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Korea Go Report: Top News of 2021

Saturday January 15, 2022

By Daniela Trinks, Korea correspondent for the E-Journal. Trinks is a professor in the Department of Baduk (Go) Studies College of Arts & Physical Education at Myongji University in South Korea.

At the end of the year, the Korean Baduk Association (KBA) selects ten top news of the year, without specifying the order. Below is a summary.

Announcement of Korea Go Promotion Plan. In 2021, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism announced the “Basic Plan for Go Promotion”. It consists of three main strategies and eight tasks with the goal of making Go a popular creative leisure sport for a healthy 100-year-life span. The three main strategies are creating a sustainable Go ecosystem, expanding Go as a daily leisure sport, and creating an industrialization foundation for Go. Cho Hoon-hyun 9p, a former member of Korea National Assembly, played a leading role in enacting the Go promotion bill in 2018.

Korean team’s Nongshim Cup victory. Shin Jin-seo 9p won five games in a row, bringing the 22nd Nongshim Cup title back home to Korea after losing it to the Chinese team in the previous two years. Shin Jin-seo was the fourth Korean team player to participate out of five. His teammate Park Jeong-hwan was happy to watch the team’s victory from the bench without playing a single game. 

Shin Jin-seo’s excellent performance. Rated #1 in the Korean as well as in the international Go ranking since January 2020, Shin Jin-seo won five national and one international (Chunlan Cup) competition last year. Not surprisingly, he was also the top earner among the Korean Go players, with a total price money of  about 1.06 billion KRW (880,000 USD). 

Park Jeong-hwan’s Samsung Cup victory. By defeating his “arch nemesis”  Shin Jin-seo, Park Jeong-hwan 9p won the 2021 Samsung Cup, his fifth international title. Since becoming a professional in 2006 he has won 32 individual competitions in total.

Shin Min-jun’s LG Cup win. After losing the first game, Shin Min-jun 9p managed to win the next two in  the best-of-three title matches against Ke Jie 9p. With this win he gained his first major international  title. His achievement was especially celebrated because a Korean had not won an individual title match against a Chinese since 2014.

Celltrion wins Korean Baduk League. Celltrion, Shin Jin-seo’s team, won both the regular and post seasons, by defeating the previous winner, the Korea Price Information team. Celltrion team’s second oldest team player, Won Sung-jin 9p (born 1985), surprised everyone with his outstanding 17:0 winning streak. He was named the MVP of the Korean Baduk League Season 2020-2021. 

Choi Jung’s superiority challenged. Choi Jung 9p has dominated the Korean female Go scene for the past eight years, not only by winning almost all the female titles but also by leading the Korean female ranking consecutively for 97 months. However, in 2021, her stronghold was slightly weakened – Oh Yu-jin 9p defeated her twice in the Female Kuksu and Female Kiseong title matches and she was eliminated in the preliminary round of the Samsung Cup by Cho Seung-ah 5p. Nevertheless, Choi Jung 9p still proved her class by winning the prestigious Wu Qingyuan Cup and the Korean IBK Cup, and maintained her #1 spot in the Korean and international women’s ranking. 

Kim In 9p dies at 78. The “eternal Kuksu” Kim In 9p passed away at the age of 78. His 63-year Go career began in 1958 when he became a pro at the age of 15. Kim In was the top Go player in South Korea from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s, which is popularly called the “Kin-In Era”. He won 30 titles, ranking him sixth  in the Korean title-holder list. Some of his other stats include 860 wins, 5 draws, and 703 losses. Most notably, his 40 consecutive-win record set in 1968 was only broken in 1990 by Lee Changho 9p (41 wins). Besides his career highlights, Kim In 9p was also highly respected for his noble personality and great passion and dedication to supporting Go. In his honor, the Kim In Cup has been held in his hometown Gangjin since 2007.   

International Go competitions hosted online. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, online competitions have become common-place. Major tournaments such as the Korean-sponsored LG Cup, Samsung Cup, Nongshim Cup and Kuksu Mountain Cup, as well as international competitions hosted by Chinese and Japanese organizations such as the Ing Cup, Chunlan Cup, Wu Qingyuan Cup and Senko Cup all took place online in 2021. Unlike 2020, there were no major glitches during the online matches.

Lee Jae-yoon, 7th president of KBF. Lee Jae-yoon, the former vice-president of the Korean Baduk Federation (KBF) was elected as its 7th president. The president of a dental hospital in Daegu City is well known for supporting Korean amateur Go such as the Deokyeong Cup and the Daegu team in the Korean National Amateur Go League. 

Source: KBA (2021); photos courtesy KBA.

