American Go E-Journal


Tuesday August 3, 2010

Go commentator Seong-Yong Kim 9P once got a very long and formal letter from a viewer admonishing him to “Be quiet!” Kim chuckled happily. For fifteen years he’s been shaking up the go commentary world with his pungent – and entertaining – commentaries. “People call me rude and say ‘that guy’s too loud,’” Kim told the E-Journal Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Go Congress, where he’s one of the roster of visiting professionals. “Now,” he smiled broadly “they love it.” When Kim – who was Best Rookie of the Year in 1995, semi-finalist in the 1996 Samsung Cup, and won the 2004 Electronic Land Cup and the first King of Kings tournament —  first began, “TV go commentaries used the Japanese style, very formal,  and focused on technical details. They would only talk about the good moves, to be polite.” But during a 1993 visit to the United States, Kim – an avid baseball fan — admired the lively style of American baseball commentators on television, and thought it could be applied to go, which was now being treated as a sport back home in Korea. “So if I thought a move was a mistake, I’d say so, bluntly.” Initial audience response was uniformly negative, so much so that Baduk TV had to shut down their website’s comment section to avoid crashing the server. But Kim kept at it, filling the long empty spaces between moves, not just with his pungent commentary, but detailed background on the players and the moves, “when a move was first invented, and how trends have changed over the years.” Figuring that baseball’s fascination with stats would also translate well to go, he compiled over a thousand pages of statistics about the game and players, “What kind of joseki a particular players uses, the openings he favors, how many times he’s played black or white.” All commentators use stats now, Kim said, and they can reveal fascinating insights. “Lee Changho 9P says he prefers to play black, but the stats show that he has a higher winning percentage as white.” They also show that in a close game, Lee Changho – well-known for his strong endgame – “has a 90% chance of winning.” Kim is so popular that he’s done commentary for several Korean baseball games, which he says was much easier than go. “In baseball, it’s all about what’s already happened, while in go we’re trying to figure out what might happen.” Five years after receiving the “Be quiet” letter, Kim ran into the fan, who enthusiastically shook his hand, apologized for his letter and thanked him for helping generate interest in go with his “interesting, lively and frank” commentaries. “Hey, things change,” Kim – who also now does game commentaries on CyberOro and Tygem — shrugged with another broad smile.
– report by Chris Garlock, photos by Todd Heidenreich. Special thanks to Jonathan Kim 1D for translation