This is the second last article in our series about the top 20 Go players of 2010.
Park Junghwan was born in 1993, and became a pro in 2006.
In 2006, when I met him for the first time, he was only 13 years old and had just became a pro.
On the other hand, I had just finished my military service, and returned to the Go world.
I played several unofficial league games with him, but he was already stronger than me at that time, and I remember thinking he would become a top level player some day in the near future.
The future has come earlier than I expected. He’s already a top player at the international level, and he’s currently ranked number 2 in Korea, second only to Lee Sedol.
Park’s career highlights
In 2007, he won the 3rd ‘Baduk Masters Championship’ defeating Kim Jiseok, and it was his first title.
In 2010, he won the 5th Siptan, defeating Lee Changho this time.
In 2010, he became 9 dan, and it was a new record for ‘youngest 9 dan’ in Korea.
Park won two gold medals at the Asian Games, as well in men’s team division and mixed pair Go division.
In the mixed pair Go his partner was Lee Sula and, after they won the gold medal, she became a TV star, as she’s quite pretty for a pro player. In addition, Park was given exemption from military service as a special case, which is a big reward.
In 2011, he won the 24th Fujitsu Cup, and it was his first international title. He played against Qiu Jun in the final.
Park showed his calmness and it reminded lots of Go fans of Lee Changho’s heyday. Even though Park is still very young, he plays as if he’s a veteran.
Early in 2011, Park hadn’t won any international titles yet, but was ranked number 3 in the world (according to Dr Bai Taeil’s ranking system). It was very controversial because lots of Korean fans didn’t agree with Dr Bai.
However, after Park took the Fujitsu Cup, they didn’t argue anymore because people realized just how strong the Park really is. Park’s still ranked number 3 in the world behind Gu Li and Lee Sedol (as of November 2011).
Park Junghwan’s style
His style of play seems like a mixture of Lee Changho and Lee Sedol’s styles. He’s patient and calm under any circumstances, like Lee Changho, and his reading is very fast and accurate like Lee Sedol.
His weaknesses are not easily found, but his opening is still relatively weak, and his style of play is not yet unique. That’s because he’s still learning and improving, so he tries to play with different styles.
Studying life and death
He still studies very hard even though he’s already at the top level. He especially likes to solve life and death problems, so lots of other young pros do the same.
When I was his age I studied openings and new variations with other pros a lot more, but the younger generation prefer to study life and death, to improve their reading ability, and it’s a kind of trend in Korea recently.
Anyway, in the near future, I think he’ll complete his own style of play.
As for his personality, he’s very shy and quiet. Other top pros are normally fairly talkative when they talk with their friends, but Park’s still very quiet.
He is still a teenager and, like other teenagers in Korea, he likes to listen to pop music. He likes the popular Korean singing group ”Girls’ Generation” very much.
There are many talented young players in Asia at the moment, but a lot of Korean Go fans expect Park to become number one in a few years. It’s possible he could get into a slump like Choi Cheolhan did, but Park’s strength is more solid and stable, so I expect he’ll be alright.
Some say his games are not very exciting or interesting, but I’m sure you can enjoy the moderation of play in his games. In particular, you can see how to balance the game between fighting and building territory.
Let’s see how much farther Park can go in the future.
Choi Cheolhan was born in 1985, and became a pro when he was only 12 years old. He was the 4th youngest player to do so in Korea at the time.
When he joined the insei for the first time, he started in group six, which is the lowest level, but he went straight from the group six to the group one. It’s a legend of among Korean insei.
In 1997, he became a pro. In the last game of the competition, he beat me badly, and it was the win he needed to qualify.
When he was about 10, he was the mascot of the Kwon Gap Ryong dojo. At that time, there were many pros and inseis in the dojo, and everyone liked Choi because he was cute and his personally was mild.
The Choi Cheolhan revolution
In 2000 and 2001 he joined the Nongshim Cup as a member of Korean team, and he won 5 games against top Chinese and Japanese players in those two years.
In 2003, he won the 8th Chunwon (Tengen) title, defeating Won Seongjin in the final. It was the first title of his career and from that time on, he jumped to the top level.
Defeating Lee Changho was very sensational and most Korean Go fans were shocked at the time. In those days Lee Changho was invincible, so it was regarded as a revolution in the history of modern Korean Baduk.
For a few years after that, there were some more sensational events with young players beating Lee Changho, but Choi was the first.
Choi’s first international final
In 2005, he made it to the final of the 5th Ing Cup. His opponent in the final was Chang Hao from China. Chang Hao was number 1 in China for years, but because he’d lost to Lee Changho so many times, he hadn’t won any international titles up until then.
Many Korean Go fans expected Choi to beat Chang Hao, because Choi seemed to be in excellent form after beating the invincible Lee Changho.
However, Chang was already a veteran, while Choi lacked experience in international titles. Choi didn’t play those games with his own style and was defeated 3-1.
Disappointment leads to a long slump
After the Ing Cup final, he went into a long slump. From 2005 to 2007, he didn’t show his characteristic power in his games, and it seemed as if he became just another pro player.
There were even rumors that top Chinese players stopped researching Choi’s games because they considered his time to have passed already. However, in 2008 he beat Gu Li, Piao Wenyao and Liu Xing in the main tournament of the 6th Ing Cup, and faced Lee Changho in the final.
In that tournament, Choi captured Gu Li’s huge group, and it seemed to be a turning point for his Go. He’s played his unique ‘venomous snake’ fighting style again ever since that game with Gu Li, and he also beat Lee Changho to finally won the Ing Cup.
Return of the venomous snake
After the Ing Cup, he completely recovered from his deep slump and, as you might already know, he’s become one of the top players in the world now.
Choi’s a genuine infighter. He just loves fighting without mercy. At an interview, he once said “I prefer fighting because I’m not confident in the endgame and counting”
You can see examples of his critical miscounting in some of his recent games. He miscalculated territory and ko threats late in the game in the final match of the 55th Kuksu title against Cho Hanseung.
Generally though, his exceptional fighting and reading skills can cover this weakness.
His personality is mild and shy even though his style of Go is very severe and fierce. His smile is pure and his way of talking is still cute even though he’s in his mid-20s now.
He’s thoughtful and sincere as well. If you meet him one day, you’ll soon come to appreciate these characteristics.
Choi Cheolhan and Yun Jihee
He has a pretty girl friend – Yun Jihee 3p. This couple are not only pretty and cute, but also very strong at Go.
In the Loun.G Pair Cup in 2009, Choi and Yun showed off their excellent teamwork and harmony, and won the tournament. They’re still in a good relationship, so I hope to hear very good news from them soon.
Choi’s games are dynamic, exciting and full of fighting spirit. So if you enjoy the thrill of this kind of play, I’d recommend you take a look at his games.