Yi Ch'ang-ho

    Keywords: People


Chinese: 李昌鎬
Japanese: イ・チャンホ
Korean: 이창호

Lee Changho (Yi Ch'ang-ho, RR: I Chang-ho, M-R: Yi Ch'ang-ho, Ch:李昌鎬, born 29 July 1975) is a Korean, professional 9-dan. He is considered to have been the strongest player in the world from around 1995 through 2006.

Table of contents Table of diagrams
Lee Changho 6-dan v. [Cho Chikun] 9-dan, 1993-04-22, Lee completely dictates the pace with a flurry of miai moves

Short Biography

Lee was born on 29 July 1975. He learned go from his grandfather at the age of six, and became apprenticed to Cheon Yeong-seon 6-dan at eight. In 1984, he won a national youth championship, placed 3rd in the World Youth Goe Championship, and became a live-in disciple of Cho Hun-hyeon. He became an insei the following year and a 1-dan professional the year after in 1986. In the late 1980s, he started winning the Korean titles that his teacher, Cho, had long been dominating. In 1992, he won his first international title (the 3rd Tong Yang Securities Cup). As of 2009, his record in major international titles stands at #1. With his win of the Chunlan Cup tournament against Hane Naoki in 2003 Lee Changho has won every single international Go tournament at least once (not counting obsolete tournaments that he couldn't have participated in). The Korean press calls this a "Grand Slam" in go. On 28 October 2010, Lee married amateur go player Lee Do-yoon?.

Lee's Early Style

Lee Changho has had many nicknames, the most suitable of which has been the "Stone Buddha." This nickname reflects the fact that he usually keeps a tight poker face, rarely revealing his emotions and state of mind during events; and during his earlier play style, before the mid 2000s, he opted for peaceful and defensive games that would usually lead into whoever could play the better endgame. As such, he was the 'stone statue of Buddha.'

Lee Changho 6-dan v. Cho Chikun 9-dan, 1993-04-22, Lee completely dictates the pace with a flurry of miai moves  

Lee employed a fantastic ability to dictate a leisurely pace right from the opening, whether playing as Black or White. He often discovered probes that would limit an opponent's strategic options, sequences that would guarantee making miai of all the large points, and ways to peacefully concede to an opponent's intention without falling behind. In his earlier games, important groups rarely diedーneither his nor his opponent's. These were helped both by his fantastic endgame calculations and brilliantly subtle endgame sequences, which he would be calculating and planning far in advance and for which Koreans' termed his endgame skill: "divine calculation."

For many years, players didn't fully understand how strong Lee was. He did not pull clear ace-in-the-hole moves that left audiences stunned or overwhelm opponents with powerful fighting and attacking. Instead, his brilliant moves could often said to be subtle, hiding their intent beneath the surface and, frequently, only by observing the larger picture.

Beating the Master

Lee's first teacher, Cheon Yeong-seon, said that Lee always tried to come up with myoshu. Then Lee became a pupil of Cho Hun-hyeon. 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 Lee was amazingly studious and was a deep thinker endowed with a different mindset. He later decided that Lee was of a "different type" of go genius.

During his studies under Cho, Lee's style got completely overhauled. He became a master of "common" moves instead of myoshu.

Lee 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 myoshu that leaves unpredictability down the road. In so doing, Lee 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 myoshu 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 Hun-hyeon, who is often dubbed as the most talented player.

In the early stage of his career, Lee 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. Lee simply could not match Cho in natural brilliance. That is, it was impossible for Lee to follow in the footsteps of Cho and surpass him. Instead, Lee 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 Lee's style. In his game, everything is simplified. However, 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 Hun-hyeon, Lee sits and waits patiently in the depths of the unknown. You wait and wait to find out what Lee 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.

Lee's Later Style

Around 2001, Lee began to be challenged by a new generation of players. His simple approach and peaceful methods became less successful as fighting players, such as Lee Sedol and Ch'oe Ch'eol-han, found ways to first force Lee into attacking positions and then turn them into all out fights where the other player could outmaneuver Changho. The first part of this method was most famously demonstrated in the 2001 LG Cup final against fellow counterman Lee Sedol. In games one, two, and five Sedol played stones and left unsettled groups that enticed Changho into directions where attacking was the clearest and simplest way to gain an advantage. Once Changho began attacking, Sedol would try to outmaneuver Changho in disadvantageous or slack results by threatening whole board fighting, which Changho would want to avoid. These fights also seemed to occasionally unsettle Changho, causing him to make surprising mistakes, lapses in judgement, or play at an uncharacteristic pace. Subsequent interviews have also stated that Lee had felt considerable pressure to perform against the new, younger players.

