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Youngest-ever shogi 7th dan Fujii continues record-setting pace

Sota Fujii, left, and his opponent Kohei Funae review their match at Kansai Shogi Hall in Osaka's Fukushima Ward on May 18, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- Sota Fujii has won yet another battle in his campaign to conquer the shogi record books, at 15 years and nine months old becoming the youngest player ever to reach the rank of seventh dan with a victory against sixth-dan Kohei Funae at the Ryuo tournament here on May 18.

Funae, 31, succumbed to Fujii's dexterous attack in 72 moves, improving the prodigy's pro record to 76 wins and 12 losses.

Fujii turned heads from the very start of his pro shogi career with a record-setting 29 wins in a row. Meanwhile, he has chances of winning two shogi titles within this year. The first-year high school student's advance has been steady, and shows no sign of relenting.

The youngest players to ever reach seventh dan all launched their professional careers when they were junior high school students. Koji Tanigawa, now a 56-year-old ninth dan player, went pro at age 14 years and eight months, and attained seventh-dan status when he was 18 years and 11 months old.

"I took the Meijin title when I was 21," said Tanigawa, referring to another of shogi's top titles. "Even someone advancing very quickly takes five years to become a top player. But Mr. Fujii has become a very strong player over the past year. He's doing better than I expected."

Fifty-one-year-old ninth dan player Taku Morishita, who will face off against Fujii on June 19 in the Meijin tournament, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Professionals have a tendency to avoid high-risk moves. But moves can be good the higher-risk they are. One doesn't usually lose big with a score of 70 points, but it's hard to win as well. Mr. Fujii chooses high-risk moves and shoots for 100 points."

Nobuyuki Yashiki, now a 46-year-old ninth dan, was 18 years and six months old when he became the youngest player to ever win one of the eight major titles. With three more victories in a row, Fujii will win the right to challenge for the Oza title in the autumn. Furthermore, if he beats 29-year-old fifth dan Naohiro Ishida in the Ryuo tournament's fifth class final, he will be able to continue to advance. If he qualifies to challenge for the Ryuo title and wins it, Fujii will be promoted again, to eighth dan.

After he won his May 18 match and was elevated to seventh dan, Fujii said, "More than reveling in the joy of the moment, I want to focus my mind on the fifth class final. About the Oza title, I'll have to face a lot of very tough competition from now on, so I'm not really thinking about taking on that challenge yet. I want to do my best to advance a little at a time."

His May 18 opponent Funae said of Fujii's play, "He made good moves I hadn't even thought of."

(Japanese original by Hiroaki Niidoi and Susumu Maruyama, Cultural News Department)

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