Exhibition matches between some of Korea’s top professional Go players and some of its rising stars were held in Seoul from January 11-13, 2013.
The top pros
They’re all top Korean players, so I don’t think I need to introduce them in detail (you can click on the links above to learn more about them).
Byun was born in 1997, and became a pro in early 2012.
Shin Minjoon and Shin Jinseo
Shin Minjoon was born in 1999 and Shin Jinseo was born in 2000.
They both became pros in the new Prodigy Pro Draft qualifier for ‘young talented students under 15′, in July 2012.
Prodigies go head to head
There were two rounds of the event this time.
The first round involved matches between the young players, who were selected as ‘rising stars’ in Korea.
In the first two rounds, both the Shins beat Byun, and Shin Jinseo defeated Shin Minjoon in the final, to win the event.
He was the youngest player in this event, but he beat the other two promising players.
Shin Minjoon likes fighting, and he’s good at managing complicated games.
On the other hand, Shin Jinseo, while also fond of fighting, likes territorial games, and his style of play is more flexible.
Results from the first round
- 1st match: Shin Minjoon (W) defeated Byun Sangil by resignation in 222 moves, on January 4, 2013.
- 2nd match: Shin Jinseo (B) defeated Byun Sangil by resignation in 137 moves, on January 5.
- Final match: Shin Jinseo (B) defeated Shin Minjoon by resignation in 199 moves, on January 6.
Prodigies take on top pros
For the second round, there were exhibition matches between Korea’s top three players and the three young talented players.
Lee Changho vs Shin Jinseo
The first game was between Lee Changho and Shin Jinseo.
Everyone expected Lee to win, but Shin staged an unexpected upset and won the game.
The game began with an old fashioned style of opening, and Lee took the lead early on.
However, Shin played very well in the middle game, and reversed the game towards the end.
When asked about his opponent after the game, Lee said, “I can’t say that much about Shin after playing only one game, but he seems to be very good at making good shape and fighting. He’s already quite strong, so if he keeps studying hard, I’m sure he’ll reach the top in the near future.”
Choi Cheolhan vs Shin Minjoon
In the second game, Choi Cheolhan played Shin Minjoon.
Shin Minjoon also defeated Choi Cheolhan unexpectedly, winning by 2.5 points, and it was even more impressive.
Most Go fans expected Choi to win easily, because Choi plays very severely and aggressively. And he usually plays even more severely against young players.
Choi had previously defeated Shin in the preliminary rounds of the GS Caltex Cup, but he wasn’t able to repeat that victory this time.
The opening of the game was good for Choi, but he played a slack move on the left side, and Shin grasped that opportunity to change the flow and reverse the game.
After that, Shin’s endgame was excellent and he didn’t allow Choi to catch up.
After the game, Choi said, “The opening was very good for black, due to an overplay by white, and I was worried that the game might finish too early. However, I played some passive moves after that, and the game was reversed. It’s easy to improve a lot at Shin’s age, and if he can win some important matches, he’ll become a great player in the future.”
Lee Sedol vs Byun Sangil
The last round featured Lee Sedol playing Byun Sangil.
There were no more extraordinary upsets at this stage – Lee Sedol beat Byun Sangil by half a point.
Still, it was a very tough game for Lee, even though he eventually caught up and won.
Lee was Byun’s Go teacher up until he became a pro, so he knows Byun’s style of play better than anybody else (and Byun also knows his).
In a post-game interview, Lee said, “I didn’t expect Byun to have improved this much since becoming a pro, but he’s improved quite a bit, and he’ll play even better this year. Nobody will easily defeat him, but he needs to gain more experience.”
And he added, “I was quite surprised to see the results of the other two games. I know the young players are already quite strong, but it’s still very impressive. Actually, this is kind of event isn’t the same as a real match, so I don’t want the youngsters to become too excited. But they should reflect on this experience and keep going.”
Lee also said that these young players are already strong enough to compete with the next generation of Chinese players, but they need to develop more and find their own style and color of Go.
The response in Korea
Many Korean Baduk fans were happy to see these exhibition games.
The games turned out to be more interesting and exciting than most people expected, and the results were surprising too.
Go fans were able to see how strong and competitive these very young, talented players are, and hope that they’ll become top players in the near future.
Losing on purpose?
Some people were suspicious that the top players didn’t do their best, but these sort of matches can be quite stressful for them, since everyone expects them to win.
A top pro wouldn’t lose a game on purpose, as some have suggested.
The next generation
In my opinion, there are many young Chinese players who’ve already reached the top levels of play.
In Korea, there are a limited number of very strong young players, in comparison.
Nevetheless, I hope to see them improving smoothly and competing with China’s top players one day in the future.
- 1st match: Shin Jinseo (B) defeated Lee Changho by resignation in 179 moves, on January 11.
- 2nd match: Shin Minjoon (W) defeated Choi Cheolhan by 2.5 points in 256 moves, on January 12.
- 3rd match: Lee Sedol (W) defeated Byun Sangil by 0.5 in 315 moves, on January 13.