SKorean Go grandmaster seeks split with pro body

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SEOUL: South Korean Go grandmaster Lee Se-dol, famous for his high-profile battle against Google’s supercomputer AlphaGo, wants to split from the game’s professional body which takes a slice of his winnings, an official said Thursday.

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The 33-year-old is one of the greatest players of the ancient game in the modern era, with 18 international titles to his name.

His five-match showdown in March against AlphaGo — which Lee lost 4-1 — helped boost the global profile of a game whose popularity had mostly been restricted to east Asia.

In a letter submitted to the South Korean Go Players’ Association (GPA) on Tuesday, Lee said it was unfair that players are forced to hand the group 15 percent of their earnings, and declared his intention to withdraw his membership.

The content of the letter was confirmed by a spokesman for the broader Korea Baduk Association, who said Lee would be the first professional to quit the players’ group in its 50-year history.

Membership of the GPA is a requirement for any South Korean Go player who wishes to compete on the professional circuit.

Dozens of tournaments — both for individuals and “professional teams” sponsored by companies — are held in East Asia each year, with star players earning millions of dollars.

The GPA currently has around 300 certified members, and even those who don’t top the rankings can make a decent living from tournaments and teaching.

Members are required to pay between three and 15 percent of their earnings into a GPA “reserve” — which provides retiring players with a nest egg of up to 40 million won ($33,600).

Top earners like Lee have complained that their contribution is disproportionately high.

The GPA held a board meeting Thursday to discuss Lee’s move, and a statement was expected later in the day.

The outspoken Lee has locked horns with the association before, boycotting competitions for months in 2009 over similar issues with the GPA regulations.

Go originated in China 3,000 years ago and has been played for centuries mostly in China, Japan and South Korea, with more than 40 million fans worldwide.

The rules are simple — two players take turns placing black or white stones on a square board with a 19×19 grid. Whoever captures the most territory wins. AFP

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