Top 20 Go Players: Won Seongjin and Li Zhe

I’d like to introduce some more of the top 20 Go players of 2010. I’m sorry for the long delay in finishing these articles.

Won Seongjin 9p of Korea and Li Zhe 6p of China are both currently ranked number 9 according to Dr Bai Taeil.

Won Seongjin

Won Seongjin (9 dan).

Won Seongjin became a pro in 1998 when he was only 13 years old. He won second place in Rookies’ tournament in 1999. His results in tournaments were getting better and better, though he didn’t win any titles in his early years as a pro.

He won the Chunwon (Tengen) Title in 2007 and that was his first title. After that he beat Gu Li in the China Korea Tengen the following year.

At that time, he also knocked Gu Li down in a drinking battle the night after the match. He won the GS Caltex Cup in 2010, beating Cho Hanseung, and he’s currently ranked number 5 in Korea.

The baby cow trio

Won Seongjin is the same age as Park Younghun and Choi Cheolhan, and they are called the ‘baby cow trio’. It’s because they were born in the year of the ox, but as they were so young, people called them that. Park and Choi have already won international titles, and hopefully Won will also do that someday in the future.

He has an older brother, whose name is Seong-Wook. He also used to be insei, but he gave up trying to become pro when he was about 14.

However, Seongjin kept going on, and he’s become one of the best players today. When Won was very young, he was so cute and naive, so he was liked by all the other insei. Especially the girls.

At that time, I called him ‘Won baby’ (as a nickname) because he was like a lovely baby. But his nickname by now is ‘Won punch’, because his punch in Go is so powerful and heavy.

Won Seongjin at the 16th Samsung Cup.

Won Seongjin’s style

His style of play is different from other top players. Unlike most pro players, he doesn’t play for territory. He prefers to play for thickness and solid shapes instead.

He never plays speedy moves, prefering to play slow and calm Go. He waits patiently for a perfect time to throw a punch, like a lion in the Savanna, and his powerful punches are highly successful in knocking his opponents out.

Won Seongjin’s personality

Won, as a person, is positive, humorous and active, so he has lots of friends. He enjoys sports like soccer, basketball, bowling, and especially baseball.

He’s one of core players in the Korean Baduk Professional baseball team called ‘Ki’(棋). When I was in Korea, we went to the Children’s Grand Park quite often to play baseball with other pros, but Won and the team are playing real baseball in a community baseball league.

Learning Chinese together

In 2004, I learned Chinese with Won and Cho Hanseung for about half a year, until I went into the army to complete my military service. While I was learning Chinese, I once visited China for an event with them.

We started speaking in Chinese when we were all tipsy, and the conversation in Chinese was much more fluent and fun than normally. I suddenly felt that it’s far easier to speak in a foreign language when someone is drunk, and I still believe that’s true.

Although there are lots of young talented players who are challenging the top level players today, Won still maintains his position and tries to go ahead.

Won Seongjin plays Chen Yaoye in the 16th Samsung Cup.

The 16th Samsung Cup

Very recently, Won played against Chen Yaoye in the semi final of the 16th Samsung Cup, and it was a very interesting match. It’s because Chen specializes in defense and patience, and Won specializes in offense – with his hammer punch.

In the final of the Samsung Cup, Won is going to challenge Gu Li 9p again. It will be another exciting match.

Let’s see whose style is superior in the final.


Li Zhe

Li Zhe at the 16th Samsung Cup.

Li Zhe is ranked number 9 as well.

He became a pro in 2000, when he was only 11, and won the Chinese ‘Rookies’ Cup’ (Xinren Wang) in 2006, beating Wang Yao. It was his first title, and he hasn’t added another title to it so far.

In 2008, Li was in the final of the CCTV Cup, but lost to Xie He. However, he won a bronze medal in the individual male division of 1st World Mind Sports Games.

Potential not fulfilled yet

When he was very young, he was one of top potential players in China. He is still very strong, of course, but he didn’t grow as much as was expected.

Personally, I don’t know him very well. I only played with him once in the preliminary match of Samsung Cup in 2008. It was just before I came to Australia.

Lee Zhe with Joanne Missingham.

At that time, he was so young, but he looked even younger because of his baby face. I was in the lead at the beginning of the game, after using some tricky moves (yes, tricky moves sometimes work very well even against top pros :D), but my huge group was captured at the end of the game and I resigned.

I was so impressed by his poker face and calmness during the game, even though he was far younger than me. He made it to the quarter final, but was beaten by Zhou Ruiyang, in that tournament.

An orthodox style

His style of play seems to be pretty normal. He doesn’t try to play brilliant moves and just plays common moves consistently. For me, his games are not very impressive, compared to other top players, so it’s hard to describe his style of play in detail.

Li Zhe (6 dan).

He is not yet greatly popular, because his results in international tournaments are not outstanding so far. However, he was in the semifinal in Mingren (Meijin) in China, and the main tournament of the Samsung Cup this year.

He impressively beat both Park Junghwan 9p and Piao Wenyao 9p in the first round of the main tournament, but was beaten by Kim Jiseok 7p in the next round.

Let’s pay more attention to Li Zhe’s next steps in the near future.

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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. Thanks Younggil for another interesting read. Incidentally, I think booze affects perception rather than ability.

  2. The stories about top pros inspire me a lot, thank you for your work, Mr. Younggil!

  3. In China Li Zhe is famous for his playing style, pretty brilliant, romantic and imaginative. Not normal at all. I can’t believe you got a reverse impression.
    He also write beautiful proses using Classical Chinese, even few highly educated people can do this. He is considered to be the most talented player in Chinese Weiqi community.

    One of his imaginative game.
    (;SZ[19]DT[2010-10-30]PC[]KM[7.5]PB[Li Zhe]PW[Tan Xiao]RE[B+R];B[pd];W[dd];B[pq];W[dp];B[qk];W[mq];B[po];W[jq];B[fc];W[cf];B[mc];W[cn];B[gf];W[if]

    • Li Zhe’s style has gotten many praises, if you search his name in all news, you can see other top players and medias comment his style: graceful, romantic, unique, creative, view characteristic…
      But he is a bit unstable, unstable is his weakness.

      • An Younggil 8p says:

        Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry I couldn’t describe Li Zhe’s style of play because I didn’t know that. However, I learnt now. Thanks.

    • Adrian Gelu says:

      I also agree that the style of Li Zhe is brilliant, refreshing and inspirational, quite opposite to “common”. I am very surprised of the author description…

      Speaking of common, all Korean players have very common style, except Mok Jinseok.

      • An Younggil 8p says:

        Oh, so sorry if I made you upset. I didn’t mean that.
        you’re right, I badly described him. 🙁
        I will try to do that better.