According to Kim Seungjoon 7d, part of the reason Lee Changho began to lose his composure was that he was no longer guaranteed to win by sticking to his old style. While some younger Korean players he inspired became as good in calculation, reading positions, and the endgame as he was, Lee was being forced to abandon or rely less upon his old style of often conceding a few battles and still winning the war. Lee pursues a new style that is more battle ready, much stingier, and more tightly gripped upon opponents.

Cho Hun-hyeon takes an insightful look into what is happening with his pupil and Lee Sedol: "Is the era of Lee Changho over? No. It is just that the time has finally come that Lee Changho 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 Lee Changho by the similar ratio over the next decade -- Cho senses another rivalry brewing, something Yoo ChangHyuk could not give to Lee Changho.

Lee Changho 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 Lee 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 Lee Changho might be the greatest go strategist of all time as Lee has successfully come back against the so called Lee Changho killers (e.g., Yoda Norimoto et al.). We will see the real truth of it in as the smoke of rivalries clear.

Thoughts from Professionals

Chang Hao 9p: You get to know how strong Lee is only when you play him.

Go Seigen: "studies a lot and hard, but in terms of talent doesn't look as good as Cho Hun-hyeon, your teacher." - (1998)[1]

Rin Kaiho: "When you're playing Lee, you get nervous if the game is close. But if you do anything the slightest bit unreasonable, he immediately pounces on you. There's just no way to handle him." - Go World Iss. 71 p. 26 (1994)

"Lee Chang-ho is confident in his endgame ability and he probably believes that if a game becomes a leisurely one he'll win it. I think that he's researched the opening well so that he can get the kind of game he likes." - Go World Iss. 71 p. 19 (1994)

Rui Naiwei: Lee lets you do what you want yet wins over you at the end.

Ryu Shikun: "When I was a child, I believed that go was not a game of calculation, but Lee would accurately count one-point wins. At first, that astonished me. Nowadays, he's already calculated the score even when there are still various places to fight. And his figures are quite accurate. He virtually never makes a mistake in the endgame." - Go World Iss. 71 p. 26 (1994)

Individual Titles

Year # of Titles Title Names
1989 2 8th KBS Cup; 5th New King Tournament?
1990 3 29th Ch'oegowi; 8th Daewang; 34th Kuksu
1991 6 8th Bacchus Cup; 9th Bacchus Cup; 30th Ch'oegowi; 22nd Myeongin; 9th Taewang; 25th Wangwi
1992 8 10th Bacchus Cup; 2nd B.C. Card Cup; 31st Ch'oegowi; 9th Daewang; 11th KBS Cup; 23rd Myeongin; 10th Taewang; 3rd Tong Yang Securities Cup
1993 10 3rd B.C. Card Cup; 10th Daewang; 4th Kiseong; 16th Kukgi; 37th Kuksu; 24th Myeongin; 1st Paedal Wang; 1st SBS Cup; 11th Taewang; 4th Tong Yang Securities Cup
1994 11 4th B.C. Card Cup; 33rd Ch'oegowi; 12th Daewang; 5th Kiseong; 18th Kiwang; 17th Kukgi; 38th Kuksu; 25th Myeongin; 29th P'aewang; 2nd Paedal Wang; 2nd SBS Cup
1995 13 7th Asian TV Cup; 5th B.C. Card Cup; 34th Ch'oegowi; 13th Daewang; 13th KBS Cup; 6th Kiseong; 19th Kiwang; 18th Kukgi; 39th Kuksu; 26th Myeongin; 30th P'aewang; 3rd Paedal Wang; 3rd SBS Cup
1996 12 8th Asian TV Cup; 1st Ch'eonweon; 35th Ch'oegowi; 14th Daewang; 9th Fujitsu Cup; 7th Kiseong; 19th Kukgi; 40th Kuksu; 27th Myeongin; 7th Tong Yang Securities Cup; 30th Wangwi; 1st World Go's Strongest Player Tournament?
1997 12 7th B.C. Card Cup; 2nd Ch'eonweon; 36th Ch'oegowi; 1st China-Korea Tengen; 15th Daewang; 2nd GS Caltex Cup; 8th Kiseong; 41st Kuksu; 1st LG Cup; 2nd Samsung Cup; 4th Paedal Wang; 31st Wangwi
1998 10 3rd Ch'eonweon; 37th Ch'oegowi; 2nd China-Korea Tengen; 11th Fujitsu Cup; 3rd GS Caltex Cup; 9th Kiseong; 29th Myeongin; 3rd Samsung Cup; 9th Tong Yang Securities Cup; 32nd Wangwi
1999 9 4th Ch'eonweon; 38th Ch'oegowi; 3rd China-Korea Tengen; 17th KBS Cup; 10th Kiseong; 3rd LG Cup; 30th Myeongin; 4th Samsung Cup; 33rd Wangwi
2000 6 4th China-Korea Tengen; 4th Ing Cup; 19th KBS Cup; 11th Kiseong; 31st Myeongin; 34th Wangwi
2001 7 6th GS Caltex Cup; 20th KBS Cup; 12th Kiseong; 5th LG Cup; 32nd Myeongin; 35th P'aewang; 35th Wangwi
2002 8 14th Asian TV Cup; 21st KBS Cup; 13th Kiseong; 45th Kuksu; 33rd Myeongin; 36th P'aewang; 36th Wangwi; 1st World Oza
2003 6 4th Chunlan Cup; 8th GS Caltex Cup; 14th Kiseong; 46th Kuksu; 34th Myeongin; 37th Wangwi
2004 5 9th GS Caltex Cup; 23rd KBS Cup; 8th LG Cup; 1st TEDA Cup; 38th Wangwi
2005 5 5th Chunlan Cup; 2nd Etland Cup; 24th KBS Cup; 49th Kuksu; 39th Wangwi
2006 3 3rd Etland Cup; 1st Siptan; 40th Wangwi
2007 3 26th KBS Cup; 41st Wangwi; 3rd Zhonghuan Cup
2008 2 5th Etland Cup; 3rd Siptan
2009 2 27th KBS Cup; 37th Myeongin
2010 2 28th KBS Cup; 53rd Kuksu
Total 145

