Lee Sedol cools on retirement plans

In 2013 Go Game Guru reported on Lee Sedol 9p’s plans to retire (from competitive play) and move to the US.

At the time, we quoted Lee as saying, “I’ll definitely retire and move overseas within three years.”

Go players, especially in the US, were excited at the time. However, one year later, it seems that Lee’s plans are less definite than we originally thought.


Lee Sedol 9 dan (right) and Gu Li 9 dan are playing a jubango in 2014. This has helped to rekindle Lee Sedol’s interest in Go.

Rumors and expectations

It’s been clear to us, as well as the Korean Go community, that Lee’s plans to retire have been on the back burner for some time.

Since we were the ones who originally reported this news (outside of Asia) though, and many Go players still seem to be anticipating Lee’s retirement, I feel that we should clarify the situation as we now understand it.

That is, Lee Sedol was seriously thinking about retiring and moving to the US, but his plans are not so clear anymore.

There are also some rumors that I want to address below.

What our source said

We spoke to a source who is very close to Lee and is well known to us at Go Game Guru.

Our source would prefer not to get involved in the politics or rumors surrounding this story, so they asked that we please keep their identity confidential.

Beyond speaking to Lee himself (which we haven’t done because he’s way too busy to be bothered about this) our source is one of the most reliable and trustworthy people you could talk to on this topic. Younggil and I will both vouch for that.

They said that Lee was seriously considering retiring, but that he’s since changed his mind.

He first spoke of retiring in 2009, when he took his leave of absence. At the time, because of some issues with the Korean Baduk Association, Lee often talked about retiring and not coming back.

The issues were mostly resolved and Lee returned to the tournament scene in 2010.

In 2013, Lee was involved in projects like Go9Dan.com and was missing his daughter, who was studying in Canada. He started to seriously talk about retiring again at that time.

Unfortunately, Go9Dan didn’t work out as planned, which affected Lee’s other plans. On a more positive note, the long mooted jubango between Lee Sedol and Gu Li finally became a reality and our source believes this has rekindled Lee’s passion for Go.

Because of this, Lee has stopped talking about retiring and doesn’t appear to have any plans to do so in the near future.

The rumors are not true

There have been rumors circulating that the original article written by Um Minyong, which we referred to in our earlier article, was entirely fabricated.

Some people have contacted us with these rumors and asked us to issue a correction.

However, our source is clear in stating that those rumors are false and that the criticism of Um Minyong is unjustified.

At the time, Lee may have slightly overstated the certainty of his plans to retire and the newspaper published Mr Um’s article in a somewhat sensational manner, but it was not fabricated.

What Lee Sedol says

Lee Sedol hasn’t spoken publicly about his retirement plans for some time, and, as I said above, we didn’t talk to him about this article because he’s too busy.

About a month after the original news was published, Lee said in another interview that there was a 50/50 chance that his plans to retire and move to the US would come to fruition. He explained at the time that there were many things to organize before that could happen and that it was complicated.

Since then, he hasn’t (to the best of our knowledge) said anything else substantive about whether he’ll retire or not. He hasn’t ruled retiring in or out. He’s simply stopped talking about it as the jubango with Gu Li and other things have demanded his attention.

People are allowed to change their minds

It sometimes seems to me that we no longer give people the latitude to say something and later change their minds these days.

There seems to be a view, especially with respect to politicians and other public figures, that saying one thing earlier and then saying something else later automatically means the original statement was a lie.

Sometimes people do lie, or make mistakes, but sometimes the situation changes. When things change, changing your opinion can be the intelligent and sensible thing to do. In Go, you need to change your strategy as cicumstances shift, and life is exactly the same.

If there’s no imminent plan for retirement, then that’s mostly good news for Go fans, because we’ll be able to enjoy more of Lee’s spectacular games in the meantime. In the long run, Lee will surely do whatever he thinks is best for his family. And North American Go players can keep their fingers crossed.

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About David Ormerod

David is a Go enthusiast who’s played the game for more than a decade. He likes learning, teaching, playing and writing about the game Go. He's taught thousands of people to play Go, both online and in person at schools, public Go demonstrations and Go clubs. David is a 5 dan amateur Go player who competed in the World Amateur Go Championships prior to starting Go Game Guru. He's also the editor of Go Game Guru.

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


  1. “There seems to be a view, especially with respect to politicians and other public figures, that saying one thing earlier and then saying something else later automatically means the original statement was a lie.

