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(2nd LD) Go master Lee Se-dol expects no answers at his secession talks

All News 19:10 May 20, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS latest progress in 6th para, remarks from Lee's brother at bottom)

SEOUL, May 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean Go master Lee Se-dol said Friday that he will talk with the representatives from the association that he wants to leave but expects that the conversation will end up with no breakthrough.

Lee, who is known for having faced Google's artificial intelligence (AI) program AlphaGo in the ancient board game, on Tuesday submitted a withdrawal form to the South Korean professional Go players' association, saying he wants to leave the group, as he feels uncomfortable about how much of a cut of his prize money they take. Lee's older brother Lee Sang-hoon, who is also a ninth-dan Go player, filed the form.

"I will have the conversation with the association, but it's not going to be easy (to come up with solution)," Lee said at a Seoul hotel after the awards ceremony of the Maxim Coffee Cup which he won last week.

This is the first time in South Korea that a pro Go player has decided to leave the association. All 320 pro Go players in South Korea are registered with the association that was established in 1967.

After receiving Lee's letter, Yang Gun, the head of the association, and the senior official had a meeting on Thursday to discuss the Lee brothers' concerns, but hasn't approved their request, saying they will first talk and persuade them to stay.

Yang and the Lee brothers met on Friday and they did agreed on the big picture that the issue should be solved with a dialogue, but have yet to find common ground in details. Two sides also agreed to hold additional talks.

Lee said he thinks there are many problems in the association's rules which include a requirement to receive a cut of its members' prize money.

Under the rule, the South Korean pro Go players are required to pay five percent of their prize money to the association when they compete in events sanctioned by the Korea Baduk Association (KBA). If the local event only gives cash awards to players who advance to certain rounds of a tournament, the association asks players to pay 15 percent of their earnings.

For competitions overseas, players must pay 3 percent of their earnings. The association said the money is used to support the members' welfare and promote Go across the nation. But the system forces top-class Go players like Lee to put more money into the association than those with average performances in tournaments.

But before talking about the fairness of the percentage cut system, Lee first questioned the use of the fund, saying that the group should clarify where the money is spent.

"The reason I decided to withdraw from the association is that I wanted to make a Go community with common sense," he said. "There are so many things to solve, but it's going to be impossible to find solutions for all of the problems with a talk."

Lee, who turned pro at the age of 12, said that he could take back his decision if the association revises its rules, but expects it will be impossible to see it happening.

"They will have to completely reset their rules, but I don't think that is going to happen," he said. "I have been trying to fix the problem, but I found out that if I don't take actions like this, it won't change."

Under the articles of the association, a nonmember is prohibited from competing in KBA competitions, which means Lee, who has won 48 titles in his career, will be unable to enter almost all of the tournaments in his homeland.

But the 33-year-old claimed that there is no legally binding force to the association's articles, saying that the association is just a "social club" for Go players. The Lee brothers previously hinted that they could file a lawsuit if they are blocked from competing in KBA events.

"I've never thought that I would be banned from competing in events," Lee said. "If that happens, so be it. But that will be the worst case scenario."

Lee expects that if he and his older brother manage to get out of the association, there could be a chain reaction of other pro Go players leaving the group as well.

"Other players will probably be watching this situation," he said. "I'm sure they will not join us right now, but if we manage to get out of the association, that situation may happen."

Lee hinted that his next move can be more aggressive, saying that he can make a new association for Go players.

"First, I will try for a complete revision of the rules if that is possible," he said. "But I'm also thinking of founding a new association for Go players after dissolving the current association."

Lee's older brother Lee Sang-hoon said that Yang has told them that their complaints on the rules will be discussed as an official agenda item during the association's congress on June 2.

"We will wait for the result," he said. "We want to solve the issue in a rational way."


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