Prodigies upset top pros in exhibition Go games

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

Representing the top pros, were Lee Changho 9p, Lee Sedol 9p and Choi Cheolhan 9p.

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).

Lee Sedol 9 dan: one of the world’s top Go players.

The prodigies

On the other hand, the young players were Shin Minjoon 1p, Shin Jinseo 1p and Byun Sangil 2p.

Byun Sangil

Byun was born in 1997, and became a pro in early 2012.

He’s currently ranked #18 in Korea, and he progressed to the main stages of the 1st Bailing Cup and the 3rd Olleh KT Cup in 2012.

Byun Sangil 2 dan.

Shin Minjoon and Shin Jinseo

Shin Minjoon was born in 1999 and Shin Jinseo was born in 2000.

Shin Minjoon 1 dan.

They both became pros in the new Prodigy Pro Draft qualifier for ‘young talented students under 15’, in July 2012.

You can watch a televised commentary of their qualifying game together here.

Shin Jinseo 1 dan.

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.

Shin Minjoon (1 dan, left) plays Byun Sangil in an exhibition match for rising stars.

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.

Lee Changho (9 dan, left) plays Shin Jinseo (1 dan).

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.”

Choi Cheolhan (left) and Shin Minjoon at a post game interview.

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).

Lee Sedol (9 dan, left) and Byun Sangil (2 dan) review their game together.

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.

Lee Sedol 9 dan signs autographs for Go fans.

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.

Final results

  • 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.

More photos


Game records

Shin Jinseo vs Lee Changho


Download SGF File (Go Game Record)


Choi Cheolhan vs Shin Minjoon


Download SGF File (Go Game Record)


Byun Sangil vs Lee Sedol


Download SGF File (Go Game Record)


Related Articles

About Younggil An

Younggil is an 8 dan professional Go player with the Korean Baduk Association. He qualified as a professional in 1997 and won an award for winning 18 consecutive professional matches the following year. After completing compulsory military service, Younggil left Korea in 2008, to teach and promote the game Go overseas. Younggil now lives in Sydney, Australia, and is one of the founders of Go Game Guru. On Friday evenings, Younggil is usually at the Sydney Go Club, where he gives weekly lessons and plays simultaneous games.

You can follow Go Game Guru on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube.


  1. Great, interesting, article! Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the article, Mr younggil. What about young talents in Japan?? Have Japan a promising future?

  3. martinlinp says:

    Thanks Younggil! Great article as usual. It’s really interesting to see how these youngsters do against the top, and what the top think about them.
    What Lee Sedol said was interesting though. Any idea how the real tournament is different from these matches?

    • An Younggil 8p says:

      It’s a bit different. Pros do their best in real tournaments, but they’d feel more relaxing in this sort of events. That doesn’t mean they don’t do their best though.

      • martinlinp says:

        Ah I see… Thanks for the explanation, Younggil!
        Come to think of it, I guess usually professional players learn about their opponent’s style from their past game records, especially in title matches.

  4. I see. So they play to win regardless but they cannot emulate the pressure that comes from big tournaments with prize money. And because at the top small shifts in focus may suffice to turn the tables, these youngsters, to whom these games matter a lot, can actually win.

    Or does it also have to do with preparation?

  5. Thanks for the article, very interesting! I am looking forward for these young players from Korea! =)

  6. chriswelsh says:

    Interesting article, thanks. In some places you refer to young Chinese players – I presume this is meant to be Korean?

    For example: “Nevetheless, I hope to see them improving smoothly and competing with China’s top players one day in the future.”

    • David Ormerod says:

      I think the references to Chinese players are correct. Younggil thinks there are more young, talented players on the rise in China than in Korea.

