There have been many strong go players throughout history. On this page is information about who were arguably the best of the best. Feel free to contact me on my twitter: twitter.com/Fredrik9000 or leave a comment if you believe other players deserve to be mentioned.
On this page there are several SGF files of famous baduk games, and to view these you'll need an SGF editor.
There are many available, and I've linked to some that are free under Baduk Resources.
The Honinbo House
After the foundation of the Honinbou/Honinbo Go school in 1612, Japan grew to become the strongest baduk country in the world. The heads of the Honinbo house, was some of, if not the best go players to have ever lived.
Many of the Honinbos were appointed Meijin as well, which was the most respected title that a go player could achieve in Japan.
Honinbo Dosaku was the 4th head of the Honinbo house(1677-1702), and also appointed to Meijin at the age of 23. He is regarded by many as the greatest player of all time.
He dominated everyone, and it was believed that he was 2 stones stronger than other top pros. Due to the lack of good competition, it's difficult to measure how strong Dosaku really was.
Dosaku was the first player to be awarded the title Go Saint, the only other player being Honinbo Shusaku.
Dosaku's most famous game is known as "Dosaku's masterpiece". In this game, he gave one of the best go players at the time(Yasui Shunchi) 2 handicap stones, and even though Shunchi played many great moves, Dosaku only lost by 1 point.
You can download the game here: Dosaku's Masterpiece.
Jowa was the 12th Honinbo(1827-1839) and also the Meijin(1831-1839). Jowa had a great rival whos name was Genan Inseki. Both these players wanted the Meijin title,
but because of Hayashi Gembis contacts within the Government, Jowa became Meijin without proving himself against the other top go players first.
Jowa promised Gembi that he would promote him to 8 dan after becoming Meijin, but this promise was never fulfilled. In 1839 Gembi "spilled the beans" about Jowas promise and so
Jowa was forced into retirement. Rumor has it that Jowa was to be awarded the title of Go Saint, but because of his political maneuvering this did not happen.
Despite Jowas incredible strength and the controversy surrounding him, he is perhaps most famous for the "blood vomiting game".
After winning a game against Genan Insekis pupil, a 7 dan by the name of Intetsu Akaboshi, Intetsu literally threw up blood on the goban and died 2 weeks later.
Inseki setup this match hoping Jowa would lose, because if he did, he would obviously not be deserving of the Meijin title when having lost to a 7 dan.
Shuwa was the 14th Honinbo(1847-1873) and Shusakus teacher. When there are discussions about the strongest players of the 19th century, Shuwa and Shusaku tend to be brought up the most.
Shuwa is famous for beating one of the best players at the time, Inoue Genan Inseki 3-0, by 4 points in 1840 and by 6 and 4 points in 1842.
These games are known as "the challenge games", and were played to determine who would be best suited to become Meijin after Honinbo Jowa.
However, because of political reasons and also because Shuwa had a bad game against a weaker player, Matsumoto Inseki, Shuwa never became Meijin.
Honinbo Shusaku is probably the most famous go player of all time. He was incredibly strong at an early age, becoming a pro at 11 years old.
He's also famous for making one of the best moves of all time, the "ear reddening move", when he was a 4 dan professional at the age of 17.
After his 8 dan opponent and head of the Inoue house, Inoue Genan Inseki saw this amazing move, his ears turned red, and the 8 dan ended up loosing the game by 2 points. Unfortunately, Shusaku died at the age of 33 falling ill to the cholera epidemic. Shusaku was to be the next head of the Honinbo Go School after Shuwa.
Shusaku, like Dosaku, has also earned the Go Saint title.
There's also a very famous book about Honinbo Shusaku called Invincible, The Games of Shusaku.
Honinbo Shuei, one of Honinbo Shuwas sons, was the 13th head of the Hayashi house, and after the Honinbo house and Hayashi house merged in 1885, he became the 17th head(1884-1886), and later the 19th head(1887-1907) of the Honinbo house.
He also earned the Meijin title in 1906. Honinbo Shuei, along with a few others, started playing on the 4-4 points in the beginning of the games, which inspired Go Seigen to make the influence style of play even more popular.
When looking at Shueis games, it appears that the other top players of his time needed a handicap, or at least play with black to have a chance of beating him.
Two of the strongest players in modern go history, Fujisawa Hideyuki and Kobayashi Koichi have said that they would be no match for Shuei.
Other Legends of Go
Probably the best Chinese player at the time, and regarded by many as the best go player ever. Go Seigen has said that if Huang Longshi were alive today he would be of 13 dan strength. He's not as known as the Honinbo legends because the level of Japanese players at this time were generally higher than the Chinese.
People therefore believed that the top Chinese players wouldn't stand a chance against the top Japanese players in this era.
Go Seigen(12 June 1914- 30 November 2014)
Considered by many to be the best player of the 20th century, Go Seigen dominated the go scene from 1930 to 1961, and his style has contributed greatly to advancements in modern go.
Perhaps his most famous game was against the last Honinbo, Honinbo Shusai. The game was played in 1933 as a way of celebrating Shusais 60th birthday(Go Seigen was 18 at the time). The game was very controversial.
Since Shusai played as white, he was allowed to adjourn the game whenever he wanted, and would have several weeks to discuss moves with other members of the Honinbo house. He used this right 13 times and always when it was his turn to move.
In the end, Seigen ended up losing by 2 points. This game is also known as "the game of the century". Here's an SGF file of their game that you can download: Go Seigen VS Honinbo Shusai.
Go Seigen died of natural causes on 30. November 2014.