Fujii 3-peats as Ryuo: Fans Can Look Forward to Matches between Players of Same Generation

The 21-year-old who stands at the apex of the shogi world showed his unwavering strength, winning a showdown against someone his own age. The hope is that he will continue to contest heated matches with these rivals to further solidify the popularity of shogi.

Sota Fujii swept the best-of-seven Ryuo title series against challenger seventh-dan Takumi Ito to win his third consecutive Ryuo title, the most prestigious in shogi. This was also Fujii’s first title defense since he captured all eight major shogi titles last month.

Since his first appearance in a title series in 2020, when he earned the Kisei title, Fujii has been undefeated in 19 consecutive title series, tying the record set by late lifetime Meijin title holder Yasuharu Oyama in 1966. The immediate focus of attention is whether Fujii will break the record at the Osho or Kio title series that will be held at the beginning of the New Year.

Once again in the latest title series, Fujii showed his precise reading of the game and excellent attacking skills. Shogi fans will likely be interested in how long Fujii’s dominance will continue.

The latest Ryuo title matches also drew attention as Fujii’s first title series against a player from the same generation, as Fujii faced Ito, also 21. There is an anecdote about Fujii playing against Ito when they were third graders in elementary school and Fujii crying when he lost.

Ito, though he was swept in the Ryuo series, confidently took on Fujii’s favorite tactics, impressing with his high level of shogi ability. The series must have been an experience that will help Ito in the future.

Ninth-dan Yoshiharu Habu, who held all seven available titles in 1996, continues to contest classic matches with rivals from his generation, including ninth-dan Toshiyuki Moriuchi and Yasumitsu Satoh, also ninth dan. It is hoped that the Fujii generation will rise further and excel, further enlivening the shogi world.

One thing in common for both Fujii and Ito is that they have been using shogi artificial intelligence software for their studies since before they became professionals. It is probably because of this background that Fujii looked back on this series, and said, “Many times our line of thinking matched.”

The spread of AI, which logically selects the best move from the beginning of a match, has subverted some standard moves conventionally thought to be best. The level of all professional shogi players has been said to have improved as the use of AI for studying tactics has progressed.

In the end, however, it is a battle between humans. Fujii, who improved his skills through traditional shogi checkmate puzzles, said, “To incorporate the advantages of AI, it is absolutely necessary to think by yourself.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of shogi can be said to be the human component, when the opponent reads too much into the move one has made and makes a mistake.

As Fujii pointed out, players will likely compete with the combined strength of the ability to use AI and the ability to think things through. The matches played by the Fujii generation might also offer some hints on how humanity should deal with AI.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 14, 2023)