Baduk TV English: Ma Xiaochun vs Lee Changho – Searching for Exquisite Games: Episode 31

Searching for Exquisite Games is a Baduk TV series that reviews some of the best games of Go from the last few decades. The commentators are Yoon Seonghyun 9p and Shim Wooseop 7d.

Episode 31 looks at a semifinal game from the 2nd Samsung Cup, played on October 9, 1997. Ma Xiaochun plays black and Lee Changho plays white.

Ma Xiaochun vs Lee Changho

Video: Ma Xiaochun vs Lee Changho

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Transcript of the video

Translated by Oh Chimin 7d for

Edited by David Ormerod 5d

Searching for Exquisite Games: Episode 31.

Hello! This is the last episode about 'fated rivals'!

Today's game will stimulate older Go fans' memories.

In the 1990s, Lee Changho 9p dominated the Go world.

One of his rivals was Ma Xiaochun 9p, from China.

Ma made an interesting comment, quoting the classical Chinese novel 'The Romance of the Three Kingdoms'.

Just before Zhou Yu died, he lamented his coexistence with Zhuge Liang.

Ma's comment was similar to this.

He said that he sometimes wondered why he and Lee crossed paths in the same era.

In his country, he was a great figure at that time.

He also won several international championships.

Let's meet today's guest.

Hello! My name is Kang Jisung, an 8p professional player!

Q. Which game would you like to introduce?

A game from the semifinal of the 2nd Samsung Cup, between Lee Changho 9p and Ma Xiaochun 9p.

Q. How did those two perform at the time?

It may be hard to call them rivals from some perspectives.

However, Ma was in good form, having recently won two international tournaments.

With the exception of Lee, Ma was strong against the top players of the 1990s.

Therefore, I'd say they were rivals.

Q. How would you define the term 'rivals'?

Above all, they need to strive towards the same goal.

They can't just be enemies, they also need to help motivate one another to improve.

Q. Could you please summarize the game for us?

At the beginning, Ma took the lead.

After that, Lee caught up with fierce play, and it was really fascinating.

Q. Why did you choose this game?

Among so many rivals, these two players were the first who came to mind.

So I chose this game.

Q. What's the highlight of the game?

Definitely the endgame. Lee tried whatever he could.

And Ma struggled hard too. It will be exciting!

Today's game was played between the two international rivals.

Isn't Ma older than Lee?

In terms of age, Ma and Yu Changhyeok 9p should have been rivals.

However, the mid 90s were when Ma was at his peak.

He and Lee created many beautiful games together.

He usually overwhelmed Lee in the fuseki and middle game.

But there were several games in which Lee inflicted mental damage upon Ma.

He couldn't possibly lose those games.

And many Go players still remember some of them.

In this game, Ma played amazingly, right from the beginning.

Let's have a look at the game.

Ma Xiaochun 9p plays black, Lee Changho 9p plays white.

Since this was a semifinal, the game was crucial for both players.

The winner of the game would play against Kobayashi Satoru 9p in the final.

Yoda Norimoto 9p won the 1st Samsung Cup.

It motivated many Korean players.

Nevertheless, Lee struggled from the beginning.

As a joke, some people said that Korea should terminate this tournament.

This sentiment was repeated in the observers' room, during this game.

The situation has changed a lot since then.

This attachment looks quite normal.

Ma chose the avalanche joseki.

Lee's head to head record against Kobayashi was very good.

So many Korean Go fans hoped that Lee would win this match.

However, Ma wasn't the kind of player who could be easily defeated.

Recently, most players would atari and extend at the bottom, but pushing here used to be more common.

There are so many possible variations from here onwards.

Since the late 90s, study groups have become popular among professional players.

As a result, many new moves and variations have been discovered and investigated.

This joseki hasn't been played very often recently.

Up to here, it's the basic form of the joseki.

White has many choices at this stage.

Lee played here, but this extension was more common at the time.

This variations appeared in pros' games many times.

This attachment is a good move.

After white's empty triangle, black extends.

It's a basic joseki.

But Lee played an interesting move, which surprised many observers.

He played at the vital point.

