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Japanese teen shogi star Sota Fujii becomes youngest challenger for major title

Sota Fujii holds an online news conference in a room apart from reporters after becoming the youngest challenger for the Kisei title, at Shogi Hall in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on the evening of June 4, 2020. (Mainichi/Tamaki Tatsuro)

TOKYO -- Teen shogi sensation Sota Fujii on June 4 became the youngest challenger for the Kisei title, one of the eight major titles in the Japanese board game.

Fujii, 17, who holds a seventh-dan rank in shogi, became the challenger after defeating Takuya Nagase, holder of the Eio title, in 100 moves in their game at Shogi Hall in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward.

"I'm happy to be the challenger," Fujii said after his game on June 4. "I didn't have it in mind (to set a new age record), but it's good that it turned out that way."

On June 8, Fujii will face 36-year-old Akira Watanabe in the first game of their best-of-five Kisei title match at the age of 17 years, 10 months and 20 days, making him the youngest challenger for the title. The previous record holder was 48-year-old ninth-dan player Nobuyuki Yashiki, who in 1989 became the challenger at the age of 17 years, 10 months and 24 days.

On his way to becoming challenger, Fujii had 10 straight wins in the first, second and final preliminary rounds of the Kisei tournament. Fujii previously made it into the challenger league of the Osho tournament in 2019, but missed out becoming the youngest challenger for that title when he lost to 33-year-old eighth-dan player Akihito Hirose in November the same year.

Fujii, who hails from the city of Seto in the central Japan prefecture of Aichi, became the youngest player in Japan to turn pro in October 2016 at the age of 14 years and 2 months. In February 2018 he won the Asahi Cup shogi open, becoming the youngest to win a shogi title other than the eight major professional titles. So far, he has won three tournament titles, including a Shinjin-O title for young players who have not yet advanced to the highest ranks of shogi, and another Asahi Cup title.

Previously, the youngest winner of a title was Yashiki, who claimed the 56th Kisei title at the age of 18 years and 6 months. Fujii's latest success has raised hopes he could renew this record and become the new youngest holder of a major title.

(Japanese original by Hideki Yamamura, Cultural News Department)

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