Keywords: Culture & History

The Korean word kuksu corresponds to the Chinese 国手, guoshou, a very high term of praise with a meaning like 'national treasure'. It is applied for high mastery in a very few fields such as medicine and go. There were a number of recognised kuksu in Korean when sunjang baduk was the only version of go played.

In the modern era, Kuksu was an annual tournament with the highest prestige among Korean go titles. Discontinued in 2016. See also Kuksu Mountains Cup.

Ed. Year Winner Runner up
1st 1956 Cho Nam-ch'eol
2nd 1957 Cho Nam-ch'eol
3rd 1958 Cho Nam-ch'eol
4th 1959 Cho Nam-ch'eol
5th 1960 Cho Nam-ch'eol
6th 1961 Cho Nam-ch'eol Kim In
7th 1962 Cho Nam-ch'eol Yi Chang-sae
8th 1963 Cho Nam-ch'eol Yi Chang-sae
9th 1964 Cho Nam-ch'eol Yun Kihyeon
10th 1965 Kim In Cho Nam-ch'eol
11th 1966 Kim In Yun Kihyeon
12th 1967 Kim In Yun Kihyeon
13th 1968 Kim In Cho Nam-ch'eol
14th 1969 Kim In Kim Deok Kyu
15th 1970 Kim In Cho Nam-ch'eol
16th 1971 Yun Kihyeon Kim In
17th 1972 Yun Kihyeon No Yeong-ha
18th 1973 Ha Ch'an-seok Yun Kihyeon
19th 1974 Ha Ch'an-seok Kang Ch'eol-min
20th 1976 Cho Hun-hyeon Ha Ch'an-seok
21st 1977 Cho Hun-hyeon Hong Chong-hyeon
22nd 1978 Cho Hun-hyeon Kim Soo-chang
23rd 1979 Cho Hun-hyeon Ha Ch'an-seok
24th 1980 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
25th 1981 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
26th 1982 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
27th 1983 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
28th 1984 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
29th 1985 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
30th 1986 Seo Pong-Su Cho Hun-hyeon
31st 1987 Seo Pong-Su Cho Hun-hyeon
32nd 1988 Cho Hun-hyeon Seo Pong-su
33rd 1989 Cho Hun-hyeon Lee Changho
34th 1990 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
35th 1991 Cho Hun-hyeon Lee Changho
36th 1992 Cho Hun-hyeon Lee Changho
37th 1993 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
38th 1994 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
39th 1995 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
40th 1996 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
41st 1997 Lee Changho Seo Pong-su
42nd 1998 Cho Hun-hyeon Lee Changho
43rd 1999 Rui Naiwei Cho Hun-hyeon
44th 2000 Cho Hun-hyeon Rui Naiwei
45th 2001 Lee Changho Cho Hun-hyeon
46th 2002 Lee Changho Cho Han-seung
47th 2004 Choi Cheolhan Lee Changho
48th 2005 Choi Cheolhan Lee Changho
49th 2006 Lee Changho Choi Cheolhan
50th 2007 Yun Junsang Lee Changho
51st 2008 Lee Sedol Yun Junsang
52nd 2009 Lee Sedol Mok Jinseok
53rd 2010 Lee Changho Hong Kipyo
54th 2011 Choi Cheolhan Lee Changho
55th 2011 Cho Hanseung Choi Cheolhan
56th 2012 Cho Hanseung Choi Cheolhan
57th 2013 Cho Hanseung Lee Sedol
58th 2014 Park Jung Hwan Cho Hanseung
59th 2015 Park Jung Hwan Cho Hanseung


The tournament is organized according to a usual challenger tournament, the winner of which will play the title holder in a best of three. In 2010 the title holder Lee Sedol was taking a break from professional competition and the final of the challenger tournament was decisive for the title.


YY: Kuksu literally means "Hand of the nation" (Kuk: Nation Su: Hand). It is a poetic expression refering to a strongest player in the nation and has been the highest title of honor for a Baduk player in Korea. Kuksu as a title of honor belonged to Cho Nam-ch'eol being the undisputed best player in his time. Since Cho Nam-ch'eol became inactive, the title of honor has been acknowledged for Cho Hun-hyeon. They are commonly refered as Cho Kuksu. As Cho Hun-hyeon is still active and produces good games, Yi Ch'ang-ho, though clearly the best player since the mid 90's, is not generally refered as Kuksu (or Yi Kuksu).

The winners of Kuksu title (as a tournament title) are one of the two strongest players at the time -- mostly the strongest. Imagine the shock-wave Rui Naiwei, a woman and foreigner, created by winning the title and furthermore beating the two best players, Yi Ch'ang-ho and Cho Hun-hyeon, en route! Rui was honored for a Woman of the Year by the Korean government for the coup.

YY: Guksu is closer to the actual Korean pronounciation of the referent. KuksuJeon (Jeon: competition) is only 4th in terms of prize money; however, it is most prestigeous among the Korean tournaments. It is almost inconceivable -- to Koreans, at least :o) -- that in the modern Baduk era, Kuksu as a title of honor (not a tournament title) is to be acknowledged for a player who has not been dominant in the tournament (for this reason, Yu Ch'ang-hyeok can never be refered as Kuksu (Yu Kuksu) although Kuksu as a title of honor can be acknowledged for more than one player from an era).

In March 2nd, 2004, there was an upset comparable to Rui's winning the title. Ch'oe Ch'eol-han, who did not win a single game over Yi prior to the Kuksu challenging series, beat Yi in the deciding 5th match. Yi did not resign even long after it became clear that the match was lost, which is rare (reflecting the importance of the title for him). While Yi struggled and tried desperate attempts toward the end, the commentators kept silence. It was a moment filled with pathos. Yi who always appears unaffected by match outcomes perhaps got emotional. Interestingly, Kuksu is one tournament (with a challeging series between the reigning champ and the challenger), of which Yi has not produced a long string of consecuive wins although he often expresses that winnning or defending the title is very high in priority.

RSM: While YY is mostly right here, I just wanted to note that Yi Changho indeed is regularly referred to as Yi Kuksu. These honorifics work more or less as a kind of nickname, derived from the title with which a player has been associated the most. For Yi Changho or Cho Hunhyeon, they are most commonly associated in Korea with the Kuksu tourney. Other very strong players are sometimes called "So-and-so kuksu" informally merely as a mark of respect, even if they had not won the Kuksu tourney. Seo Bongsu is the lone exception to this, always being referred to as "Seo Myeongin" instead, due to his exploits in that tourney, first taking the title away from Cho Namcheol as a rookie pro in 1971, and playing some of his most sensational games against Cho Hunhyeon over that title.

Kuksu last edited by Dieter on May 10, 2022 - 11:57
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