Lee Sedol and Gu Li 10 game match looking likely

Recently there have been persistent rumors about an upcoming ten game match between Lee Sedol 9p and Gu Li 9p.

Friends and rivals: Lee Sedol (left) and Gu Li at the 23rd Fujitsu Cup.

Friends and rivals: Lee Sedol (left) and Gu Li at the 23rd Fujitsu Cup.

We didn’t mention this news earlier (at Go Game Guru), because there was very little detail to discuss.

However, over the last few weeks, more concrete details about the proposed event have emerged.


Lee Sedol and Gu Li

Both Lee and Gu were born in 1983, and became pros in 1995.

Many Go fans regard Lee Sedol as the top player in Korea and Gu Li as the best player in China, so there’s been a lot of interest in a ten game match (jubango) between the two for several years now.

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at the 16th Samsung Cup.

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at the 16th Samsung Cup.

A Gu Li – Lee Sedol jubango

The Dong-A Ilbo, one of the major newspapers in Korea, published some details about the proposed matches recently and I’d like to share some of this information with Go fans from other continents.

We might be able to see the first game of the jubango between Lee Sedol and Gu Li in October 2013.

According to the Korean Baduk news on this topic, both players have agreed to play the ten games between October 2013 and May 2014, in various locations throughout China.

The venue for the first match and the final details are not completely settled yet, but they should be soon.

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at an interview in 2009.

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at an interview in 2009.

Details of the proposed jubango

According to reports, the budget for the match is around $1.15 million USD and the winner’s purse would be approximately $620,000 USD (at the time of writing).

In an interview earlier this year, Lee Sedol suggested 1.5 million USD, when asked to nominate a reasonable amount of prize money for this kind of event.

He explained at the time that the loser of a jubango between Gu and himself would suffer severe damage to their reputation, throughout the Go world and in the history books.

Because of that, Lee regards this as a very high stakes match, which should offer enough prize money to make the risks worthwhile.

This would be a winner takes all event, with the remaining budget slated to be used for promotion and other expenses.

It appears that the sponsor – a furniture company in China – has convinced the players to agree to the prize money on offer.

Gu Li and his wife are expecting a baby in September. Because of that, the match won’t start until October at the earliest.

Gu Li's wedding.

Gu Li’s wedding.

The Jingdezhen agreement

The arrangements for the match progressed rapidly at the recent exhibition match in Jingdezhen, China (March 20, 2013), where high ranking Go officials were in attendance.

Lee Sedol defeated Gu Li in that game.

At the time, the Chinese Weiqi media published interviews with Gu Li and Lee Sedol.

Gu Li said, “I always fight intensely whenever I play against Lee Sedol. I’d like to create more exciting games for Go fans.”

On the other hand, Lee Sedol said, “Gu Li is the best rival for me to play against, but he’s also a best friend of mine for life.”

The official record between them is 17-15 (1 draw – quadruple ko game) in Gu Li’s favour, but it’s 17-17 (1) including exhibtion matches (like the recent game in Jingdezhen).

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at the banquet for the 3rd BC Card Cup final.

Gu Li and Lee Sedol at the banquet for the 3rd BC Card Cup final.

Rumors and reasons for doubt

According to Cyberoro, there was a rumour about the jubango during the draft for the 2013 Korean Baduk League, and some teams didn’t include Lee Sedol in their picks because of the possibility of his absence during important league matches.

On the other hand, some pros still doubt that the jubango will go ahead, with one player saying, “even if there’s a sponsor for the matches, it’s still not easy to make it happen in this case.”

It’s worth noting that neither the Korean Baduk Association, nor the Chinese Weiqi Association have officially confirmed that the match is going ahead yet.

Despite this, the Weiqi media in China are still very interested in this topic and several interviews with Gu Li and representatives from the Zhongguo Qiyuan (Chinese Go Association) have been published.

Lee Sedol and Gu Li play an exhibition match on a giant Go board in Hunan, China in 2009.

Lee Sedol and Gu Li play an exhibition match on a giant Go board in Hunan, China in 2009.

A tight lipped Chinese Go Association

A journalist asked Liu Siming, the director of the Chinese Weiqi Association, about the planned jubango. He neither confirmed nor denied the news, saying only, “I have no idea.”

He added, “I haven’t yet read the news about this online, and nobody’s talked to me about it recently either. There have been some concrete discussions about the matches, but nothing’s been decided. I haven’t seen any official documents relating to this match.”

When the reporter said that there was news about the match in the Korean Baduk media, he said, “If it’s organised in Korea, it’s their matter. I have no idea what’s going on.”

