Sota Fujii’s journey to becoming the world’s youngest professional shogi player began when he was in the fourth grade. Now the junior high school student from Seto, Aichi Prefecture, wants to be one of the greatest ever to play the game.
Earlier this month, Fujii became only the fifth person to turn pro at Japanese chess while in middle school. The others are ninth dans Hifumi Kato, 76, and Koji Tanigawa, 54; Yoshiharu Habu, 45, a holder of three major titles; and Akira Watanabe, 32, who holds two titles.
“They are all great and I will do my best so I can be as good as they are,” said Fujii, who will officially break the 62-year-old record for youngest player at a promotion ceremony on Oct. 1 at the age of 14 years and 2 months. He qualified for fourth dan, the beginning of the professional ranks, on Sept. 4.
The previous record holder, Hifumi Kato, 76, went pro in 1954 at 14 years and 7 months. He is now a ninth dan, the highest rank attainable.
In a league-promotion tournament for third dan players that began in April and wrapped up this month, Fujii topped his 29 rivals with 13 wins and five losses.
Shoreikai, a training institute for amateurs, organizes the tournament twice a year. Only the two top players qualify for promotion to the professional level of fourth dan. Fujii is the sixth player to do so on the first attempt.
“I’m so happy because I was able to give my best performance in the tournament,” Fujii said. “I will improve my skills so I can pursue a title.”
Fujii was 5 when he started playing shogi. His grandmother bought him a board and he was enthralled with it.
“I’ve been playing shogi every day and it has already become part of me,” he said.
Fujii was apprenticed to Masataka Sugimoto, 47, a seventh dan pro based in Nagoya, and entered Shoreikai in 2012 when he was a fourth-grader with aspirations of going pro.
He steadily advanced, obtaining his third dan, the institute’s highest grade, last October at the age of 13 years and 2 months, also a record.
Fujii also won the tsume shogi problem solving championships in 2015 and 2016. In these championship games, professionals, all of whom Fujii defeated, also participate.
“I’ve been solving tsume problems ever since I started playing shogi,” he said. “That’s probably why I’m good at the closing stage.”
Tsume problems are considered key in enhancing shogi skills, especially in the final stages of the game.