The Choongam Baduk Dojang (go academy) has been a driving force behind Korean Baduk for the past two decades. In the 1990s it was not only a training place for young aspirants but also a meeting place where some of the strongest Korean players would get together to analyze games and investigate new moves. In 2011 it was reorganized in its present form by the merger of three dojangs. When the players at the 2014 Korea Prime Minister Cup visited it on September 18, they were welcomed by its headmaster Choi Gyubyung, 9-dan. He explained that Choongam was currently the leading baduk academy in Korea, having the largest number of insei and having turned out the largest number of professional players. Photos of these pros adorned the hallways. The 51 KPMC contestants were then matched against a like number of Choongam students for a friendship match. While the match was in progress, Mr Choi kindly consented to an intervew with Ranka.
Ranka: Please tell us a little about the history and organization of Choongam.
Choi: Choongam has a long history, and I’ve been with it since the beginning. It was founded in its present form in 2011 by Yang Jaeho, Yoo Changhyuk, and Heo Janghoe, all professional 9-dan. It has students of many levels, up to the insei level. There are different rooms for students of different levels. As a pupil advances from level to level, he or she moves up from room to room.
Ranka: How many foreign students do you have?
Choi: At present Benjamin Lockhart, from America, is studying here, and we have students from Taiwan as well. In the recent past we’ve also had European students, from Czechia, France, and Poland, for example.
Ranka: How was today’s friendship match organized?
Choi: We matched the KPMC contestants against the Choongam students in order of rank, for the contestants, and rating, for the Choongam students. We excluded the top twenty Choongam students, so we started with number twenty-one, who was matched against the top ranked KPMC contestant, and then so on down.
Ranka: What do you think are the keys to becoming a good baduk player?
Choi: To start with, memory is important, as it is in any form of education, not just baduk. You have to gain and retain knowledge. But the most important thing in baduk is to develop the ability to figure things out for yourself. To do some original thinking during your games.
Ranka: How do you view the current baduk competition between China and Korea?
Choi: Last year China pulled ahead of Korea, but I think this may be a temporary situation. China has a very good educational system, however. It will be very interesting to see how the contest between China and Korea develops in the future.
Ranka: Thank you very much.
Postscript: Ranka was unable to keep tally of how all the friendship matches turned out, but at the top end, the KPMC contestants had a tough time. Although the KPMC champion-to-be Wei Taewoong won his game, China’s Hu Yuqing, twice world amateur champion, lost to Choongam’s Cho Namkyun, and Japan’s Tsuchimune Yoshiyuki lost to Choongam’s Moon Hyojin. At the bottom end, however, where the Choongam side consisted mostly of primary school students who were still near the beginning of their serious baduk studies, it was a different story. Ranka is pleased to report that some of the smallest European countries can still produce players who can defeat some of the kids at Korea’s leading baduk academy.