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Teen prodigy Nakamura becomes youngest women's Go title challenger

TOKYO -- Teenage Go prodigy Sumire Nakamura has become the youngest challenger for a professional women's Go title, with her match against current Women's Meijin titleholder Rina Fujisawa set for later this month.

    Sumire Nakamura smiles during a press conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on March 31, 2022. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

    At 13 years old, second-dan-ranked Nakamura won the right on March 31 to face off against the 23-year-old Fujisawa in the 33rd Women's Meijin title match set for April 14, after topping the league competition. The age at which Nakamura faces her title bid is a big leap from the previous record set by Fujisawa when she challenged for the Women's Honinbo title at 15 years and 11 months old in 2014.

    "I'm happy as I didn't expect to qualify to play in a title match this early," Nakamura, a junior high school student, told a March 31 press conference. "I can play at least two games with a top-ranking player, so I'd like to compete to the best of my ability," she said.

    Nakamura was in the top spot in the Women's Meijin league competition on March 24 with a record of five wins and one loss. Seventh-dan player Xie Yimin, 32, was trailing Nakamura with four victories and one defeat, but lost to Women's Kisei titleholder Asami Ueno, 20, on March 31, cementing Nakamura's hold on first place.

    In this season's league matches, Nakamura beat Ueno to get her first win over a titleholder, and defeated Xie, who has won and defended titles 27 times -- a record among female Go players.

    A native of Osaka Prefecture, Nakamura was the first player recruited under The Nihon Ki-in's special program to train young talent. She became the youngest player to go professional in April 2019, at 10 years old. In her first year as a pro, she scored 17 wins and seven losses, followed by 21 wins and 17 losses in the second year. In 2021, her third year, she joined the Kisei title match C league at 12 years and 2 months old -- the youngest on record -- and advanced to the semifinals in the Women's Tachiaoi Cup. Her record for the year was 43 victories and 18 losses.

    Fujisawa, meanwhile, is Japan's top female Go player, holding four titles including the Women's Honinbo, Women's Tachiaoi Cup and Senko Cup.

    The first game of the best-of-three Women's Meijin title match will be held on April 14 at The Nihon Ki-in in Tokyo.

    (Japanese original by Ryo Takeuchi, Cultural News Department; video by Shigeto Tanji, Video Group)

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