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Redmond on Shin Minjun’s masterpiece: Live commentary Sunday night

Saturday December 11, 2021

Shin Minjun 9P

Rounds 5-9 of the 23rd Nongshim Cup were played November 26-30. The Nongshim is a team tournament with teams of five players each for China, Japan, and Korea. Iyama Yuta 9P showed up early to play as Japan’s third player after Shibano Toramaru 9p and Kyo Kagen 9P had been eliminated. Michael Redmond 9P will do a live commentary on Iyama’s 9th-round game against Korea’s Shin Minjun 9P on his YouTube channel on Sunday, December 12 at 7p EST.
“After a well-researched opening, Shin Minjun reduced Iyama’s moyo with a brilliant sequence that will be one of the main focuses of my commentary,” says Redmond. “The game ended in a spectacular fight in which a big dragon died.”  – Chris Garlock

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Top pro titles: A primer

Saturday August 21, 2021

by Yuan Zhou 

73rd Honinbo title match (2018), Iyama Yuta 9p v. Yamashita Keigo 9p.

Most western go players are probably familiar with the top professional titles in Japan, but less so with those in China and Korea. Here’s a quick primer.  

The top three tournaments in Japan are the Kisei, Meijin, and Honinbo, all currently held by Iyama Yuta 9p, who’s been dominant for some years. The Honinbo is the oldest pro title in the world, first held in 1941: the current occurrence of the contest for that title is the 77th. The other four big Japanese titles are Gosei, Oza, Judan, and Tengen.  They also have been running for many years, and in terms of a long, stable tournament history, Japan is the best in the world.

The oldest title in Korea is the Myeongin, equivalent to the Japanese Meijin and to the Chinese Mingren. Currently being contested for the 44th time, it was discontinued for several years, but is being actively fought for this year. The last previous winner was Lee Sedol 9p in 2016. The final match this year is a five-game contest between Shin Jinseo 9p, who holds several other Korean titles and is currently considered number one in Korea, and Byun Sangil 9p. Shin Jinseo also holds several other Korean national titles and the Asian TV Cup. He defeated Ding Hao 6p of China for the latter title.

The oldest title in China is the Tianyuan, which was contested for the thirty-fifth time this year: Gu Zihao 9p defeated the previous holder of the title, Yang Dingxin 9p, by a score of 2-1. The next oldest Chinese national title is the Mingren, which was won most recently by Mi Yuting 9p. Ke Jie 9p, who has won more international titles than any other player currently active, has not done as well at the national level, but he does hold four national titles currently, including the Changqi Cup, which is one of the more prestigious titles, and the Qisheng. As a result he is considered number one in China.

There are also pro titles in Taiwan, of course, though the Taiwanese pros have not had much success at the international level. This is partly because the best Taiwanese players usually moved to Japan to play very early in their careers. Some of these have done quite well in Japan, such as the well-known Cho U 9p, Rin Kaiho 9p, and O Rissei 9p, all of whom have held some of the top Japanese titles. In fact, O Rissei 9p recently won the 1st Shinan International Senior Baduk Cup, playing for Taiwan and defeating such famous older players as Japan’s Kobayshi Koichi 9p and China’s Yu Bin 9p as well as Seo Bongsoo 9p of Korea. Both Cho U and O Rissei won the Japanese Kisei title three times in a row when they were playing as members of the Nihon Ki-in. O Meien is also a native of Taiwan who joined the Nihon Ki-in and won the Honinbo title in 2000 and 2001.

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Yoonyoung Kim 8P and women’s team hold 2-0 lead over the veterans at 15th Korean Gigi Auction Cup

Sunday August 1, 2021

Yoonyoung Kim 8P won her two opening games against Sujang Kim 7P and Yoo Changhyuk 9P on July 26 and 27 at the 15th Gigi Auction Cup veteran-women Go Challenge in Seoul, Korea. Each team, a women’s team and a veterans team – with players all 45 years old or above – has 12 players and sends out one competitor at a time. All games are live on BadukTV and can be found on their YouTube channel. On Monday morning, August 2nd, Kim 8P will take on Lee SungJae 9P hoping for a three-win streak, which will mean an additional prize. The winning team prize is $100,000 (120 million won). Since 2007, the women’s team has won eight times (the 1st, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th, 14th) and the veterans team has won six times.

-photos from BadukTV
-report by Capital Go Club

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Shin Min-jun wins first major world championship

Monday February 15, 2021

South Korean baduk player Shin Min-jun has won his first world championship, coming first in the LG Cup World Baduk Championship.
The 22-year-old who’s ranked 4th in South Korea, defeated top-ranked Chinese player Ke Jie, giving him his first major victory since his debut eight years ago. Shin lost the first game, before winning the next two. Shin also became the 15th South Korean to win a major event.