Yes, it was at the center of the three stones.

This atari removes white's cutting point, so this empty triangle move was correct.

After that, Lee connected.

Instead of rescuing these three stones, Ma haned here.

After that, he blocked.

Even though white hanes, there's still aji in the corner.

Thanks to the previous exchange, black can make a ko in the corner.

Well, it's a big ko.

So Lee captured black's stones instead and a trade occurred.

I thought Lee anticipated this variation when he played the new move.

But he confessed after the game that he'd overlooked this hane.

We were surprised by his remark.

Because it was a simple move for pros.

Based on his own investigation of this shape, white was supposed to capture black unconditionally.

White can take the corner with one move.

In comparison to the aji we showed, it's quite different.

So the actual game was different to what had Lee anticipated.

Many pros played like this afterwards.

However, they didn't follow Lee's move here, since the result was unsuccessful.

Instead, they chose to hane here, then black haned too.

These pushes are all sente.

After that, white pushes and encloses this area.

After that, white needs to defend here.

I saw this variation several times.

However, because of the aji in the corner, pros concluded that it was better for black.

Because of black's exchange, it's hard for white to hane and leave behind bad aji.

But the trade isn't good either.

So this pattern isn't played anymore.

Since they were top players, their moves were thoroughly investigated by others.

Lee couldn't bear the aji, so he captured these three stones.

The result was slightly better for Ma.

Even though Ma's a territory oriented player, he played a high enclosure.

He's very good at sabaki (managing groups) after invading.

This enclosure was played with an awareness of white's developing framework, but it left some aji in black's corner.

White spread out with a double wing formation.

In response to black's 3-3 invasion, Lee blocked on the wider side.

In the past, white used to hane here, but this isn't a joseki in this case.

Pros don't play like this anymore.

White needs to defend here.

Instead, they play a knight's move and it looks quite similar.

But then black has to exchange this move, so white's moyo is slightly thicker than before.

In addition, white can block here later and capture this stone in sente.

In the old pattern, white couldn't do so. Capturing this stone looks quite big.

Yes, of course it's more profitable.

In addition, white can tenuki after the knight's move.

Anyway, this choice is better, because of the followup.

That's why white doesn't hane anymore.

Many moves have emerged and disappeared again. Further investigation is still needed.

In conclusion, this knight's move is important.

If there's a big point on the board, you can tenuki instead of answering here.

In the actual game, Lee split black's moyo.

Since white tenukied, black haned here.

That was fair enough.

In my opinion, white can play this knight's move, instead of the push.

Let's compare it with the actual progression.

After the push, black exchanged this tiger's mouth.

At this point, Ma showed us his brilliant sense of play.

His style isn't fighting and reading oriented.

Besides Go, he's very good at playing the piano. This hints at his delicate style play.

This moyo was by far white's most important area.

However, it's dangerous to invade too deeply.

This move was Ma's choice.

White's next move would reveal how appropriate this reduction was.

In response, Lee didn't attack, but tried to protect his moyo.

After that, this attachment was a great combination!

Even if white had capped here, black would still attach.

It was a vital point, which was critical for white.

Since white couldn't attack black properly, Lee had to answer here.

After the attachment, Ma haned here in sente.

It turned out that white's moyo wasn't very big compared to his investment.

It wasn't efficient.

It would've been best to attack black.

But, because black could play the attachment, attacking wasn't that easy.

That's why I suggested this knight's move.

Then there's no such attachment afterwards.

Instead, there's a cutting point here.

But white will atari and connect like this.

After that, there's aji at the top.

This atari is sente.

It's a ko.

Because of this aji, black can't push and cut like this.

Instead of the push, the knight's move looks more flexible.

Lee's move was hardly a mistake.

Ordinary players would never see the slight flaw.

But Ma turned white's push into a mistake.

Depending on the situation, the knight's move can be an alternative.

This reduction aimed at the attachment, and it was an excellent move.

Because of the weakness, white couldn't attack black at all.

After this exchange, Ma played this forcing move without hesitation.

It was a perfect example of reduction.

Then he jumped. This group wasn't a target for an attack anymore.

It was too painful to connect here.

