With Ryuo crown, Fujii’s 4 titles signal dawn of individual dominance

The shogi world is likely to revolve around this person for years to come. The outstanding mastery he displayed is enough to make people think this way.

Sota Fujii, who already held three major titles, captured the Ryuo by sweeping defending champion Masayuki Toyoshima in shogi’s most prestigious best-of-seven championship. At 19 years and 3 months old, Fujii became the youngest player to hold four major titles in Japanese professional shogi, vastly rewriting the previous record of 22 years and 9 months set by ninth-dan player Yoshiharu Habu.

Ninth-dan player Toyoshima has been a formidable opponent for Fujii, winning their first six matches and pushing the best-of-five Eio championship to the final game, before Fujii prevailed to secure his third major title. This time, the two continued to engage in close contests, but even so, Fujii did not lose a single game. His great achievement deserves applause.

Fujii has continued to demonstrate brilliant performances so far and is still progressing. His feats must be the result of tireless efforts. Many people must have seen his latest victory as the dawn of an era dominated by Fujii alone.

Fujii learned the basics from his grandparents and started playing shogi at age 5. As he hates losing, when he lost in a tournament in his early elementary school days, the story goes that he held onto the shogi board and wept bitterly.

When Fujii was a fourth-grade elementary school student, he became a disciple of eighth-dan player Masataka Sugimoto. Fujii made moves that defied expectations, leading Sugimoto to say that he already had a great sense of the game. Sugimoto, who has played shogi against many children, looked back on that time and said, “Fujii was special.”

There are these famous episodes of Fujii thinking about shogi while walking that he fell into a ditch over and over. His attitude of devoting himself wholeheartedly to what he likes and his ability to concentrate for a long period of time in front of the shogi board were likely cultivated around this time.

Since making his debut as a professional player in 2016, Fujii has continued to set marks, such as winning a history-making 29 consecutive matches, becoming the youngest player to win the championship of an official match other than the eight major titles and repeatedly rewriting the record for youngest player to win major titles.

While solving traditional tsume-shogi checkmate puzzles and reading shogi reports in newspapers to cultivate his thinking ability, Fujii also uses shogi software. Honing his shogi skills by combining traditional and modern methods, he can be called a shogi player of a new era.

When focusing his energy on the shogi board, Fujii has a serious look on his face while making moves that stun everyone. Once he leaves the board, he has the innocent appearance of a polite young man. This may also be one of his attractive points.

The emergence of a new star has brought about a shogi boom. Streaming of shogi matches has become popular, and some of the sweets that Fujii eats during matches have sold out. Such phenomena suggest that the fan base for shogi is growing.

The Japan Shogi Association should take advantage of this opportunity to make efforts to increase the number of fans further and boost the attractiveness of shogi so that the excitement will not be temporary.

Fujii is now vying for the right to play for the Osho title held by Akira Watanabe, who also holds titles including the Meijin. With Fujii leading the qualifying league, his prospects of challenging for a fifth title look good.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Nov. 14, 2021.