Arirang News

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Go stones found buried at the feet of 5th century princess in Korea

Wednesday December 9, 2020

Natural Go stones excavated from an ancient tomb in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, 
South Korea [Credit: Gyeongju National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage]

During the excavation of Silla ancient tomb No. 44 at Jjoksaem in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province, ongoing since 2014, archeologists unearthed a variety of treasures including about 200 Go stones buried beneath the feet of the tomb’s occupant. The size and location of the tomb, along with the jewelry and other ornaments found inside, indicate that the tomb belongs to a young woman of very high class, likely a member of a royal family. The find sheds new light on the nature and players of the game around that time.

Under the feet of the buried person, about 200 pieces of small black, white and gray stones, presumed to be used for playing baduk, were excavated. In the past, baduk stones of the Silla era were unearthed in tombs of people belonging to the highest classes. 

In “Samguksagi” (History of the Three Kingdoms) and “Samgukyusa” (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), there are records of King Hyonseong, who reigned from 737 to 742, playing baduk. 

“It has been deduced that baduk was the exclusive property of men. As the tomb occupant at this time is presumed to be female, it is expected to raise new interpretations of and meaning in baduk culture,” the GNRICH official said.
-Kwon, Mee-yoo. “Unearthed ornaments link tomb to 5th century Silla princess.” The Korea Times [Seoul], 07 Dec 2020.

The story was reported in the Korea Times on December 7th, and a following article in the Archeology News Network was reported to the EJournal as a Go Spotting by Richard Neer at the University of Chicago.

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Korea plans Go stadium

Tuesday August 11, 2020

In a bit of welcome good news in the midst of the uncertainty around in-person play during the global pandemic, an exclusive stadium for Baduk – as Go is known in Korea — is being planned for a municipality north of Seoul, reports Korea Bizwire. The proposed Baduk stadium will be located on the grounds of the former Defense Security Command (DSC) in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province, according to an official at the city government.

According to the proposal, the Go stadium will cover an area of 10,000 square meters with four floors above ground, along with one basement level, and the city government is planning to complete the construction by 2023.

The stadium will include Baduk playing rooms, viewing rooms, education halls and exhibition rooms, as well as media rooms and reception rooms for broadcasting Baduk games. The city of Uijeongbu has already completed a feasibility test for the proposal and held a final report meeting on Tuesday. The project cost is estimated at 30 billion won, excluding land purchase costs.

Go drew worldwide attention in 2016 when Google arranged a groundbreaking match in Seoul between South Korean Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players, and AlphaGo, an artificial intelligence system designed by a team of researchers at DeepMind.

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AGA Seeks player for 15th Korea Prime Minister’s Cup

Thursday June 18, 2020

With no US Open tournament on which to base eligibility, the AGA will hold an online qualifier to select one representative to the 15th Korea Prime Minister’s Cup, which will be held online this year (Tygem) throughout August. Any AGA amateur member who is a US Citizen and rated 6d+ may participate. Please respond to tournaments@usgo.org no later than Wednesday, June 24 to participate in the event. 

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Lee Sedol drops to AI player in final career match

Saturday January 11, 2020

South Korean Go icon Lee Sedol closed out his illustrious career last month in a three-game match with home-developed artificial intelligence (AI) program HanDol, according to a report by the Yonhap News Agency.

Lee, who turned pro at 12 and went on to capture 18 international and 32 domestic titles, defeated HanDol in the opener of the best-of-three match in Seoul, playing with a two-stone advantage. The second match was played without any handicap, and HanDol was victorious. In the decisive third game, HanDol, developed by South Korea’s NHN Entertainment Corp., took down the 36-year-old master after 181 stones in Lee’s final match, held in his hometown of Sinan, 400 kilometers south of Seoul.
“I should have done better early, and then the (final game) would have played out much like the first one,” Lee said. “To be honest, I don’t think HanDol is particularly strong when playing with an advantage. I think some of the younger players would have beaten HanDol.”

Looking back on his career, Lee said, “I’ve enjoyed this ride. In the past, I used to say, ‘Baduk is my life,'” he said. “But now, I think there’s more to my life than baduk. I take away a lot of fun memories. Even though I lost today, I was happy to have played a good match.”

Note: This post has been updated to clarify the game sequence.

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Lee Sedol retirement reported worldwide

Wednesday November 27, 2019

Lee Sedol plays the first move in the first game of the AlphaGo series

Korean Go champion Lee Sedol has officially retired. “The 36-year-old, who scored 18 victories in international competitions and 32 victories in domestic events, submitted his letter of retirement to the Korea Baduk Association (KBA), which oversees Go professionals in South Korea, on Nov. 19, terminating his legendary 24-year career,” reports the Yonhap News Agency. In an interview with the Korean news agency earlier this week, Lee attributed his desire to retire to the rise of AI and the invincibility of programs such as AlphaGo, stating that “with the debut of AI in Go… even if I become the number one, there is an entity that cannot be defeated.” Lee’s retirement and his AI-based reasons were reported internationally by the media with American media such as Vice, the Guardian, Business Insider, and others reporting the story.

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