So Lee approached instead.

At that time, Lee's opening was relatively weak, though it's improved a lot since then.

His yose (endgame) was already overwhelming.

This cutting point was still a burden for white.

Lee had to keep playing there.

Looking at white's shape, Cho Hunhyun 9p (in the observers' room) had a frown on his face.

Because white had spent many moves at the top, and the door was still open.

After the game, Cho suggested this move to Lee, who opposed it due to the cutting point.

And Lee didn't like this knight's move either, because of the weakness here.

His comments were all right.

There was no alternative, so this jump was inevitable.

These black stones were well placed.

Ma's moves made it very difficult for white to answer.

This knight's move intended to prevent white's invasion.

This move was typical of Ma's style - he's sensitive towards territory.

Since Lee was short on points, he played an emergency move.

If white answers here, black will take sente and attach here to secure the lower right corner.

Even though black gets an empty triangle, he'll take sente again.

Up to here, Black can secure both corners in style.

This was black's intention.

Yu Changhyeok 9p suggested an immediate attack after exchanging this attachment.

It fits well with Yu's style, but not with Lee's.

This was a single group, so the attack wouldn't be easy.

Anyway, Lee invaded here to create territorial balance.

This invasion was a difficult move to come up with.

But it creates a good combination with this attachment.

Thanks to that move, white got some flexibility.

At this stage, Ma chose to cut here, which was the strongest move.

He trusted in his lower left moyo. This atari is normal.

After this exchange, Lee came out.

Ma didn't fall back because he'd lost to Lee many times in the endgame.

That's why he played very fiercely when he had the chance.

In this situation, white had two choices.

In terms of territory, white had to extend, but Lee pushed here.

If black ataris, white intended to make a ko.

White had plenty of ko threats.

If black connects here, white can cut.

If white doesn't push, he can't cut, because the ladder favors black.

But, in this case, black can't capture white in a ladder.

Since there weren't many ko threats for black, Ma couldn't atari here immediately.

He jumped here instead, then Lee rescued the corner.

Up to here, white successfully complicated the game.

When black pushed, white tenukied and looked after group to the left.

The right side group became very weak.

In exchange for the corner, white lost thickness.

After this peep, Ma enclosed this area.

In fact, I expected this capping move.

Aren't white's two stones in trouble now?

When I asked Lee about this move, he responded that it'd be good for attacking.

But, instead of rescuing the two stones, white will jump here.

Can white sacrifice these stones?

Black has to capture them, and this kosumi is a forcing move.

This attachment is also annoying. Black's center group is getting weaker and it's becoming more dangerous.

Well, that's true.

Ma also saw this, and was afraid of white's sacrifice strategy.

Ma said so in the post game review.

Lee agreed with Ma, and his opinion was reasonable.

Since he was leading, there was no need to choose this variation.

So Ma played here and he could still attack white.

In a way, this attack looks more powerful.

How would you assess the situation compared to the fuseki?

The loss from this joseki was only about one point.

It wasn't significant, but Ma's reduction was exquisite.

As a result, Lee had to defend himself at the top, gaining few points.

Up to here, Ma was leading by a lot.

The observers also concluded that Lee was struggling.

Let's keep going after the break.

This is a game between two rivals, Lee Changho 9p and Ma Xiaochun 9p.

We've already seen how strong Ma was.

He took the lead with his excellent sense of reduction.

Lee needed to catch up, but he couldn't seem to do so up until here.

First of all, he had to rescue his group.

Lee pushed, and Ma countered with a push here.

If white answers, black will jump here and this group will be in grave danger.

So Lee had to sacrifice his stone.

After these exchanges, he attached here.

In response to black's hane, Lee counter-haned.

Black haned again, and white connected.

At this point, Ma's first mistake appeared.

He captured white's stone with the hane.

Even though it was worth more than ten points, he should have extended here.

It was a pivotal point.

What if white saves his stone?

Then, after pushing, black peeps here.

In an emergency, he can connect along the first line.

In addition, black can harass white by bumping here.

So white has to spend another move defending himself.

With this move, black would be ahead in terms of both thickness and territory.

