Yi Ch'ang-ho (Hangul: 이창호, Hanja?: 李昌鎬, RR?: I Chang-ho, M-R: Yi Ch'ang-ho, born 29 July 1975) is a Korean 9-dan professional considered to have been the strongest player in the world for much of the 90s and first decade of the 21st century. His name is commonly written Lee Changho.
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Yi was born on 29 July 1975, and became a live-in disciple of Cho Hun-hyeon in 1984. He became a 1-dan professional in 1986. In the early 1990s he started winning the Korean titles which Cho had long dominated, and in 1992 won his first international title, the 3rd Tong Yang Securities Cup. His record in major international titles is unrivalled as of 2009. With his win of the Chunlan Cup tournament against Hane Naoki in 2003, Yi Chang-ho has won every single international Go tournament at least once (not counting obsolete tournaments). The Korean press calls this a "Grand Slam" in Go.
Big Titles record
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Yi Chang-ho has many nicknames, the most suitable of which is "Stone Statue of Buddha" or "Stone Buddha." It reflects the fact that he does not show changes of emotions and state of mind as much as or as often as other players.
The nickname also says much about his playing style. Employing his superior calculating ability, he often concedes to an opponent's intention rather than getting into a nasty conflict. His style is peaceful and defensive. More often than not, he somehow comes out victorious without inflicting a deep wound, let alone delivering a fatal blow. Without much change in facial expression -- win or lose.
For many years, understandably, players refused to believe how strong Yi was. He does not pull any ace-in-the-hole moves that leave you stunned. He does not overwhelm you with power or brilliance. Cho ChiKun in his prime before the final matches of a World Go competition proudly -- and half jokingly -- announced that he was going to teach Yi a few "lessons" and lost three straight games. Cho could not understand why he lost.
Yi's first teacher said that Yi always tried to come up with cunning and brilliant moves (MyoSoo in Korean, MyoShu in Japanese). Then Yi became a pupil of Cho HunHyun. At first, Cho doubted the talent of the kid, since he could not even perfectly reproduce the game he played that day. The conventional wisdom dictates that a Go genius is endowed with magnificent intuition, quick razor sharp analytical ability, and vast memory. In Cho's assessment, the kid fell short of expectation in most categories of natural talent. But, Cho noticed that Yi was amazingly studious -- almost legendarily so -- and was a deep thinker with a different mindset. (He later conceded that Yi is a "different type" of Go genius.)
During his studies under Cho, Yi's style got completely overhauled. He has become a master of "common" moves instead of MyoSoo.
Yi has come to prefer a safer move (from which he can plan future moves by being able to predict the opponent's reactions with high probability) to a brilliant move that leaves unpredictability down the road. In so doing, Yi minimizes the factor of chance arising from difficult situations. In short, he has become a "control freak."
So, why was he to be transformed from a lover of MyoSoo to a seeker of seemingly average yet certain, effective moves? The reason is not precisely known. Yet, it is ventured that the motivation could have been the natural talent of his teacher, Cho HunHyun, who is often dubbed as the most talented player.
In the early stage of his career, Yi was criticized that his playing style was molded only to beat the teacher, Cho (as he was not as dominant over other top players). Although he later proved that his style was effective against anyone, the criticism has some truth as he confessed later indirectly that his goal was to beat the teacher.
It was a question of how. Yi simply could not match Cho in natural brilliance. That is, it was impossible for Yi to follow in the footsteps of Cho and surpass him. Instead, Yi chose a path along which his magnificent calculation and deep thinking triumphs over Cho's natural brilliance and quick thinking.
Simplification is the word that best fits Yi's style. In his game, everything is simplified. However, that the level of simplification is quite relative. Hence, many were, and still are, unimpressed by his game (until they get to play him, as Chang Hao said). Quoting loosely his teacher, Cho HunHyun, Yi sits and waits patiently in the depths of the unknown. You wait and wait to find out what Yi hides in the depths. You finally run out of patience and jump into the deep. Without fail, you find yourself trapped in the depths.
In other words, it is the depth of simplicity.
Now, Yi is undergoing changes. His simple approach and peaceful methods are not as lethal as they used to be. He is being seriously challenged by Yi Se-tol. As evidenced in the LG Cup, Yi Se-tol is up to the level that affects Yi Chang-ho's mind of unshakable Stone Buddha.
According to Kim SeungJoon 7d, the reason Yi Ch'ang-ho now loses his composure is that he is no longer guaranteed to win by sticking to his old style. While some younger Korean players he inspired (most notably Yi Se-tol) are as good in calculation, reading positions, and the endgame as he is, Yi is being forced to abandon or rely less upon his old style of often conceding a few battles and still winning the war. Yi pursues a new style that is more battle ready, much stingier, and more tightly gripped upon opponents. In the process, he makes mistakes and even allows rare psychological lapses.
Cho HunHyun takes an insightful look into what is happening with his pupil and Yi Se-tol: "Is the era of Yi Ch'ang-ho over? No. It is just that the time has finally come that Yi Ch'ang-ho has a legitimate rival. The two will battle head to head for many years to come. After the smoke clears, we will see whose time this is." Being a veteran of the two greatest rivalries of the Korean Go history -- Cho beating Seo BongSoo by 2-1 ratio over a decade and then losing to Yi Ch'ang-ho by the similar ratio over the next decade -- Cho senses another rivalry brewing, something Yoo ChangHyuk could not give to Yi Ch'ang-ho.
