Sankei Shimbun, JAPAN Forward

Japan’s 18-year-old shogi sensation Sota Fujii on July 16 became the youngest player ever to win any one of the board game’s eight major titles when he won the 91th Hulic Cup in Osaka.

Shogi is sometimes referred to as Japanese chess. Like the Western game, it involves strategy and tactics to win the game.

The teenager, a seventh dan, is from Seto City in Aichi Prefecture. He won after beating Akira Watanabe, one of the game’s top players, in a best-of-five series to become the holder of the title. Fujii gained a 3-1 lead, and thus managed to snatch one of the eight top-honored Kisei titles.

The result was confirmed after a long day of games that started at 9 A.M. on July 16, and officially ended at 7:11 P.M. the same evening.

Commenting on his victory in a press conference that followed, Fujii said: “I am really happy that I managed to gain the title. In the five times that I have faced Watanabe-sensei, I have learned a lot. As a title holder, I now want to work even harder at playing shogi.”

Fujii turned 18 on Sunday, July 19. He achieved the feat of taking a major title at 17 years and 11 months. The previous record was established more than 30 years ago, in 1990, by Nobuyuki Yashiki, now 48, who at the age of 18 years and six months also won the Kisei title.

To give some context, holding a Kisei title is one of the greatest honors for a shogi professional player. A fun fact is that, once a player wins a title, they are then no longer known by their dan and rank, but instead by their name and title — in this case, Sota Fujii Kisei.

In June, Fujii became the youngest challenger for a major title at age 17 years and 10 months and 20 days of age, after beating Takuya Nagase, 27, who has the Eio and Oza titles, for the right to contest the Kisei title.

Fujii has been breaking records for some time. He debuted as the youngest professional shogi player at age 14 in October 2016, achieved 29 consecutive wins following his debut, and reached his 100th victory in official matches at the fastest pace in history in December 2018.

Fujii also became a seventh dan in record-breaking time, in May 2018. Professional players are ranked from fourth to ninth dan, with ninth being the highest.

The Strength of A.I.

Fujii started off as an amateur, but has since managed to surpass players that have been on top for more than 20 years. This has become possible, thanks to his major partner: artificial intelligence.


By - Ben K.

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