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Japan's young shogi star sees record win streak snapped

Fourteen-year-old phenom Sota Fujii, whose race to claim the
all-time record for consecutive wins in shogi, or Japanese chess,
captivated the country over recent weeks, saw his record win streak
snapped Sunday at 29 matches.

The junior high school student, who holds the fourth "dan," or
rank, fell to 22-year-old Yuki Sasaki, a fifth-dan player, during the
second round of the prestigious Ryuo Championship finals at the Shogi
Kaikan hall in Tokyo.

Unbeaten since his pro debut in December, the shogi prodigy on
June 26 won his 29th consecutive match to break the record of 28
consecutive wins set in 1987 by Hiroshi Kamiya, a 56-year-old
eighth-dan player.

"A winning streak ends sooner or later," Fujii said after the
match. "I was comprehensively beaten."

Sasaki said he was under pressure, but "I wanted to show the
pride of our generation."

Fujii's latest opponent, Sasaki, turned pro in 2010 and is one
of Japan's most promising young shogi players. He previously made it
to the deciding match to choose the challenger in the Kio tournament,
one of the eight title matches contested by professional shogi
players.

Fujii and Sasaki were competing for the right to play current
Ryuo title holder Akira Watanabe, 33, with the winner receiving the
largest prize purse of the year, around 43.2 million yen ($384,000).

Sasaki was at the hall last week to watch the historic match
where Fujii defeated 19-year-old fourth-dan player Yasuhiro Masuda in
the first round of the Ryuo finals.

Fujii has yet to win a title, but has lots of time to do so and
become the youngest ever. The record was set by Nobuyuki Yashiki who
won a title in 1990 at the age of 18 years and 6 months. Today,
Yashiki is a top-ranked, ninth-dan player.

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

The shogi star's success has sparked a level of interest in
shogi not 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. There are now eight top shogi titles.

Fujii's winning streak has inspired brisk sales of children's
books about shogi, and more young people to play the board game,
commonly known as Japanese chess.

Fujii himself 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.

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

Professionals are ranked between fourth dan, the lowest, and
ninth dan, the highest, in a six-level system. There are around 200
active and retired professional shogi players, the association said.
(July 3)


Sota Fujii, at 14 the youngest professional player of
shogi Japanese chess, is seen after suffering his
first loss in 30 career matches. Fujii was beaten
by Yuki Sasaki on July 2, 2017, at Tokyo Shogi Hall.
(Kyodo)