It's the best situation to be in.

It'd be troubling for white.

Ma wouldn't usually try so hard to take territory, but he was too well aware of his opponent.

Previous experiences of reversals against Lee might've haunted Ma.

However, this point was so good.

Ma acquired about ten points on the right.

But white's move was far more valuable than that.

After this extension, the impact of the move became clearer.

Suddenly, black's group became thinner.

Defending here was inevitable, but Lee had this placement in his arsenal.

It's amazing that such a move was still possible, despite black's defense.

After that exchange, Lee cut here.

Black couldn't capture this stone.

White would play here anyway.

Even though black captured this white stone, this group wasn't alive yet.

Because the bottom was open, the group wasn't in danger at the moment.

But black had to be careful of his group because of white's two previous moves.

If white attacked the center group effectively, he'd change the flow of the game.

Since there were many of white's stones nearby, it'd be hard for black to defend the bottom side.

So Ma attached, to look after his group.

If white tries to capture it, black will sacrifice and strengthen his group in exchange.

Black had plenty of points all over the board.

Even though Lee doesn't like fighting, he invaded here now.

As he played there, he was still eyeing black's center group.

Depending on the result of the battle at the bottom, Lee could potentially attack the other group very severely.

It was impossible to do so without any preparation though.

Despite the adverse situation, Lee's strategy was wonderful.

Lee's style was generally soft, but it could change rapidly, depending on circumstances.

It's even more scary when a mild person gets angry.

I think Lee learned a lot from Cho Hunhyun (his teacher) about how to complicate a game.

He kept aiming at black's weaknesses.

Ma cut and pushed.

Unable to capture white's stones, Ma looked after his center group.

Why couldn't he play here?

It's an overplay.

Would white try to capture the entire group?

Is white strong enough to attack the group now?

Let's go on.

White'd better exchange this first.

Black has to connect.

Even if black captures these two stones, it won't be alive.

Capturing them doesn't help.

Because of this wall, it's not easy to make another eye on the outside.

However, this variation is risky for both sides.

Black didn't need to take a risk like this, since he was ahead.

By the way, white's thickness already applies pressure to black.

Ma had to reinforce his group.

After that, Lee captured these two stones.

Before exchanging these moves, Lee attacked this group.

This was a vital point.

Black was fixing up his shape.

Lee kept attacking the group.

White made a ko.

To be completely alive, black needed to start the ko, but white didn't answer here.

So Ma decided to capture this stone, thinking that the center group wouldn't die easily.

Before that, he should have ataried here though.

Of course, white has to answer.

Even if black loses the ko, the exchange will still be profitable.

White wouldn't respond like this after the ko fight.

However, it would have been safer for Lee to connect here.

After that, he'd be able to gain a lot of profit in the center.

The ko began.

Lee made a big ko threat here.

But Ma didn't respond.

And then a trade occurred.

Locally, Lee acquired many points on the right side.

But he made several bad exchanges at the bottom.

Eventually, white caught up a lot in terms of territory.

However, Lee needed to continue the ko, since he still had more threats.

This would be too big to ignore.

So black has to answer, then white can recapture this stone.

There's no exchange here, and black would've had to connect.

Black didn't have any proper threats for this ko fight.

If black pushes, white can ignore it and capture these stones.

By sacrificing his three stones, white can attack the whole group.

This is an absolute ko threat!

Ma would have been in trouble.

However, there was one thing which Lee was worried about.

If white loses the ko, this exchange becomes very bad.

Because black can cut here in sente.

Even though it looks a bit awkward, white should have used this threat and focused on the ko.

Lee overlooked the fact that black would ignore his threat.

Black got out of danger.

White played a tiger's mouth, threatening black's group.

Black had to connect up, then white captured black's stones, which was huge.

It was such a big exchange.

Black destroyed the left side and lived with many points.

In addition, he managed his bottom group, by capturing this stone.

At this point, the observers thought that black was leading by about 10 points on the board.

Despite the exchange, Lee couldn't narrow the gap.

But towards the end, many fascinating and uncanny moves will appear.

This game didn't end peacefully.

