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Teen shogi player Fujii's winning streak hits 23, surpasses Habu for 3rd longest

Fourth-dan teen shogi player Sota Fujii smiles after securing his 23rd consecutive victory, putting him in third for the most consecutive wins, at the Kansai Shogi Hall in Osaka's Fukushima Ward on June 7, 2017. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Teen shogi sensation Sota Fujii added three more victories in a single day to his winning streak here, extending his total to 23 consecutive triumphs since he went professional in October 2016, putting him in third place for most consecutive wins ever.

The 14-year-old fourth-dan player participated in the Japan Shogi Association's Joshu Yamada Challenge Cup held at the Kansai Shogi Hall in Osaka's Fukushima Ward, and won all three of his matches on June 7. Fujii surpassed the 22-win streak shared by several players including 46-year-old ninth-dan Yoshiharu Habu, who currently holds three of shogi's main titles. Fujii now lies five victories away from longest winning streak holder, 56-year-old eighth-dan Hiroshi Kamiya, at 28 consecutive wins. Fujii's next match is set for June 10 in Tokyo against 21-year-old fellow fourth-dan Hirotaka Kajiura. Expectations are growing for the junior high school shogi player with seemingly endless potential to shatter existing records.

At the challenge cup, Fujii won in 93 moves over 27-year-old fourth-dan Ryuma Tonari in his first match, 139 moves against 38-year-old fifth-dan Satoru Sakaguchi in his second game, and 141 moves in his third match against 31-year-old fifth-dan Hiroshi Miyamoto.

Fujii's biggest obstacle of the three games came during the second match with Sakaguchi. During the endgame, Fujii's attacks were stumbling, even prompting observers to comment that his play had become erratic. Sakaguchi commented that he thought that he had turned the match around in his favor and that "Fujii kept tapping his knee regretfully" during the match. "I continued making bad moves," Fujii reflected. In the end, Fujii was able to set up a win based on his strong midgame. The other two games were soundly won by the teen.

"I've just been concentrating on one game at a time," Fujii said. "I've even surprised myself by coming this far -- I'm happy."

During matches, Fujii holds a fan bearing the word "ambition" in his own calligraphy. "I wrote it with the determination to aim for the top, but I think that I'm still in a phase where I should be building up strength."

The 14-year-old's shogi prowess is also garnering praise from the game's most prominent players. Highly decorated player Habu and 55-year-old ninth-dan Koji Tanigawa spoke about Fujii's success at a shogi event held in Osaka on June 3.

"It's not just his vigor. It's the foundation of his strength that is bringing him success. My impression from playing against him as well as watching his other matches is that his attacks are extremely sharp," commented Habu, whose unofficial matches with Fujii resulted in one win and one loss. "I would like him to aim for eighth-dan Kamiya's 28-win record."

"During his teens, even Habu's play was fairly rough around the edges," said Tanigawa. "But Fujii has made so few questionable or bad moves that they can easily be counted."

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