Team Titles

to be added

Early Statistics [2][3]

  • 1986: 8 wins 3 losses (72.7%)
  • 1987: 44-11 (80.0%)
  • 1988: 75-10 (88.2%)
  • 1989: 84-27 (75.7%)
  • 1990: 78-12 (86.7%)
  • 1991: 65-19 (77.4%)
  • 1992: 81-21 (79.4%)
  • 1993: 90-19 (82.6%)
  • 1994: 71-19 (79.4%)
  • 1995: 63-13 (82.9%)
  • 1996: 63-30 (67.7%)
  • 1997: 72-19 (79.1%)
  • 1998: 49-15 (76.6%)
  • 1999: 51-10 (83.6%)
  • 2000: 55-11 (83.3%)
  • Total: 949-239 (79.9%)

Rui Naiwei's Positive Record

Regarding Rui Naiwei's favorable record against Lee 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 Lee Changho. Cho Hun-hyeon even had to change his style in favor of more aggressive all out warfare against his pupil. Lee's series of defeats by younger players such as Lee Sedol 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 Lee 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 Lee as both a player and as a person. Inspired, she plays her best game against Lee. 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 Lee, and her style is very difficult for Lee 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 Lee. The law of averages may eventually catch up.

Always modest, Rui says that Lee is beyond her and that she does not understand how she could defeat Lee, a far superior player, so many times. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to hear if those are her true thoughts on the matter.

Yoda Norimoto's Postive Record

Yoda Norimoto was noted as giving Lee a hard time in international tournaments for many years, leading Yoda to be considered one of the Japanese aces in many international team tournaments. As of 7 June 2008, Yoda's record against Lee is 10-0-9.

Database Musings

It is widely believed that Lee 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.



Books About Lee Changho



  1. One of the funny stories about Lee Changho is that he did not know how to tie his own shoelaces even into his young adult years. While Lee studied under Cho Hun-hyeon 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 Lee Changho was totally preoccupied with Go and could not or did not pay attention to the everyday aspects of life.
  2. Regarding Lee's infamous inability to reproduce his own games, his brother recently posted a short message in Lee's homesite that even after he made professional rank, Lee Changho sometimes had difficulties reproducing his own games "in front of Cho Hun-hyeon." I suspect that it may be largely psychological considering the shy nature of Lee's and the special relationship between teacher and pupil (Pressure? Oh, yeah...).
  3. 15 June 2010, 16.00 (Korean time): During a 40 minute long press conference in Korea, Lee Changho 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 Lee Changho, but Lee Changho replies: "In some ways I am rather young". They are already planning for a big(!?) family with 1-3 children.
  4. On 18 Jan. 2010, Lee obtained his [ext] 1,500th career win against Choi Cheolhan
  5. On 13 July 2012, Lee obtained his 1,600th career win. The win was against Park Jinsol, in the preliminaries of the 14th Nongshim Cup.
  6. From 27 Feb. 1990 - 31 Aug. 1990, Lee Changho obtained 41 wins in 41 games. [ext] Complete list of these games.

Famous Games

Chang Hao - Lee Changho, Southern Great Wall Cup, 2005 (Quadruple Ko)

External Links


yoo changhyuk lee changho 1999 (Image credit: 32)
yoo changhyuk lee changho 1999 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

lee changho xie he nongshim cup 2012 (Image credit: 34)
lee changho xie he nongshim cup 2012 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

lee changho jul2023 (Image credit: 36)
lee changho jul2023 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

na hyun lee changho myeongin sep2023 (Image credit: 38)
na hyun lee changho myeongin sep2023 (Image credit: Foxwq.com)

Yi Ch'ang-ho last edited by kuhi on October 1, 2023 - 19:57
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