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Japan's youngest shogi prodigy sets new record with 29th straight win

Japan's youngest professional shogi player, 14-year-old Sota
Fujii, set the all-time record for most consecutive wins on Monday,
continuing a winning streak that has reignited public interest in the
traditional board game.

Fujii, a junior high school student, defeated fellow fourth-dan
player Yasuhiro Masuda, 19, in first round of the prestigious Ryuo
Championship finals at the Shogi Kaikan hall in Tokyo, staying
unbeaten in 29 official matches since his pro debut match in
December. His first win of the streak came against the oldest
top-ranked player, Hifumi Kato.

"I cannot believe (this accomplishment) myself. I was very
lucky," Fujii said, retaining his calm demeanor after Monday's
historic game that lasted over 11 hours while shogi fans and others
followed every move online, on TV and elsewhere. "I somehow held
out," he also said.

Fujii, who holds the fourth "dan," or rank, broke the record of
28 consecutive wins set in 1987 by Hiroshi Kamiya, a 56-year-old
eighth-dan player. Professionals are ranked between fourth dan, the
lowest, and ninth dan, the highest.

Fujii just last Wednesday registered his 28th win against
25-year-old Shingo Sawada, a sixth dan, to tie the previous all-time
winning streak.

Masuda, who went pro in 2014, is regarded as having had
exceptional skills from his early days.

With the record on the line in Monday's match, Fujii and Masuda
faced off in hopes of going on to challenge Ryuo title holder Akira
Watanabe, 33.

The Ryuo title is one of the eight contested by professional
shogi players. The winner of the Ryuo tournament final takes home the
largest prize purse of the year, around 43.2 million yen ($390,000)
plus anything earned from winning previous matches.

The current level of interest in shogi has not been seen since
1996 when Yoshiharu Habu made a clean sweep to hold all seven top
shogi titles at once. Habu, 46, a ninth dan, retains three of the
titles and remains one of the most famous shogi players.

The Eio championship was elevated this year to make a total of
eight top tournaments.

Last October, Fujii became the youngest professional player ever
at the age of 14 years and 2 months. Two months later, he beat
77-year-old Kato, a ninth-dan player, in his professional debut.

Kato, meanwhile, retired last Tuesday after he lost to
23-year-old fourth-dan Satoshi Takano, putting an end to a career
spanning 63 years.

Fujii's rise to prominence has inspired brisk sales of books
about shogi catered to children, and inspired more young people to
play the board game.

Fujii began playing shogi at age 5 after his grandmother gave
him a children's version of the game. After his late grandfather
became no match for him, the boy started attending shogi classes in
his neighborhood.

Shogi can be more complicated than chess as players, given 20
pieces each, can reuse the pieces captured from their opponent and
introduce them back into the game as their own. The game, in which
players attempt to capture their opponent's king piece, is thought to
have originated from the ancient Indian game of chaturanga.

Fujii's success is also seen as a positive turn for the shogi
world which was rocked in 2016 by allegations that one of its top
players, Hiroyuki Miura, cheated with software assistance. Miura was
later cleared.

The shogi world is highly competitive. An aspiring shogi player
typically enters "shorei-kai," a society under the Japan Shogi
Association aimed at training young aspiring players under the age of
26.

Only four new players per year can enter the professional ranks
through attainment of fourth dan. In order to do so, they must finish
first or second in the twice-yearly third-dan tournament.

There are currently around 160 active professional shogi
players. Including retired players, the number is around 200.

Under the Japan Shogi Association, no women have ever attained
fourth dan. Females play as professionals in a separate women's only
category.

The players get their income from playing in competitions. On
top of fees for competing in matches and prize money, they can also
earn money through giving talks, teaching the game and TV appearances.
Top players can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. (June 26)


Japan's youngest professional shogi player, 14-year-old Sota Fujii, holds a shogi board with the number 29 portrayed with shogi pieces at the Shogi Kaikan hall in Tokyo on June 26, 2017. Fujii defeated fellow fourth-dan player Yasuhiro Masuda, 19, to set the all-time record for most consecutive wins with his 29th straight victory.