  7. Bobby Fischer says:

    Pro Baduk is now a just a mere form of media entertainment for the masses. They have combined the elements of fight promotion of boxing/wrestling and tournament rigging and collusion of the Soviet/Russian Chess Federation….(well all recent chess champions of past and present have now been proven to have been fraudulent cheaters after a very simple computer analysis). All the commentators, judges, referees, coaches, and other people who were employed by these professional leagues of the WWF pro wrestling , and Soviet Chess Federation all denied that any of the tournaments were fixed, that the matches were pre-arranged, or involved collusion. It was only after it became so blatantly obvious to anyone with a working brain and some common sense that whole thing was rigged, that people just refused to tune in at watch this “show” anymore and sponsors saw no value investing in such events anymore. This is not opinion, but rather an undeniable fact, and now everyone can now agree and even admit to the truth of the matter, even the former Pro Wrestlers and Soviet chess players who were involved in the denial/scandal. These fights/matches/tournaments were just a big show to draw an audience, media attention, corporate sponsors, and most importantly advertising revenue. These events/tournaments/exhibitions were never really about competition.

    Former Soviet and European chess players unable to make a living in chess after the soviet collapse and Big Blue defeat, have just started to migrate to the game of go and bringing along the tricks of the trade of how to cheat and put on a good show of a real “chess tournament” for the public. Similar things have happened to the boxing and wrestling media professionals and some seemed have migrated into the “mindsports”. They have tried to make go into a more exciting mass spectator sport by creating more storylines, characters/personalities and making the games more exciting and dramatic. The masses of consumers could care less about a good game, fair fight, but want to see and hopefully will pay a good and exciting show.

    But even if the pros are just putting on a good show that the public can view and enjoy, it does take alot of training and practice to perform at the highest level. Even actors rehearse their lines to make it look convincing. And even world famous musical professionals like Yo-yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Beyonce are just very good mimes and actors, with some talent of course. Until recently most people didn’t realize when they bought tickets to view their live performances, what they really paid to see were just lip-synced and/or mimed performances with a prerecorded track playing through the speakers.

    Is professional baduk very different from these other sports and forms of entertainment?

    • David Ormerod says:

      I think Go, and other games/sports, are all becoming more commercial, in part as a matter of necessity.

      Having met quite a lot of professional Go players, I strongly doubt that they’re all colluding to rig games, though no sport is immune to that sort of thing among a small group of players where money and, in particular, gambling is involved.

      I’d say that the results from this particular event are more a case of Lee Changho making a mistake under time pressure, which happens to everyone from time to time. It also seems that Choi Cheolhan wasn’t taking the game as seriously as he might otherwise, and went a bit easy on his opponent in the opening. In that sense, perhaps Choi did have the idea of giving viewers more of a ‘show’ in his mind, but that doesn’t mean he threw the game on purpose.

  8. I must agree with Bobby Fischer. And sorry for anyone who is a soccer fan out there… More undeniable proof mass media sports entertainment is all a show for the masses of asses who are not intelligent enough to realize they are watching rigged matches. The barbaric, herd mentally nature of people cause many to get so caught up in the frenzy of crowd frenzy, tribalism, and the illusion of competition that the soccer matches generate and the audience fails to see how obviously rigged and fixed the matches are.

    European investigators unveil scale of soccer match fixing

    THE HAGUE | Mon Feb 4, 2013 5:36am EST
    Feb 4 (Reuters) – Investigators from across Europe said on Monday they had identified about 380 football matches that had been fixed across Europe, bringing in about 8 million euros in profits.

    Speaking in The Hague, Europol head Rob Wainright said the joint investigation had identified about 425 corrupt officials, players and serious criminals in 15 countries.

    Matches fixed included World and European cup qualifying matches and top flight league matches in several European countries. The investigator found that criminals from Asia also participated in the match fixing and that some of the fixed matches took place outside Europe. (Reporting By Thomas Escritt; Editing by Sara Webb)

    • David Ormerod says:

      Yes, I also read that news with interest shortly after replying to Bobby, and I was thinking about this conversation too.

      The fallout from that has been pretty big and it seems to have led to more information about corruption in other codes (of sport) coming out of the woodwork.

      Sadly, even politics isn’t much different these days. It seems to be more about putting on a show than actually having good ideas and substantial debates. I’d still like to think that it only appears that way from the outside though…

  9. Are the two Shins related?