    “Sometimes people do lie, or make mistakes, but sometimes the situation changes. When things change, changing your opinion can be the intelligent and sensible thing to do. In Go, you need to change your strategy as circumstances shift, and life is exactly the same.”


  2. Go has become, if it already wasn’t, a sport: tough competition that can be played at top level for only a certain time. After your thirties or forties, youngster will take your place in a merciless way. Of course you can go on competing on a sub top level, but the question is whether you have the stomach to suffer defeat often, and in a way that would not happen to you at your prime. Most sports people then retire: see football and tennis. In fact, sometimes you are supposed to retire when the ranking system depends on the performance of your rank, and you cannot demote, like in the old days the meijin in go, and still nowadays the yokozuna in sumo wrestling. Some go on, like Lee Changho, or Takagawa in the past. The question of course is: what to do next? Certainly if you haven’t aquired several millions of American dollars, it is difficult, as you were good at go, and at nothing else. Maybe teaching young, upcoming professionals is a way, if it pays at all, and if you feel like it.

    I understand the position of Lee Sedol, his is a tough choice in the next ten years. His fans are the most affected, it seems, their interest in rumours is insatiable. But to me it is Lee’s issue only, his problem, and no-one else’s. He may change his mind as often as he likes, and he isn’t accountable to anyone on this issue. I hope that he can play at a top level a long time, giving us exciting games. After that: long live his successors!

    Kind regards,

    • David Ormerod says:

      It is a tough life for pros, in Go and other ‘sports’ too.

      I think Lee Sedol is in a much better position than the vast majority of pros, as long as he’s smart about money.

      I haven’t checked, but given the number of titles he’s won over the last decade, he must be a millionaire in USD. He also has a successful dojo in Seoul, which he and his family run (his brother is also a pro). That, if nothing else, puts him in a much better position for retirement than the vast majority of Go pros in Asia.

      As we can see in his Go, Lee isn’t shy about pursuing audacious plans. Go9dan was one example of that.

  3. I knew not to believe lee sedol after hearing he’d quit smoking that new years. It’s easy to be stressed at times like that. Don’t know if he still smokes, but he had at least 1 during the jubango

    • David Ormerod says:

      Haha, interesting perspective Miles 🙂

      I’ve never given up smoking, so I don’t know what it feels like, but I imagine it would be very stressful.

      Not that long ago, where I live, some construction workers accidentally(?) cut through cables and wiped out internet for a big part of the city – including many office buildings.

      It was very interesting (and in some ways funny, I thought) seeing how people dealt with being disconnected from the internet. Some people couldn’t any work done that day. These days almost everyone is an addict 😉

  4. I do wonder to what extent the catastrophic failure of go9dan has anything to do with this…

    • David Ormerod says:

      Martin, this is just my personal opinion, but I think it had quite a bit to do with it. It was very unfortunate that the server was still too buggy to use when they launched it. The concept had potential and things could have been quite different.

  5. I googled Go9dan, it seems to be (or was?) a go playing site. I hadn’t heard of it, but that may be my fault. I hope Lee didn’t invest too much money into it, it would have been a risky investment, to put it mildly. To me, it is very difficult to make money with go outside a professional setting like there is in China, Korea and Japan, no matter how much effort you put into it. It seems to me that there is no money out of the amateur community. That is sad, but I am glad that I am rather weak at go, and that I had to pursue a different professional career, with all kinds of interesting challenges, that will serve me well until I retire as an old man.

    Kind regards,

    • Josh Hoak says:

      Marcel Duchamp, a famous Dada artist, once said of chess, “I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art—and much more. It cannot be commercialized.”

  6. What is Go9dan?

    • David Ormerod says:

      Go9dan.com was (is?) a Go server that a group of people, including Lee Sedol, launched in early 2013.

      Lee Sedol invested quite a bit of money in it and funded the first 1st World Go League to promote it – an online invitational tournament played on Go9dan (which he also played in).

      Unfortunately the server didn’t take off. I’m not sure why exactly, but it may be because it was too buggy. I remember that in some of the pro games the players had problems. There were misclicks (I’m not sure if they had an undo feature) and some players lost on time after having technical problems.

      • At launch the server charged money to play, view and download games — the core services of all go server; and required a conversion of real currency into non-refundable virtual currency. Readers can imagine why players weren’t flocking to the server. Months later, proposed changes came too late and their launch momentum was squandered and lost. All that’s left is a homepage.

        • David Ormerod says:

          I see, thanks for the details Logan. Sometimes I have my head buried in my own projects…