It’s hard to discuss the history of Korean Go without mentioning the name Cho Hoon-hyun (70)스포츠토토. He is the man who brought Korean go from the periphery to the center of the world and nurtured the unheralded prodigy Lee Chang-ho.
Now, after taking a step back from the world of fierce competition in front of the board and passing the torch to his juniors, Cho Hoon-hyun has returned to the world of competition after a long absence. In this year’s inaugural Nongshim Baeksan Wanted World Senior Go Championship, he teamed up with Seo Bong-soo, Yoo Chang-hyuk, and Choi Kyu-byung, all of whom were once part of the glory days of Korean go, to lead Korea to victory.
He may have stepped away from the tense world of competition for a long time, but his heart is still in Korean Go.
“Two or three years ago, Nongshim talked about organizing a senior tournament, but we couldn’t do it because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cho told us ahead of the opening ceremony at the China World Summit Wing Hotel in Beijing, China. But this year, it’s finally happening,” he said, “and it’s very nostalgic.”
Cho Hoon-hyun started with the first Nongshim Shin Ramyun Boat in 1999 and participated in four tournaments, with Korea winning all four. This time around, even though it’s a senior event, it’s inevitable that the competitive spirit that he’s buried deep inside him for so long will be rekindled. “The National Competition originally started with the Journey Boat, which led to the Nongshim Shin Ramyun Boat. “Now that I’m here, the memories of the past pass by like a jumbo light. I want to rekindle my fighting spirit once again,” he said.
This year’s tournament also saw the participation of famous knights from China and Japan. China’s “Iron Gate Master” Ye Weiping 9th Dan, who battled Cho Hoon-hyun in the final of the inaugural Ng Sibae, will be there, as well as Japan’s Yoda Norimoto 9th Dan, who was once famously strong against Lee Chang-ho. In the past, they’ve faced off against each other with half a statue between them, but after all these years, they’re just happy to see each other. “It’s a good feeling,” said Cho Hoon-hyun. Obviously, our fighting spirit is not the same as it used to be, but I feel very grateful that I was able to participate.”
Cho Hoon-hyun, 9th Dan, answers questions from reporters during a press conference at the China World Summit Wing Hotel in Beijing, China, on Sept. 16. Courtesy of Korean Origin
The map of world go, which has been dominated by China, Japan, and South Korea, has recently seen a shift in favor of South Korea thanks to the emergence of 9-dan Shin Shin-seo. Shin Shin-seo finished with a bronze medal in the men’s individual go event at the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games, which concluded earlier this month, but he and his teammates shared a gold medal in the team event. He also reached the pinnacle of his career by reaching the top of the Go Olympic podium. He is now the undisputed number one player.
Cho Hoon-hyun, who is often mentioned when discussing Korea’s top-ranked lineage, is pleased with the junior’s performance. “It’s a shame that I only won a bronze medal in the individual event at the Asian Games. But honestly, even if you are a top-notch knight, your winning percentage is between 80 and 90 percent, which means that if you play 10 games, you will lose one or two. That’s what happened this time. Human beings are not gods,” he said, adding, “Shin Dong-seo is now in the lead, and he has carried the Korean Go world, so I hope he will maintain himself well and work hard to the end.”
However, he also pointed out that other knights should work harder and join Shin Shin-seo. “In my time, there were many reliable knights like Seo Bong-soo, Yoo Chang-hyuk, and Lee Chang-ho,” he said, “but now Shin Dong-seo is fighting against Chinese and Japanese knights alone. People use the expression that he fought well and lost, but in fact, second place is useless. It would be hard for him (Shin) to fight alone. We need to keep pace with him,” he emphasized.
After 20 days, the first round of the Nongshim Baeksan Manhunt has come to an end. The second round, which will determine the winner, will be held in Shanghai, China, next February. Although Seo Bong-soo, the Korean spearhead, lost, Choi Kyu-byung won the first game and will face the second game in good spirits.
Jo Hoon-hyun, who will lead the Korean team back into the fray, concluded the interview by wishing for a renewed interest in the game. “Even though the number of tournaments is increasing, the number of people playing go hasn’t increased much. If you love and support us more than you do now, we will do our best to repay you,” he said. The old man’s passion for the game has not diminished.