He wouldn’t be drawn to talk about how deeply the proposed jubango had been discussed previously or why negotiations didn’t go well earlier.

Lee Sedol and Gu Li's human Go stones on the giant Go board in Hunan province.

Lee Sedol and Gu Li’s human Go stones on the giant Go board in Hunan province.

Gu Li’s take

At an interview about the proposed jubango, Gu Li said, “If Lee Sedol is still playing Go at the ages of 40, 50, and 60, I’d like to play matches with him at 40, 50, and 60.” [Both players will be 30 years old this year.]

“If I’m still playing at the age of 60, I wish to have played 100 official games with Lee.”

“I’m always happy to play Go with Lee. Those are the matches I really look forward to. However, I know it’s hard to organize this sort of event and that there are many obstacles to deal with.”

My take

I think there’s still quite a bit of work to be done before we can be certain that the jubango between Lee Sedol and Gu Li will go ahead.

One thing’s for certain though, Go fans around the world will be looking forward to it! And that makes the proposed event more enticing to potential sponsors.

I think we have reasons to be optimistic.

Who do you think would win a jubango?

The win rate in games between these two friends and rivals currently sits at exactly 50/50.

They’re both excellent players, but who do you think would win a ten game match between the two and why?

Click here to leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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About Younggil An

Younggil is an 8 dan professional Go player with the Korean Baduk Association. He qualified as a professional in 1997 and won an award for winning 18 consecutive professional matches the following year. After completing compulsory military service, Younggil left Korea in 2008, to teach and promote the game Go overseas. Younggil now lives in Sydney, Australia, and is one of the founders of Go Game Guru. On Friday evenings, Younggil is usually at the Sydney Go Club, where he gives weekly lessons and plays simultaneous games.

You can follow Go Game Guru on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Youtube.


  1. Can someone translate that Chinese comic?

    • Sorry Xezlec, I added that picture, but after looking more closely I realized it was actually a comic about Gu Li and Park Junghwan, so I’ve removed it.

      • @Jing can I see the comic too? 🙂

        • Sure okw, you can see it here. It’s a little bit harsh to Park, because it’s for a Chinese audience. The Korean media do the same thing in reverse.

          Gu Li: “Little sister, don’t you want to see who’s stronger with your big brother?”

          Park Junghwan: “Drat, my chances are slipping away.”

          The bit at the bottom just says Samsung Cup semifinal, Gu Li vs Park Junghwan etc.

  2. Sounds like a winner for the whole go world to me. I think the score will be 5-4 going into the final game, making for huge drama. Well, I hope so anyway.

  3. Gu Li all the way!!! !!! !!! (if ever this pushes forward)


  4. DanielTom says:

    I don’t think Gu Li is the best player in China, but I would cheer for him… Lee Sedol would probably win, though.

  5. Well, not being a pro player, I can’t really base my choice off of anything other than what better players have said about Gu Li and Lee Sedol. That being said, I’ve been told that although Gu Li is slightly better at fighting than Lee, his endgame is weaker (as demonstrated in the recent Samsung Cup), so I think that as long as both players play their usual game, Lee will probably win 6-4.

  6. Should Gu Li lose he has a good excuse with his new child.

    I wouldn’t mind taking up a ding ji ma (gong ma) stance with the rest of those human go stones.

  7. Both of them are my baduk heros…. I wish it could be 5 -5. But I also think that if Gu Li pays more attention at yose, he could win the serie. As long I understand, Gu Li is almost the one that had put Lee Sedol in problems more often…

  8. Obviously Lee Sedol would win, I think that when he has to be really serious, he is the best in the world 😀
    (but Gu li is also a godlike at go, so the suspense will go at his pic !!!!)
    I think anyway it’s a wonderfull event for all go players

  9. I am a huge Lee Sedol fan, but have nothing at all against Gu Li. If this really is a life determining experience, I wonder whether the price isn’t too high, especially to the loser. But maybe this is one of the aspects sports is all about.

    Kind regards,

    • David Ormerod says:

      It sounds very all or nothing to me too Paul. I’m not sure why they can’t both get paid. Maybe there’s still a match fee that we don’t know about yet.

      I guess, from the other perspective, if they don’t play the match they might only be remembered as good players and not great ones. Whereas, if they create some masterpieces, probably both players will be remembered and celebrated for a long time (though one will be in the shadow of the other – as with Go Seigen and Fujisawa Hosai).

      Like some other people have said, I too hope that they’ll have plenty of time for this match, so that they can really produce some fantastic games.