Let's see how the 'God of Endgame' (Lee's nickname) wrapped up the game.

The game was nearing its end.

After this exchange, Ma kosumied.

In response to this kosumi, Lee cut here.

Before that, black defended here, and white jumped.

White made some points at the top, while black reduced the center.

The final outline of the territory seemed to be becoming clear.

Nevertheless, there were big changes later on.

They were going about their own business at the top and in the center.

Instead of reducing white's moyo, jumping here is a good move.

Even though black made a couple of points in the center, white can reduce it later.

But the difference would be one point at most.

Up to here, there were no especially significant moves. Let's keep going.

After the ko, Ma was leading by about 10 points.

The focus was on how he'd maintain his lead.

Before this game, Lee had reversed many games and won against Ma.

Even though Lee was behind, we had some faith in him.

This championship was sponsored by a Korean firm.

A Japanese player, Yoda Norimoto 9p, won the 1st Samsung Cup.

Lee was the only Korean player in the semifinals.

So many Korean fans rested their hopes on Lee.

But a 10 point gap seems huge among world class players.

It's possible to make up one or two points.

But above three points, we can say it's a huge gap.

We looked at their head to head record.

Before this game, it was 25-6 in Lee's favor.

What a one sided score!

Yes, it was more than I thought.

In the mid 90s, Lee recorded 10 consecutive wins against Ma.

Well, they were natural enemies instead then!

For Ma, it created irrecoverable mental damage.

His comment from earlier makes more sense in that context.

Ma was a top player, but his opponent was Lee.

However, Ma was in high spirits at the time when this match was played.

Because of that, the Chinese Go community were hopeful of Ma's victory, despite the adverse record.

Kobayashi had already advanced to the final.

Chinese Go fans believed that Ma could overcome him, once he beat Lee.

Even though they exchanged many more moves, there were no big mistakes by black.

The 10 point gap sounds even bigger to me then!

There weren't many places left to play.

What on earth could Lee do?

The game fluctuated from here on.

Lee suddenly invaded black's corner.

If he can't pull something off, he'll just lose one point there.

Lee haned. It seemed like he saw something in the corner.

Black had to protect the corner but, surprisingly, Ma captured this stone!

By playing at the 2-3 point, he could have captured white's three stones.

Since he didn't do so, white lived in the corner.

Was Ma aiming at white's big group at the top?

White already had one eye in the top left.

The top right group lived.

It was another exchange.

White managed to get two eyes.

This wedge was a pleasant endgame play though.

White needed to answer.

Ma captured six stones in total.

And he rescued his single stone. He gained 20 points in total.

In exchange, his corner was erased.

In addition, white made five points there.

Suddenly, the gap narrowed. We thought the game had been reversed.

But black was still leading, even if it was by a small margin now.

Calculating the trade would have required some time.

Ma bravely chose to trade.

But, if he'd captured the corner, nothing bad would have happened.

However, he chose to trade.

Lee's famous for his superb endgame skills in particular.

But Ma's endgame is excellent too.

His endgame was better than many other top players.

He had a good sense of the fuseki and of yose.

He lacks intensity in fighting though.

Overall, his performance was outstanding.

There was an unexpected trade in the top right.

Another highlight is coming.

Ma was aware that the gap had narrowed.

Interestingly, he would've won by half a point, even if he didn't start the ko.

Then was it Ma's miscalculation?

Yes, he wasn't sure about his lead.

However, if he'd won the ko, he would've won the game as well.

But if black loses it, he'll lose more than one point.

However, Ma was confident about the ko.

I think it'd be easier to count the number of ko threats than the number of points.

He thought he had more threats than white, so he started it.

At this stage, it's a matter of concentration.

The longer players play for, the more likely they are to make mistakes.

Considering Lee's age at that time, wasn't this situation favorable to him then?

Generally speaking, younger players have better concentration than older ones.

The ko continued for a long time.

So the players might've miscounted the number of ko threats.

Yes, the number was quite close.

Ma had already looked at the ko threats in the top right.

There were many threats.

That's why he began the ko.

The ko fight was very desperate.

The ko was big enough to decide the winner of the game.

