[The information in this article is out of date and has been updated here.]
“I don’t want to fade away as an old man, from behind the scenes of the Go world.” – Lee Sedol 9 dan
Recently, Lee Sedol said something which has shocked the Baduk community in Korea:
“I’ll definitely retire and move overseas within three years.”
This is different from other, similar, cases; because Lee’s one of the strongest Go players in the world right now, and he’s been #1 in Korea for a long time.
He’ll surely remain at the top level for another 4-5 years at least, but he wants to retire and go overseas to promote Go throughout the world.
An interview with Lee Sedol
Lee recently revealed his plans in an interview with a Baduk reporter from a Korean newspaper.
This is my (Younggil’s) translation of excerpts from that interview.
February 4 (2013): I met Lee Sedol at a restaurant close to the Korean Baduk Association.
We’re meeting because I want to talk to him about his retirement plans.
Since his reading and perception in Go is so deep and profound, I assume that his way of thinking about life is also different from other people’s.
Sedol simply said, “I’m going to quit while I’m still at the top.”
After a shot of Soju, he continued, “I can still compete for a few more years, but what can I do after that?”
“Competing and being at the top is an important part of who I am, as a fighter and a player.”
He said that spreading Go to more players is the best thing he can do after that.
He believes that if he’s willing to promote and teach Go, people will be more interested in Go, even where the game hasn’t yet laid down strong roots.
“I want to make Go as popular as Chess.” – Lee Sedol 9 dan
The first step
Co-founding go9dan.com was the first step in Lee’s plan.
The website focuses on promoting Go in English speaking countries. Since he joined, many top players have also joined the website, and many other people have joined to watch.
Lee Sedol earned more than $640,000 USD in 2012, and he earned more than $700,000 in 2011.
He’s the highest earning athlete among pro sports stars in Korea. In that respect, it’s hard for him leave and go overseas.
It’s really hard to make money by working on a Go website, and it’s difficult to join international tournaments from overseas. His income will probably be negligible once he leaves.
Lee chooses the USA
“If I only consider money, it would be better to go to China,” he said.
“Go is booming in China right now, and many people have talked to me about moving there.”
“However, there are already strong players in China and it’s more important and interesting to promote Go in the West.”
He added that it’s likely that he won’t participate in international tournaments anymore after he moves, because of the difficulties involved in traveling from so far away.
He’s chosen to go to the US to promote Go. He hopes the US government and people will be interested in Asian culture, and developing stronger ties with Asia through Go.
Lee Sedol’s plans for the future
Lee has another reason for going to the US. Last August, his wife and daughter went to Canada so his daughter could start studying overseas.
It’s not a short term plan – Lee believes it will take around 3-4 years. “My daughter’s studying in Canada, but the population of Canada is small and I think there’s more potential in the US right now.”
“I’ll also be able to visit my family in Canada more easily from the US,” said Lee.”
Jubango with Gu Li
Lee Sedol also talked about the proposed 10 game match (jubango) with Gu Li 9p.
He said he’s willing to play the matches if the prize money is large enough.
He’ll be satisfied with $1.5 million USD for the winner, he says.
Lee explains that the loser’s reputation will suffer critical damage throughout the Go world, and in the history books [like Fujisawa Hosai after he lost to Go Seigen]. According to Lee, the prize money should be large because of the risks involved.
Lee Sedol addresses his critics
He also talked about how some people have been speaking ill of him, because of his strong character and his past conflicts with the Korean Baduk Association.
“I made mistakes in the past, but I’m going to try to have a positive influence on the world from now on. However, I’ll still speak out when I see people committing unrighteous acts.”
Lee Sedol flew to Canada to see his family two days after this interview took place.