• Kyodo, Jiji

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Teenage shogi sensation Sota Fujii ascended to the highest rank of ninth dan on Saturday, becoming the youngest professional player of the traditional board game to achieve the feat.

He reached the milestone at the age of 18 years and 11 months after defending one of the two major titles he had held with a clean 3-0 victory over Akira Watanabe, 37, in a best-of-five series.

“I feel honored,” Fujii said.

Fujii had clinched the Kisei title last July when he beat the defending champion Watanabe, who was the previous record holder as the youngest player to reach ninth dan at the age of 21 years and 7 months.

Fujii also captured the Oi title last August.

Debuting as the youngest professional shogi player at the age of 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.

With Fujii’s win on Saturday, he also become the youngest player to defend any of shogi’s eight major professional titles.

The previous record was set by ninth-dan Nobuyuki Yashiki at the age of 19 in 1991, according to the Japan Shogi Association. He also defended the Kisei title at the time.

In Saturday’s third match of the Kisei title series, held in the city of Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Fujii defeated Watanabe in 100 moves. Watanabe has three of the eight major titles — Meijin, Kio and Osho.

“The result was good because a shogi player can be regarded as being fully competitive only after defending a title,” Fujii said.

“I want to look forward and maintain a beginner’s spirit without being satisfied with the result.”

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