Top 20 Go Players: Park Junghwan and Choi Cheolhan

This is the second last article in our series about the top 20 Go players of 2010.

Park Junghwan 9p was ranked number 3 and Choi Cheolhan 9p was ranked number 4, according to Dr Bai Taeil in early 2011.

Park Junghwan

Park Junghwan at 14 years of age.

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.

Already strong…

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 2009, he won the 4th Siptan (‘十段’ – Judan) title, defeating Baek Hongseok. He also won the 14th Chunwon (Tengen) title, beating Kim Jiseok in the final once again.

In 2010, he won the 5th Siptan, defeating Lee Changho this time.

He also won the China Korea Tengen title against Chen Yaoye. Go fans were quite interested in this match because Chen and Park are both young talented players who are rising stars in their countries.

Park Junghwan plays Chen Yaoye in the 2010 China Korea Tengen.

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.

Park Junghwan plays Qiu Jun in the final of the 24th Fujitsu Cup.

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.

Park Junghwan (left) plays Lee Changho in the final of the 5th Siptan.

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.

Park Junghwan and Lee Sula represent Korea at the 2010 Asian Games.

Park’s personality

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.

Great expectations

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

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.

Another prodigy

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.

Lee Changho (left) and Choi Cheolhan play at the 6th Ing Cup.

In 2004, he showed the maturity of his skills and took three titles. He won the Chunwon title again, and he beat Lee Changho in the final of both the 47th Kuksu and the 15th Kisung (Kisei).

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.

Choi Cheolhan (left) plays Chang Hao at the 5th Ing Cup.

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.

Choi Cheolhan plays Lee Changho at the 6th Ing Cup.

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.

Choi’s personality

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.

Yun Jihee and Choi Cheolhan win the Loun.G Pair Go Cup together in 2009.

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 and Yun (left) playing together in the LounG Pair Go Cup.

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.

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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. haha choi cheolhan is my favourite player i like Park Jungwhan too

  2. LionelLAT says:

    Thanks for the nice article. About Park, on the website, at the server Tygem there are some articles about idontca1 (known as Park Junghwan). I think he is very famous on Tygem server.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps you misspoke (English is a difficult language I know), but calling Lee Sula “quite pretty *for* a pro player” is somewhat insulting to Ms. Lee as well as to pro players. Ms. Lee is quite pretty *and* a pro player would be more appropriate (and accurate).

    • English is not a difficult language, at least the fact that it is the most popular second language does not really indicate it is (yes, I’m deliberately misinterpreting the facts). I’m sure Younggil meant it just the way he wrote it: she is not miss world *and* pro players are not particularly known for being pretty (nor the opposite, for that matter). Your wording “Ms. Lee is quite pretty and a pro player” would be more accurate perhaps, but a very dull statement indeed.

      So I’m very glad it is An Younggil writing the reports and not the English ultra-literate Anonymous.

  4. AllVarieties says:

    There seem to be certain players whose personalities are similar to their style of play (the stoic and patient Lee Changho, the outgoing and imaginative Takemiya Masaki, the intuitive and free-spirited Fujisawa Shuko, etc.)

    Then there are players like Choi Cheolhan, whose personalities don’t match their playing styles. His ultra-violent style certainly does not reflect his shyness in real life…

    Mr. An’s profiles are always quite humanizing… To me, Choi Cheolhan is no longer the viper of the go board. He almost sounds like one of my younger cousins.

  5. Hope to read more from GGG like this series, I enjoy these very much!

  6. Very interesting read, and nice to replay some of the commented games, even if Choi lost the one I replayed. Quite an eye opener, that gosensations site: I keep on learning.

    Kind regards,

  7. I like to replay Choi’s games as they are exciting and also give me new ideas. One idea I have picked up from his games, and also Kong Jie’s, is particular sort of jumping into the centre to develop a moyo, often with a large knight’s shape. For example Kong’s L7 in Choi’s answer at L10 was pretty cool too!

  8. Hi An.
    I always wanted to play creative style as Go Seigen, Lee Sedol but it is not suitable for me.
    I wanted to find a more balanced style. Park’s style is quite appropriate, I should practice the skills to play like Park’s style
    Thank you very much.

    • Younggil An says:

      Park Junghwan’s style is well balanced and stable. That’d be good for you to practice his style to play like that. 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes,What is skill I should practice to play like Park?
        Can you help me?

        • Younggil An says:

          Park is well known as a very hard worker. You should spend your time to play some games and study life&death problems or tesuji by yourself. There’s no special way to improve, but if you can dedicate yourself to Go, you’ll be able to become stronger. 🙂