Lee Changho is the most well-known player in the Go world today, and his career is extraordinary.
He was the only student of Cho Hunhyun 9p and he became a pro when he was a primary school student. He won his first domestic title when he was just 14 years old.
In 1992 he won his first international title. This was the Tongyang Securities Cup, where he defeated Rin Kaiho 3-2. It was really sensational at the time. Before the final, Rin said in his interview that “Lee is even younger than my youngest son, and I feel some pressure because of that.”
In the last match of the final, Lee was behind towards the end of the game, but he played the endgame beautifully and finally reversed the game. It was the starting point of the period of Lee Changho and he began dominating the Go world from this point forward.
Rin Kaiho vs Lee Changho: 1992 Tongyang Securities Cup – Game 5
He often reverses his games unbelievably against the top players, and on many occasions he won merely by a half point. If I were one of the opponents, I would feel very miserable and unhappy with that.
His style of play is fairly normal from today’s point of view, but when other pros saw his style for the first time, it was so fresh and brand new. When he was young, he didn’t play the opening particularly well, but his middle game was passable, and his endgame was extremely strong, and he mostly reversed his games in the endgame as I mentioned.
Before Lee’s period, most pro games were practically finished in the middle game, and people didn’t pay much attention to the endgame. However, after Lee Changho emerged, the concept of the game changed, and now we can say that he is a revolutionary of Go.
Largely influenced by him, other pro players began to study endgame more seriously than ever before, and Go in Korea has developed rapidly from that. That’s Lee Changho’s contribution to Go.
There was a poll of Korean pro players in 2003 and the subject was who is the greatest Go players in the history of Go. Go Seigen was voted as number one, and Lee Changho followed as number two. I don’t remember who the third and below were, but those two marked the top with a big gap from the third greatest.
As he is far greater than I am, I didn’t have many chances to talk to him, and I only played a game with him once in the main tournament of KBS TV Cup. It was a lightning game, and I couldn’t do my best under the time pressure, but I played the opening as I wished, and I was satisfied with it. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to play a single game with such a great player, even for a pro like me.
It would be meaningless to talk about his career because this article wouldn’t be long enough to to cover his extensive career, so let’s skip his career and talk about him as a person.
He is undoubtedly the most popular Go player in Korea, and he was voted the most popular player for five years in a row, with Park Jieun as the most popular female player. This award doesn’t exist anymore because it is meaningless to vote for the most popular player in Korea.
He doesn’t have any anti-fans, and most Korean Go fans cheer for him whomever he plays against. Many fans said that they were excited and happy when Lee Changho won his games, as if they won themselves.
Last autumn, he married. His wife is also an amateur Go player and used to work for a Korean Go website. Most of his fans expected him to regain his strength after the marriage, but he doesn’t yet seem to be that fit.
I hope to see more of his beautiful style in his games for a long long time, and hope he is in better shape and starts playing better again soon.
The next player is Qiu Jun…
He has become one of the top players in China and since that time he has won several other domestic titles.
He is well-known as a hard thinker in the world of pros, because he always uses up all of his time in games, like Cho Chikun 9p does. He doesn’t often resign from a hopeless game, and plays to the very end of the game.
At one point, some of the Korean pros were complaining about his manners, because it’s regarded as rude and bad manners in Korea to play on in a clearly lost game.
However, we found out that it was the Chinese style of manners to do one’s best to the end of the game, and afterwards nobody complained about his manners anymore.
Nevertheless, his nicknames in China are 魔王 and 磨王. The first one means devil or Satan, and I guess Chinese players also recognise him for doing his best right until the end of the game, never giving up and making his opponent exhausted. Some Chinese pros must be complaining about such behaviour as well.
However, the second one (磨王) has the same pronunciation as the first, but this means study and work very hard. In his case, both names combined can express his character very well.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to play with him, but we have had meals, and played ‘Star Craft’ together several times. There were rookie friendship matches between Korea, China, and Japan as an annual event since 1998. He and I both participated in these events.
We played our games very seriously even though they were called friendship matches and, after the games, we all went out for a banquet and had an enjoyable time. After the banquet, we went to karaoke, an internet cafe or a pub to hang around together.
They were friendship matches, not a serious tournament or competition, so we did lots of activities together which were related to ‘friendship’. We all were young, and the language barrier or nationality didn’t matter for us to hang around together.
After those activities, we even studied Go together in the hotel rooms. It was far easier for us to do that than anything else, as we could understand everything on the board without any words. As you can see we were so young, but we didn’t forget we were professional Go players.
Anyway, Qiu Jun was one of the members, and he did his best in whatever he did; singing songs, bowling and playing star craft – but most of all playing Go.
He has a pure mind and a warm heart. He is always quiet and calm, so it was not easy to talk to him because of his personality, but it didn’t matter at all. We had fun!
In my opinion, he is the most serious looking player, and if you see him playing one day, you’ll understand what I mean.
On the other hand, Go is everything to him, and he always joins even the small tournaments which don’t have any prize money. Top players don’t usually join such tournaments because they are on a very tight schedule.
However, even after Qiu Jun became a top player, he still joined and played in these tournaments. At an interview, he said “I join the tournaments because I can play many games and I can learn a lot from them.” This was after taking the Aham Tongshan Cup, beating Chang Hao 9p in the final in 2010.
Qiu Jun’s Style of play is not easy to explain nor describe. He likes to play thick and solid moves, and often plays slow moves as well. I think this is part of his style.
He is very good at the endgame, and this gives him confidence. However, his endgame is different from Park Younghun’s or Lee Changho’s accurate style. In his case, it is more intense and fierce. He searches for his opponent’s weaknesses like a hyena and harasses them when he is behind in the game. On the other hand, when he is in the lead, he doesn’t push things, but plays calm and simple moves. This is his style.
In 2009, he was in the final of the Samsung Cup and was beaten by Kong Jie 9p. This was his best result in an international championship so far. I wish every Go player could see him playing at least once, and then you’ll see how seriously pros play games. You’ll try to play more thoughtfully and carefully after watching Qiu Jun playing, I’m sure.