Go in Korea

Go certainly came to Korea from nearby China. Unlike China and Japan, we do not know very much about Korean Go before the 20th century. Today, however, Go is immensely popular in Korea, from where many of today's top players come from.

Early Korean Go

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There are two theories about how Go came to Korea. The first is that it came from Qizi ("Kija" in Korean), a mythical Chinese refugee from the time of Confucius. Regarded as a wise man, it is said Qizi brought the game with his tribe of followers on a great migration out of China to escape fighting. The other possible theory is that Go was introduced during a Chinese invasion in 109 BCE when colonies were established and Chinese culture grew in the current Korean area.

Centuries later, the game was played by a priest in Goguryeo (one of the ancient Three Kingdoms of Korea) named To-lim. Goguryeo's king Koryon knew that Yogyong, the king of a rival colony Baekje, also loved to play Go. To-lim pretended to flee to Baekje after Koryon accused him of false crimes. There To-lim gained the trust of king Yogyong, and he encouraged Yogyong (and the next king) on how to spend their resources on building expensive and sometimes unnecessary structures. When Baekje was near bankruptcy, To-lim escaped back to Goguryeo, where he reported on financial problems and weak points in the new buildings. In 475 CE, Koryon invaded Baekje and won easily, in the area that is now Seoul.

There is reference to the game in a poem from Silla (the third kingdom), dated 747 CE. A 17x17 stone board was found in Korea and is dated from 880 CE. It is said that a famous Korean scholar named Ch'oe Ch'i-weon played on the board. There are more go sets in Japan which are dated earlier and are believed to be from Korea.

Modern Era

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In the mid 20th century, only a handful of Korean players could match the Japanese. Many Koreans studied in Japan. In April 1941, Cho Nam-chol passed the Japanese Go Association's professional exams (he studied at the Kitani school and returned to Korea in 1944). Kim In, another famous Korean player also studied at the Kitani school, in 1962.

The Hankuk Kiwon ("Korea Baduk Association" - Baduk is the Korean word for "Go") was founded on January 28th, 1954. In 1963 Cho Chikun, 7 years old at the time, left Korea to study at the Kitani school. Cho Chikun would later win many titles, and in the eyes of the media was a national hero when he finally returned to Korea. This gave Korean popularity of Go a very large boost. In September 1989, Cho Hun-hyun (who also studied at the Kitani dojo) won $400,000 at the first ING tournament.

Soon after Cho Hun-hyun's victory at the ING tournament, his student Yi Ch'ang-ho (also known as Lee Changho) emerged. Korean players dominated international titles throughout the 1990s and continue to do very well. In February 2000, Rui Naiwei became the first woman to win a large title. Today Korean players are known for having strong middle-game fighting abilities. Korea is also helping many foreign players to become professionals, including American Janice Kim in 1987, Russians Alexandre Dinerchtein and Svetlana Shikshina in 2002, and Hungarian Diana Koszegi in January 2008.