Yi Ch'ang-ho will change as Cho had to change in order to stay toe to toe with the pupil of his who shot him down from the very top of the world. Whether or not Yi is truly one of the greatest of all time will depend on what his metamorphosis may become and how effective it might turn out to be.
Park ChiMoon, a Korean Go critic, said that Yi Ch'ang-ho might be the greatest Go strategist of all time as Yi has successfully come back against the so called Yi Ch'ang-ho killers (e.g., Yoda Norimoto et al.). We will see the real truth of it in about 5 years from now as the smoke of the rivalry clears by that time.
Regarding Rui Naiwei's favorable record against Yi Changho -- 6 to 2 in favor of Rui as of February 2005 -- the prevailing theory goes as follows. It takes a terrific aggressive player to defeat Yi Changho. Cho HunHyun even had to change his style in favor of more aggressive all out warfare against his pupil. Yi's series of defeats by younger players such as Yi Setol and Choi CheolHan support the view. Rui's playing style is undoubtedly one of the most aggressive. Her ultra-aggressive and creative offense may offer greater challenges for Yi as he cannot predict Rui's next moves and thus fails to take control of the game like he usually can do against other players.
One quasi-theory goes like this: Rui greatly admires Yi as both a player and as a person. Inspired, she plays her best game against Yi. One can imagine how the two above factors combine to a plausible--though not necessarily correct--explanation that Rui plays an unusually inspired game against Yi, and her style is very difficult for Yi to handle.
Another possibility is that, having played only eight games so far--without any series or multi-game matches--it is hard to say that Rui even necessarily has an edge over Yi. The law of averages may eventually catch up.
Always modest, Rui says that Yi is beyond her and that she does not understand how she could defeat Yi, a far superior player, so many times. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to hear if those are her true thoughts on the matter.
As of 24 February 2006, Yoda Norimoto record against Yi is 9 wins and 8 losses.
It is widely believed that Yi has a superior endgame technique and that he starts to play endgame moves sooner in the middle game than his opponents. But a short inspection of his games shows some other interesting aspects. It seems that he likes to play tenuki even more than the other guy. Of course, this is based on very good reading of the position, but the impression is that he plays contrary to the proverb. He plays big moves rather than urgent moves. Well, it turns out that he had read it out and found that the "urgent" move was not so urgent.
It seems also that he is fond of the approach ko. Quite often rather large groups are at stake because he preferred a big move to a safe move earlier.
Go: Invasion et réduction - 2 volumes
- One of the funny stories about Yi Ch'ang-ho is that he did not know how to tie his own shoelaces even into his young adult years. While Yi studied under Cho HunHyun as an in-house pupil, Mrs. Cho bought him shoes without laces because he would drag his feet around until someone finally tied them for him. I have heard many similar stories about how Yi Ch'ang-ho was totally preoccupied with Go and could not or did not pay attention to the everyday aspects of life.
- Regarding Yi's infamous inability to reproduce his own games, his brother recently posted a short message in Yi's homesite that even after he made professional rank, Yi Ch'ang-ho sometimes had difficulties reproducing his own games "in front of Cho HunHyun." I suspect that it may be largely psychological considering the shy nature of Yi's and the special relationship between teacher and pupil (Pressure? Oh, yeah...).
- 15 June 2010, 16.00 (Korean time): During a 40 minute long press conference in Korea, Yi Ch'ang-ho has announced his engagement to miss Yi Doyun . Miss Yi Doyun is a strong baduk player herself and a Myongji University graduate. She is 11 years younger than Yi Ch'Ang-ho, but Yi Ch'ang-ho replies: "In some ways I am rather young". They are already planning for a big(!?) family with 1-3 children.
- His web-site (in Korean): http://www.leechangho.com
- Fan club (in English): http://baduk.eu
- A list of titles he has won, as of March 2001: http://www.msoworld.com/mindzine/news/orient/go/special/yi_milestones.html
- Interview: http://gogame.info/samples/16/index.html
- Some excerpts from an interview with Yi Ch'ang-ho.
- An Younggil's biography of Lee Changho
- Yi Ch'ang-ho's game collection: http://www.go4go.net/v2/modules/collection/byplayer2.php?pid=18
- Effusive article: http://english.kbs.co.kr/society/people/1346070_11774.html
- Wikipedia Article
- Interview at Google Video Maybe someone can translate it.
- Two games of Yi Ch'ang-ho http://www.agi.go.it/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=198&Itemid=226
- Lee Changho Facebook Page
valerio: From 1990-02-27, to 1990-08-31, Yi Ch'ang-ho obtained 41 wins in 41 games. The complete list is in my italian blog at http://valeriosampieri.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!9A59FBB933BD0668!436.entry On 2010-01-18 Lee obtained his win #1,500 against Choi Cheolhan and in 2012-07-13 he obtained his win #1600 (against Park Jinsol, in the preliminries of the 14th Nongshim).