Interview with Cho Seokbin
Cho Seokbin was insei in Korea. While he is not officially a professional Go player, he is very strong. He moved to Europe (Germany) 2 years ago, where he is teaching Go and winning a lot of Go tournaments.
I met Seokbin (which is his first name, by the way: he explained that usually people call him "Cho" mistaking that for his first name) during his recent visit in Seattle. He commented on my final game during the Cherry Blossom Go Tournament, then I attended two nice lectures of his at the Seattle Go Center (about which I'll write in a future article).
While he became famous in Europe since he has moved to Germany, not many US Go players know about him. Here is an interview with Seokbin.
Can you please tell us about your Go career?
My father is a very passionate Go player. He is a strong amateur (maybe equivalent to 7 dan AGA). He teached me the basics, then sent me to Baduk Academy when I was 9-10 years old.
I studied at the most famous Baduk Academy in Korea (it produced more than 30 professionals).
I was having a good position in the insei league, but I had to stop playing Baduk when I was 16 years old (for family related reasons). Two years later I started teaching Go.
How do insei study in Korea - any difference between Korean and Japanese insei?
Korea has some special rules for top sport players - it is like a special high school where you don't have to go everyday. Baduk insei fall under the same rules, so normally Korean insei can study Baduk more than 10 hours everyday.
From what I heard Japan doesn't have any such rule, so Japanese insei only start studying Go after they come back from the regular school - and I think this makes a lot of difference and it is the main reason why Korean insei are so strong.
What is the insei system in Korea? How many insei are there, and how many insei Go schools?
From what I remember since I was insei, insei league in Korea has about 120 people divided in about 10 groups. They play every weekend and there is one championship going inside each group every month. From each group best 4 go up, bottom 4 go down.
Top ten players in the league can play a qualification tournament twice a year, and top 4 in each tournament become pro.
I think there are about 15 Go schools in Korea, attended by insei.
This is information from the time I was insei - a while ago - things may be slightly different now.
What is your favorite Go player?
Well, I think Yi Chang ho (Lee Changho). He has an amazing endgame skill.
Did you study historical Go players (for instance Shusaku, or even older)? If so, what do you think of those players - how do they compare to today's top players in terms of strength?
I studied some of Go Seigen's games, but I never studied Shusaku or so.
I think old players had good fighting skills but very bad opening, because the opening evolved so much in the past 200 years.
Also, I believe top players become stronger and stronger with each generation, so I think top players from today are better than the top players from 200 years ago.
You moved to Europe 2 years ago - this is pretty unusual for Asians Go players. What determined you to do that? How did you adapt to the European life style?
I met some Korean person who was living in Hamburg, Germany - he invited me in Europe for teaching.
Since I had a really good time when I visited there, I decided to stay longer in Europe.
I really like to meet new people and to visit new countries - for now it is much more exciting living in Europe than in Korea.
You are currently visiting US on a Go tour (Seattle and Portland). If this is your first US visit, what are your impressions about US so far?
I have only been here a few days, so I'm not sure yet. I was surprised to see so many Koreans living here.
Also, I was very happy to be able to watch baseball here live :-)
Have you noticed any difference between European and US Go players?
I haven't notice any difference yet - other than the fact that US has more Asian players.
What should Go players do in order to improve their level?
The most important thing is to play as many games as possible.
Also, one should replay top pro games. No need to understand them, just watch and try to imitate them, this will gradually increase one's understanding.
You are currently teaching Go in Europe. What should someone do in order to become your student?
I like teaching people face to face, but when that is not possible I also teach on internet.
The best way one can benefit from my lessons is to play a lot in between lessons.
If you want to take Go lessons with me, please write me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Any Go plans for the near future?
Sometime after I finish this US tour, I will visit Japan: I have a friend who has a private Go school in Japan, which is attended by insei. He invited me there for teaching his students.
Do you like Hikaru-no-Go? :-)
What do you like to do when you are not playing Go?
I love watching baseball!!!! :-)