• Kyodo, Jiji


Japan's 17-year-old shogi sensation Sota Fujii on Thursday became the youngest player ever to win one of the board game's eight major titles after beating the holder in a best-of-five series.

Fujii's defeat of Akira Watanabe, one of the game's top players, gave him an unassailable 3-1 lead to clinch the Kisei title. Watanabe, 36, is also the holder of the Kio and Osho titles in the world of shogi.

"I should accept the result after playing the match aggressively as a whole," said Watanabe. "I feel like a big player is emerging."

Fujii, who will turn 18 on Sunday, achieved the feat of taking a major title at 17 years and 11 months. The previous record was established by Nobuyuki Yashiki, 48, in 1990 at the age of 18 years and six months when he also won the Kisei title.

"To be honest, it hasn't really hit me yet," Fujii told reporters after the match. "As I'm in a responsible position now, I will work even harder to better play shogi."

"Shogi is a complicated game, and there are many things I have yet to understand. I would like to approach it with an inquisitive mind," Fujii said at a news conference in Osaka Friday as he held up a piece of paper on which he wrote tankyu (pursuit) in kanji.

Looking back, Fujii said he had been "seeking a title, but it had seemed a long way away."

"My growth after becoming a professional player has helped me achieve this result," he said of Thursday's victory.

The teen shogi sensation is also aiming for a second shogi title, Oi. In the best-of-seven series, he currently holds a 2-0 lead.

Holding a major title is viewed as the greatest honor for shogi's some 170 professional players and winners can hold the title for a year. Once they win a title, they are no longer referred to by rank, but by name and title.

In terms of prize money in 2019, Fujii ranked ninth having earned ¥21.08 million ($196,000), while Watanabe took third spot with ¥65.14 million, according to the Japan Shogi Association.

In June, Fujii became the youngest challenger for a major title at age 17 and 10 months and 20 days, after beating Takuya Nagase, 27, who has the Eio and Oza titles, for the right to contest the Kisei title.

Debuting as the youngest professional shogi player at age 14 in October 2016, Fujii has broken a series of records, including achieving an unprecedented 29 consecutive wins following his debut and reaching his 100th victory in official matches at the fastest pace in history in December 2018.

Fujii was promoted to the rank of seventh dan in May 2018, reaching it in record time. Professional shogi players are ranked between fourth dan, the lowest rank, and ninth dan, the highest.

Fujii, who hails from Aichi Prefecture, returned to official games June 2 after a hiatus of around two months amid the coronavirus epidemic.

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