Top 20 Go Players: Gu Li and Xie He

Today I’d like to introduce two more of the top 20 Go players of 2010.

In early 2011, Gu Li 9p was ranked number 7, and Xie He 7p was ranked number 8, according to Dr Bai Taeil.

Gu Li

Gu Li (9 dan), regarded as one of the top three Go players in the world.

Gu Li is regarded as one of the best three Go players in the world, along with Lee Sedol and Kong Jie – even though he was ranked number 7 according to this ranking system.

You will be able to find a lot of information about his career on the internet, so I would like to skip his career and rather talk about his character and personality.

He surely is one of the most well known and popular players today. It’s not only because he is very strong and powerful, but also because his game is very exciting and fun to watch.

Gu Li’s unique style

Whenever I watch his games, I become excited by his creative and free style of play. His style of play is also humane, dynamic and romantic.

If you watch his games, you’ll sense those feelings, I’m sure. His game is something special and different from other top players.

He created his own style and it’s not easy for other players to mimic without having an excellent sense of fighting and very accurate reading.

Popular in China, and Korea too

There’s no doubt that he is very popular in China, but he also has lots of his fans in Korea, because of his behavior and manners.

For the final of the LG Cup last year, he visited Korea with his mom. He sincerely took care of his widowed mom, and it touched people’s heart.

Gu Li: All smiles at the 2011 Nongshim Cup.

Eastern Asia countries have been strongly influenced by Confucianism, especially in Korea, so it’s not surprising that his sincere filial piety impressed so many of go fans, and it made them become his enthusiastic fans.

His personality is active and outgoing, even though his appearance is strong and sharp. He is friendly and easy going, so he has many friends.

Drinking is one of his strengths, and I reckon he makes lots of friends through drinking together with them.

Gu Li’s hobbies

Gu Li plays soccer.

His favorite hobby is soccer and he enjoys singing as well. He often sings songs for everybody at Go events. His voice is low but powerful, so people love to listen to him singing.

Recently, he progressed to the final of 16th Samsung Cup, after defeating Na Hyun 1p in the semi final. He’s going to play with Won Seongjin 9p in the final, and it will be an interesting match.

Gu Li has returned to number 1 in the world, according to Bai Taeil’s ranking sytem, as of November 2011.

I think all Go fans are blessed to watch him playing.

Xie He

Xie He was ranked number 8. He is currently ranked number 2 in China, just behind Zhou Ruiyang 5p.

Xie He (7 dan).

He was born in 1984, and became a pro when he was 12 years old. He won the National individual Championship in 2002, and it was his first title in his career.

He went to the quarter final of the Samsung Cup in 2003, but he was defeated by Park Younghun 9p. In 2005, he won the 5th Liguang Cup by defeating Wang Xi 9p. In 2007, he won third place in the Chunlan Cup.

Lee Sedol’s natural enemy

In the middle of 2011, he reached the final of the Chunlan Cup and it was his first time he’d done so in an international title. His opponent in the final was Lee Sedol 9p, and it was very exciting match to watch because Xie He’s style is calm and cool like water, but Lee Sedol’s is passionate and aggressive like fire.

Lee Sedol (9 dan, left) with 'natural enemy', Xie He at the 8th Chunlan Cup.

A couple of years ago, Lee Sedol said in an interview that “Xie He is the most difficult player to play with, because it’s hard to find his weakness and he has a special ability for keeping his cool under any circumstances”.

At that time, Xie was dubbed the ‘natural enemy’ of Lee, because of their opposing styles of play, and because Lee seemed to have difficulty playing against Xie.

Anyway, in the final of the Chunlan Cup Xie played very well, but was defeated 2-1. After the match, lots of fans said that ‘though Xie lost to Lee, it’s not because he is weaker than Lee, but he lacks experience in such big matches – especially compared to Lee.

Xie He’s peaceful style

His style of play is similar to that of Lee Changho 9p; poker faced, patient, calm, specialized in counting and endgame. Actually, his fighting is very good too, but as he prefers peaceful games, Go fans generally think of him as very calm and patient..

His attitude at games is very respectful. He is highly regarded as a master amongst pro players from Korea because of his good attitude and mind for Go.

He is humble and modest, and his attitude and behavior is such a perfect model, even for pro players. Whenever I see an interview with him, I feel his inner strength and the depth of his thoughtful and beautiful mind.

In Korea, there is a saying, ‘if you look at someone’s face, you can see one’s character and personality because the face reflects the heart’. If you meet him, you will be able to feel how pure and clear his face is, and his mind as well.

Xie He (left) plays Lee Changho (9 dan) in the 16th LG Cup.

Just a few days ago, he played against Lee Changho in the semifinal of the LG Cup, but he lost the game. He played the game patiently, but Lee Changho took the lead in the middle game, and Lee is still very good at this sort of peaceful game.

Unluckily for Xie, he didn’t get any chances afterwards in that game.

I hope to see more of his gentle, calm and peaceful games for a long time to come.

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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 article. I’ve been a Gu Li’s fan for a while now. And about Xie He, I agree that he didn’t lose to Sedol and Changho because of lack of strenth, but probably lack of international experience. I mean, in the present, is there a player who’s more internationally experienced than Lee Sedol and Lee Changho?

  2. Something I’ve noticed about Gu Li’s style is, as white, he will quite often let black build a big moyo and just keep building his own moyo on the other half of the board for the first dozen moves, relying on his excellent invasion and fighting skills to come in later. for example.

    • David Ormerod says:

      There’s a game he played with Liu Xing in 2008 which is another perfect example of what you’re talking about. I was replaying some of Gu Li’s games from a book recently and came across it again. You may have seen it, but if not I think you’d really enjoy it Andrew :).

      It’s sort of incomprehensible to me how he took black’s framework apart, even making it look easy…

  3. Ban Gulong says:

    I have enjoyed all of your articles about the top go players, and even more so your commented games. I am particularly struck here by the use of “humane” and “romantic” to describe a style of go playing. As a novice player I have to admit that I cannot imagine what these terms could possibly mean. Can you describe this a bit more or point me to some resources? Thanks.

    • An Younggil 8p says:

      Good question!
      I meant to use the word ‘humane & romantic’ to describe his mind for playing, but they seem to be wrongly used.
      I occasionally see his overplay or fighting spirit moves in his games.
      When Gu Li is winning, he doesn’t seem to play safely, but rather tightly or severely unlike other top pros. For example, Lee Changho plays very carefully and safely when he is winning his games.
      If Gu Li prefers to play safely like others, it’d be less exciting and fun to watch, but as he plays adventurously and freely, we can enjoy his games more.
      If my description is strange or not suitable, please understand that English is my second language, and I very often make mistakes. 😀


      • Ban Gulong says:

        I don’t think it has as much to do with your level of English, as it has to do with my lack of understanding of go!
        From your description, I think that I can understand the ‘romantic’ aspect – as in looking for adventure and playing a style without fear. I still don’t get ‘humane’ – the only thing that would come to my mind would be that when he was ahead he played fiercely enough to put his opponent “out of his misery,” that is put him in a place where he would resign instead of playing fruitlessly. Am I even close?