Fujii Secures All 8 Shogi Titles: Talent, Great Efforts Result in Unprecedented Achievement

Even a shining, monumental achievement in shogi history might just be a waypoint for the strongest player in the current Reiwa era. How far will the “Fujii era” extend? Who can beat him? There is endless interest.

In the fourth game of the best-of-five Oza title match, challenger Sota Fujii, holder of the Ryuo title, defeated Oza titleholder Takuya Nagase for a 3-1 series victory. By seizing the Oza crown, Fujii now holds all eight major professional shogi titles.

The last time a shogi player held all available titles was in 1996 when top ranked ninth-dan Yoshiharu Habu won seven; this is the first time in history for a player to hold eight major titles. Fujii has reached the pinnacle of the shogi world at the young age of 21 years and 2 months. His overwhelming strength as a player, described as “incomparable,” is nothing short of astonishing.

Since becoming the youngest professional shogi player in 2016 at the age of 14 years and 2 months, he has won the most consecutive games in history, 29, and been the youngest to win a major title, among a series of records he has rewritten in the shogi world.

Fujii’s instructor, eighth-dan Masataka Sugimoto, wrote in his latest book, “One should not lump the words ‘gifted’ or ‘genius’ together to describe Fujii, but his talent shines that brightly.”

According to Sugimoto, the secret of Fujii’s strength lies in three key aspects: “thinking over a move for a lengthy amount of time causing the opponent to feel intimidated,” “a sensitivity that surpasses common sense” and “unmatched ability and precision during the endgame.” Fujii thinks thoroughly, is not bound by precedent and does not make mistakes.

These abilities are likely the result of his daily study to improve his skills using tsume-shogi checkmate puzzles and artificial intelligence software.

In addition to his dedicated attitude toward shogi, Fujii’s humble and gentle personality has contributed greatly to the image of the shogi world. His meals and snacks during games have attracted attention, and the number of fans who enjoy watching shogi has increased, which can be said to be another indication of his contribution.

In terms of his popularity due to his extraordinary ability and polite behavior, Fujii may have something in common with baseball player Shohei Ohtani, who won a major league home run title this regular season.

Fujii has won 18 consecutive title series, showing his unmatchable strength. Habu’s career record of winning a major title for the 99th time is sure to come within sight in the future. The focus of attention will be on whether his rivals can open a crack in Fujii’s “dominant” play.

Nagase is nicknamed “the sergeant” because of his rigorous self-disciplined research. Other players, such as ninth-dan Akira Watanabe and ninth-dan Masayuki Toyoshima, who have held numerous titles, will not stand by idly.

Shogi’s most prestigious title series — Ryuo — started this month and Fujii’s “same-age showdown” against 21-year-old challenger, seventh-dan Takumi Ito, is attracting attention. If a player who poses a threat to Fujii emerges, the battles on the shogi board are sure to heat up even more.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 12, 2023)