares me the most game-wise. His theory knowledge is astounding and his patience in counting each possible attack and defense just deserves silent praise. Playing against him always feels like crossing the mine field, wrong-move-you-dead. I would mention Zoli here as well, but our live game history is just weird, having 1-1 in each others schemes and 0-1 in this competition due to my terrible move choice, so probably I would need more long-time games against him to fully feel it.

Are you satisfied?

Well, easy to guess 🙂

You are active in gomoku community in organising level as well. You helped to fix and in the official meeting were also sharing your opinion in different matters concerning the development of gomoku&renju games.

Would there be any possibility in your opinion to open up a gomoku club for children in future lets say in some local chess house or hobby centre? If the Renju Development Fund and RIF team would bring in boards, material, motivation and if RIF would initiate official discussions with the local municipality, chess house, hobby centre to create new room and we would provide the coach with proper certification. Do you think it would be impossible idea in Ukraine?

I don’t think that’s impossible, it just takes some years plus enthusiastic and dedicated people like, for example, Ants, to make such ideas thrive. I’m not sure that you can just put anybody into such position and just get that.

Which were the most difficult and interesting games?

  1. My game against Peroxid.
    I opened scheme and got some crazy scematic swap-2 (really nice job, Stepan!). The program suggests K8/M9 for white, but in no way these are just easy wins. I choose more ‘creative’ 6-th move and it all was a counting game after that, since each little mistake in such positions is detriemental. I6 (should have played I7) was my only mistake in this game, I think, since black move G10 and win. That’s not an easy one, I couldn’t see that branch and felt safe playing there, but Stepan responded with losing move instead.
  1. My game against Martez.
    He opened his favourite style of open with two black stones arranged on one side of the board and white on another. Before our game I tried to study these kind of openings and felt confident enough to choose the color. My preference was black, since usually (unless there is some big trick) there is some way for black to build and build and build, while white need to find good defences. I liked my position after 7-th move (and according to Martez I did choose the optimal branch), but after that I missed few better plans, instead going for some direct offensive (for example, instead of H10 play I11+H10, or instead of G9 play something more positional like D9 or E9). After my 17th I had to choose whether I try going for the win or play calm, and of course I chose the former with G9+K11. I did not see any good counter-attacks for him, but there was, ending with 28th H7 (I totally did not see that move). After that it was his gradual win.
  1. My game against Gergo.
    He opened a scheme, and I swaped2. Before the game I spent some time studying Bromozel-style type swap2’s (preparing for my last opponent). He likes converting opponent opens into his favourite Renju 5D opening, so not thinking too much I did the same. The result was a rather nice equal-looking position, and Gergo spent a lot of time trying to choose optimal moves. His effort was not enough, unfortunately. While there where some better plans ending up as his advantage, he choose offensive branch that ended in a deadend, with me having a VERY good position after his 23th. From there I managed to build a winning combination, but the result of the game could have still been different if Gergo wasn’t in a time trouble without any ability to count the best possible defences.

What do you most enjoy about gomoku?

  • The community is not that big and commersialized, so I definitely like this more club-like feel of it.
  • It is a nice balance between ability to actually achieve some high results and having that result mean something (you don’t have to be a full-time child genius to perform on top level in gomoku, but the overall player level is high nevertheless making that task still far from trivial)
  • Considering the game itself, I like that the skill is far more important than the theory knowledge. Preparation helps, but your main field of action is always this particular game that you are playing right now, and it’s result depends almost solely on your decision right here right now.

If you could play another sport what would it be?

I don’t really know, I like a lot of activities, but not sure if I’d like to join the comtetitive side of any of these. For example, I enjoy cycling long distance, but with my own pace, not racing. Hmm, maybe writing? Oh, but that’s not a sport and I’m bad at it anyways.

What was your favorite TV show when growing up?

I have always been a cartoon child, and grew up into a cartoon dude, so anything animated. Anyways, I also really enjoyed these different old sci-fi series in childhood, like “Spellbinder – Land of the Dragon Lord”, “Farscape”, “Sliders”, etc.

What character would you like to play? 🙂

Uhm.. Mage? Sniper? Archer? I guess anything that helps me to kill baddies before they reach me haha