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Baduk Club Closings Mark End of Era

Posted March. 14, 2006 03:37,   


Around 6:30 p.m. on March 10, the clicking sounds of individual baduk stones being placed on boards could be heard at the Hwarang Baduk Club in Seoul. The glares of the two amateur, white-haired baduk players engrossed in their game, the Korean version of the board game “go,” were fierce enough to pierce through the board.

They were the first customers club owner Yoo Hae-woon, 63, had after opening the club at midday and after watching reruns of old TV shows on cable TV for six hours. With a smile on his whole face, Yoo gave playing tips to the players.

Around 8:00 p.m., eight older men came in, filling the baduk club with roars of laughter and sighs of frustration.

When it was past midnight, some said, “Let’s go home,” but no one actually left. They all agreed to pleas of “one more match,” and left at around 2:00 a.m., seemingly addicted to the game of baduk.

Up until 10 years ago, Hwarang Baduk Club was a famous spot with an approximately 60-pyeong space with 100 seats for players. It was so popular that one had to wait in line just to get in.

Now the club has shrunk to about 20 pyeong, and to make ends meet, the remaining 40 pyeong has been converted into a comic book store.

To play in the club for an entire day costs 4,000 won, the same price as 10 years ago. But the number of customers coming to the club has diminished to around 10 per day. They are the club’s regular customers who live nearby.

“I earned about six million won per month 10 years ago, but nowadays I run the club with the monthly one million won that comes from the comic book store,” Yoo says.

Baduk clubs that played the role of community gathering spots in the 1980s and 1990s are now vanishing. Although there are no exact statistics, experts estimate that the number of clubs has fallen by about 90 percent compared to that of a decade ago. The Internet baduk craze that began to spread in the mid 1990s has hit brick and mortar baduk clubs hard.

The editor-in-chief of “Monthly Baduk” magazine Lee Sung-koo, 41, said, “Baduk clubs had their heyday until the early 1990s with the influence of professional players such as Cho Hun-hyun and Lee Chang-ho, but with the advent of Internet baduk, their number started to shrink drastically. It is not that the number of baduk players has shrunk, but the number of players going to baduk clubs has decreased.”

Internet baduk site memberships have increased annually. The number of visitors to the Hangame Baduk site was around 230,000 in September 2004, but last month, the number of visitors was 720,000. The number of members of Netbaduk has increased by an average of 1,500 everyday, and now the site’s membership amounts to over three million.

Kim Dong-chul, 33, who has played baduk online for three years, said, “Online baduk is much more efficient than offline clubs because you can play anytime with someone on your own level.”

Nevertheless, club aficionados cannot hide their sense of loss.

Kim Chang-bok, 62, who says he has been coming to the Hwarang Baduk Club almost everyday for the past 15 years, said, “Baduk that you play at club, drinking a cup of tea, face to face with your opponent, is true baduk.”