NAGOYA – Friends, family members and fans of Sota Fujii, a 14-year-old professional shogi player who set the all-time record of 29 consecutive victories on Monday, rejoiced over his historic win.
Fujii’s 11-and-a-half-hour bout was aired live online, reaching 7.4 million viewers at one point, a record for a streamed shogi match.
Around 80 fans observed the match live at an event in Tokyo, as Fujii beat fellow fourth dan player Yasuhiro Masuda, 19, in the first round of the prestigious Ryuo Championship finals. .
“I doubt if there has been a match that has attracted this much attention,” said Koichi Fukaura, a ninth dan player who provided commentary at the Tokyo event. Professionals are ranked between fourth dan and ninth dan, the top rank.
“I’ve been disappointed to see shogi players beaten by computers. I never expected such a dramatic development,” said Kiyoo Tsutsui, 60, a fan from Tokyo’s Kita Ward who watched the match live at the event. “This is a turning point for the shogi world and a chance for the game to gain popularity. I was so stressed until the very end, but observing the record-setting moment has become one of the greatest memories in my life.”
Even Prime Minister Shinzo Abe commented on the achievement.
“The young power player made history,” Abe said Tuesday. “His victory is like a dream that gives hope to the Japanese people.”
In Fujii’s hometown of Seto, Aichi Prefecture, the city government rushed to order a banner scroll that congratulates Fujii. It will hang from the outside of city hall from Tuesday evening, officials said.
At Meijo University in Nagoya, whose shogi team has won the national intercollegiate shogi championship, members of the club closely watched the broadcast.
“He was extraordinarily strong. My impression is he has always been strong in the mid and last stages of the games,” said Saya Nakazawa, a 21-year-old Meijo student who says she has known Fujii since before he entered elementary school. “While facing what looked to be certain defeat, he won with a killer move nobody could have predicted. It’s really amazing. I hope he will continue to demonstrate his strengths.”
His mother, 47-year-old Yuko Fujii, released a statement after the game expressing her joy.
“It’s really wonderful that he has achieved a record like this,” she said. “I hope he will cherish each and every game and pursue his goal of becoming stronger.”
Seventh dan Masataka Sugimoto, 48, who coaches Fujii, said he never doubted victory.
“When we headed back after his 28th win, he kept talking about shogi as usual, which left me with a strong impression,” he said. “That’s when I became convinced that he would win again. I’m delighted as his teacher. This is just the beginning for him. I hope he will not be affected by winning or losing games in the short term and will work hard to achieve another record.”
Norio Nakayama, who runs a shogi school that Fujii attended while he was in his early years of elementary school, was surprised at the win.
“This is a historic record that cannot be beaten by anybody,” he said. “His strength knows no limits. I know he is still growing as a player. I hope he will try to win all of the eight major titles.”