So they had to win it by all means.

Ma chose to start it.

So losing the ko meant a loss of points.

Where should white have played? His ko threats were running out.

Well, was that a ko threat?

Ma connected there to gain one point!

By the way, that ko threat was unimaginable!

Because of that move, white could lose a point.

But, instead, he gained many ko threats at the bottom.

Ma had to answer all the threats there.

Since they were fighting for half a point, each move was very important.

Who would win the ko?

White had several threats at the bottom, and black in the top right.

There were so many threats at the bottom though.

This was the sixth threat.

Lee's attachment on the first line created these threats.

Their ko threats were running out.

Black had one left in the top right.

I can't see any other threats.

It's possible that Ma didn't see white's first line attachment.

It was a hard move to predict.

If he didn't expect it, he could've become confused.

White still had some threats on the left.

Ma gave up the ko.

He couldn't continue fighting it.

He didn't have a ko threat.

So how about the result? Ma lost the ko fight even though he started it.

He lost some points, since he sacrificed a stone at the beginning.

No matter who would win the game, the margin was going to be half a point.

Until the endgame, Ma was leading by about ten points on the board.

I thought it was a big margin.

If such a game is reversed, the loser wouldn't want to see his opponent's face.

By connecting there, the game was finished.

Black won the last ko.

313 moves, white (Lee Changho 9p) wins by 0.5 points.

It was an amazing victory for Lee!

Q. How would you define an exquisite game?

Since the time allocated is relatively short in recent games, it's hard to play without mistakes.

Therefore, if the players can impress the observers, despite a few mistakes,

I think the game is exquisite.

Did you enjoy this game?

Regardless of the result, I was moved by their unyielding effort to win the game.

I hope that you'll be inspired by their play.

If you learn something from this game, I'll be happy with that.

As our guest said, Lee's attempts to fight back and win were impressive.

This game was reversed at the last minute.

There was no need to let white live in the corner.

Let's have look at that sequence again.

When black cut, Lee invaded the corner.

Ma didn't need to capture white's stones. He should have jumped here.

White has to capture them, then black connects.

Nothing would happen then.

Does black need to defend this area later on?

If white captures this stone, black needs to reinforce once.

But white already lost one point earlier on.

If Ma had followed this variation, he'd have won by 1.5 to 2.5 points.

Black wouldn't have lost this game.

Ma didn't choose this simple path - he captured a stone instead.

Can't black capture white's group?

What if black plays here? Isn't this group dead?

Well, white has to atari here then.

It's a ko.

This black group is in danger.

Black's threats are in the top right, since white can capture this stone in sente.

In addition, black has lost several points.

There was no need to complicate the situation though.

The trade was the first problem.

The next point of interest was the final ko.

Ma connected like this, but this tiger's mouth was right.

Later on, black can gain profit by sacrificing one more stone.

When white captures black's stones, black can recapture this stone.

It was simple.

Wasn't Ma aware that Lee could catch up?

Let me explain about the ko.

Without confidence, it's hard to start it.

If black wins the ko, there's no need to play here, reducing his own territory.

Excluding white's two stones, black will get six points if he wins the ko.

So, the ko was very big.

White was supposed to atari here, so he lost one point with this ko threat.

But Lee really wanted to win the ko.

Despite the loss of the ko, Cho Hunhyun 9p found a way for black to win by 0.5 points.

Black lost the ko by one ko threat.

Therefore, black should have answered like this.

What if white ataris? Doesn't black lose one point?

But previously, white had two ko threats.

In this case, he has only one threat.

So black can win the ko fight.

White has to waste the threat with this atari.

Otherwise, black blocks here.

Then this cut becomes a bad exchange.

White also lost one point at the bottom.

According to our calculations, black would have won by 0.5 points if he'd played like this.

Ma had so many chances to win.

But he couldn't overcome his psychological burden against Lee.

This is the end of our series on 'fated rivals'.

Next time, we'll start looking at 'natural enemies'.

Some players want to avoid certain opponents.

Their relationships are really interesting.

Our next theme is 'natural enemies'. We're looking forward to your participation!

Thank you!

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