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Japanese shogi pro Habu becomes first to qualify for 7 lifetime titles

Yoshiharu Habu (Mainichi)

IBUSUKI, Kagoshima -- Japanese shogi master Yoshiharu Habu became the first person to qualify as a lifetime holder of seven of Japan's major shogi titles by earning a Lifetime Ryuo qualification with his seventh Ryuo tournament victory on Dec. 5.

    Habu, 47, defeated 33-year-old Ryuo title holder Akira Watanabe in the fifth game of the Ryuo championship in Ibusuki, Kagoshima Prefecture, to raise his tournament tally to 4-1 and claim the crown. Under the current system, a player is qualified as a lifetime Ryuo holder upon winning the title seven times.

    Those who qualify for lifetime titles are officially awarded the award upon their retirement or death.

    Beside his seven Ryuo tournament titles, Habu has won the prestigious Meijin tournament nine times and the Osho tournament 12 times. Overall the number of his tournament titles stands at 99. Apart from Lifetime Ryuo, he is also qualified to become a lifetime holder of the Meijin, Osho, Oi, Oza, Kio, and Kisei titles.

    After losing his Ryuo designation in 2003, he challenged title holder Watanabe in 2008 and 2010, hoping to win the crown back and qualify for the lifetime title, but was defeated in both attempts. With Habu's win this year, Watanabe missed out on claiming his third straight Ryuo crown, leaving the number of his Ryuo title wins at 11.

    Before his latest achievement in the world of shogi, or Japanese chess, Habu was qualified to hold six lifetime titles. The late shogi master Yasuharu Oyama, the 15th Meijin, was awarded five lifetime titles, while retired player Makoto Nakahara, the 16th Meijin, also holds five lifetime titles.

    The conditions for qualifying to become a lifetime holder differ from title to title. Habu qualified to receive the Lifetime Eisei title in 2007 and became the 19th Mejin in 2008, leaving just the lifetime Eisei title for him to achieve.

    In his winning game against Watanabe on Dec. 5, he took the upper hand in the middle game, and held onto his advantage to shut out his opponent and claim a solid victory.

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