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Lee HongReal

Episode 1: Pro's Nicknames


Perhaps the best nickname ever bestowed upon a professional Baduk player is the "Steel Goalkeeper" given to China's Nie Weiping 9 dan. Having emerged as a young darkhorse in the 1970s, Nie developed into a superb tactician that defeated powerhouses from Japan in the now historic "Japan-China Super Go Match" to earn that awesome moniker. Japan's Takemiya Masaki 9 dan and his "Cosmic Style Go" also was magnificent. Takemiya's playing philosophy that explored the immense potential of the center territory over the corner might have been infeasible in practice and hopelessly romantic as a strategy. However, his huge success in the late 80s caused a sensation in the amateur ranks in how Baduk is forever played and understood. The very opposite style was advanced by his contemporary Kobayashi Koichi 9 dan, who never believed in playing above the third line, and was credited with the fitting nickname "Subway Go." Although Kobayashi arguably accomplished more with his efficient approach over Takemiya's quixotic pursuit, most people would admit that Takemiya's "Cosmic Style" carried more gravitas and popular appeal.

Chinese and Japanese pro's

From left to right: Nie Weiping, Takemiya Masaki, Kobayashi Koichi, Rin Kaiho, Cho Chikun, and Kato Masao.

A native Taiwanese living and playing in Japan, Rin Kaiho 9 dan has a Pooh-like nickname in "Double Waist." The name reflects his uncanny ability to endure punches after punches and never get knocked down. Some years later a similar-toned "Triple Waist" emerged and his name was Cho Chikun. Cho's never-say-die attitude and his propensity to use up to the last second had earned him an additional waist among his peers. Kato Masao 9 dan, another powerhouse who has recently passed away, had owned the most fearsome nickname in history which was simply called, "the Killer."

Mok JinSeok and Seo BongSoo

From left to right: Mok JinSeok and Seo BongSoo

In his prime, Kato exhibited tremendous attacking prowess against which horses with two perfectly valid eyes occasionally fell. Cho Chikun's another nickname was the "Explosives Artist," which described his unique style of securing points early and then destroying the opponent's moyo into rags. Sakata Eio 9 dan, one of the most dominant players in the 60s, was called the "Razor." In my opinion, Ma Xiaochun 9 dan's "Sword" or Gu Li 9 dan's "Muscle Man" got nothing on Sakata's "Razor." Another celebrity is Fujisawa Shuko's "Monster." To me, he was more of an eccentric, arrogant, yet hopelessly lovable sort of a monster. One time during his semi-retirement season, Fujisawa declared he will "quit drinking and gambling for a month, and win exactly four games." He did exactly that to keep his number one ranking Kisei title under his belt. As promised, he didn't win another game for the rest of the year because he didn't play again; He was just too happy to go back to his sake and horses.

A gifted young Korean pro named Mok Jin-Suk owns a couple of amusing nicknames from China. One is "the Kid Not Normal" and another "the Boy from the outer space." Both labels were given to him while on a tour in China when he overwhelmed Nie Weiping and other heavyweights as a completely unknown teenage rookie. China's Liu Xiaoguang's "Ant lion" came from his distinctive style that sets up traps and devours opponent's weak horses. Cho HoonHyun 9 dan's "the Swallow" reflected his speedy style but his "God of War" moniker is more widely known. Even for those unfamiliar with Baduk, Cho's nickname reeks of awesome firepower and strength. Cho's eternal rival Seo BongSoo 9 dan's "Weed Baduk" was descriptive of his practical style and do-anything-to-win approach that often defies common sense as taught in textbooks. The rising superstar Lee Sedol is known as "the Boy Unbeatable." The Boy grew up and even got married this year, so this nickname probably needs to go now. Park YoungHoon is called "the Heir Apparent" for his obvious potential. Choi Chulhan is known as the "Viper" for his mercilessness on the board. Thinking this nickname carried a tone a little too harsh for a young gent like Choi, the Korean Baduk Association conducted an internet poll event to find him a new nickname. The result was interesting; Choi became the "Mad Dog." SongYong Kim, a seasoned veteran, is famous for his self-proclaimed "Teaching Pro" for his penchant to do TV commentary and analysis rather than actual matches.

Lee SeDol and Lee ChangHo

Left to right: Lee Sedol and Lee ChangHo

A story about Baduk cannot omit the great Lee ChangHo 9 dan. When Lee was young people often referred to him as the "Stone Buddha Statue" or simply "Buddha" for his endless patience and ability to out-exhaust the opponent. The most well-known epithet for this all-time great is the "God of Calculation." Indeed, his endgame is universally accepted as the best in the history of Baduk.

Author: Lee HongReal
Mr. Lee is one of the most respected Baduk journalists in Korea who is also a 5-dan amateur. Lee currently writes columns for the Chosun Ilbo, Baduk TV, and the LG World Championship, among others. He is a graduate of Yonsei University and holds a masters degree in Korean Literature from Hanyang University School of Journalism.

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