  10. bobiscool says:

    Honestly I came in here thinking that lee sedol might win as well, especially if Gu Li has a child right before the event.

    But looking at how all the comments seem to think Lee sedol will win, I can’t help but bet on the “dark horse”, if you can call Gu Li that. And win he wins, I can brag about how I out-predicted everyone else here. :p

  11. Sometimes seems that Gu Li it is more happier playing Go that Lee Sedol (that always seems to be in an eternal internal conflict)… but this should be only my opinion. I like the two… and i root for Gu Li become the best in the world one day …

  12. I think people saying things like obviously X or Y will win are a little too confident 😛

    That being said, one of the only matches I stayed up late in the morning to watch was the series between Gu Li and Lee Sedol for the 3rd BC Card Cup which Gu Li won 3-2. Those matches really marked me and because of that I have a feeling that Gu Li would win the Jubango 6-4, but I wouldn’t be surprised either way 🙂

  13. Hmm seems I got mixed up, Lee Sedol won that tournament. What tournamnet was I thinking of? I don’t even know 😛

  14. i believe that lee Sedol shall win this Jubango..
    Gu li is my second favorite player right after Lee sedol ^_^ tough choice. I prefer lee’s fighting style to Gu Li’s so… I go with Lee’s! he is bad at fuseki and gu li is bad at the yose…. I predict 6-4 in Lee sedol’s favor !

  15. I am a great Gu Li fan, because his Go is full of creativity, audacity and … ko fights. It reminds me a lot of Go Seigen (as far as I can judge – I wouldn’t probably pass a blind test picking Gu’s games among others’). But there is something about Lee Sedol that makes him more of a figure that will likely remain known for the remainder of times. Their ability is surely equal but Lee has a very special personality. He’s taken a break from pro go due to a dispute with the KGA, he then wrote a book all by himself, to come back at top level again and now he’s speaking of retirement. Surely he’s much more of a restless soul than Gu Li and restless souls are what distinguishes artists from craftsmen.

    I’m being unfair to Gu: I like his go much more but when looking at the history of extraordinary greatness I have to give Lee the edge.

  16. Zak Smith says:

    I think there is honestly no way of knowing what will happen in a 10 game match between arguably the two greatest players of our time. If I had to predict I would pick Lee Sedol because he’s one of my favorites, however Gu Li is also one of my favorites!!! It will be the Match of the Cenury unless something more amazing happens, which is unlikely.

  17. Is there any indication of what the time duration of each match would be? I’m curious if it will be more quickplay for TV viewers or give them more thinking time similar to the old jubango.

    • It’d be awesome if it were old Japanese time settings, 10-13 hours per player, and with each match spanning 2-3 days. Can you imagine the excitement of fans discussing each move as the games were drawn out over these days, especially after the sealed moves?

      • David Ormerod says:

        I think so too. With long games there’d be so much more suspense.

        I haven’t heard anything about match times yet. I hope that TV networks and we, the instant gratification generation ;), don’t push too hard for fast games.

  18. I really hope this event somehow can happen- it will be true Go history. It seems strange for the huge prize to all go to the winner- it could mean that the players employ some team of top pros to dismantle the opponent’s style. If this is the case, I think Gu Li has better chances since the Chinese tiger cub generation has more momentum now to push Korea from the top- maybe this could be a turning point in history.

    • David Ormerod says:

      That’s a very interesting point Charles (which hadn’t occurred to me at all until you mentioned it).

      It could completely change the way the match is portrayed historically, not necessarily for the better. Think about the rumors and bitterness around the Honinbo Shusai vs Go Seigen match.

      I wonder what Younggil and other readers think about this possibility?

    • An Younggil 8p says:

      I think Charles’ idea is a bit different. Doesn’t he mean that Lee and Gu can dismantle each other’s playing style, weaknesses, and strong points etc with their own ‘team’?
      Anyhow, even if they play 2~3 days games, they surely wouldn’t listen to someone else’s opinions or advice because it’s cheating, and their pride wouldn’t let them do that.

  19. bobiscool says:

    everyone says 6-4, 6-4, lee wins.

    Has no one considered the possibility of a draw? What happens then?

    • David Ormerod says:

      As far as I know, draws are possible. They’ve happened with ten game matches in the past.

      My guess is that the players, as friends, might be satisfied with that result, but others would likely call for another match. It’s pretty long odds at this stage, since it isn’t even completely certain that the match will go ahead, so I think we should wait and see 🙂

  20. if this was on kickstarter, it’ll get more than $1.5 million. advertise this on 4chan and reddit.