A handful of prodigies went pro at a young age

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Yomiuri ShimbunOnly five shogi players, including Sota Fujii, have turned professional while in junior high school.

Other than Fujii, all have already cemented their reputation as among the game’s top players — Hifumi Kato, 77, a ninth-dan player who recently retired as the oldest professional; Koji Tanigawa, 55, a ninth-dan player who uses a bold style of tenaciously checkmating opponents near the end of games via his “light speed” charge; triple titleholder Yoshiharu Habu, 46, the current No. 1 player; and 11-term Ryuo titleholder Akira Watanabe, 33.

Fourth-dan player Fujii can set out on a similar career path, following in the footsteps of those four. Three of them — with the exception of Kato — won their first titles between 19 and 21.

The youngest titleholder in shogi at 18 years and six months is Nobuyuki Yashiki, now 45, with a victory at the Kisei tournament. Fujii, who turns 15 in July, will have more than three years to beat that record, and has a strong chance to do so.

Said Watanabe: “It even took triple titleholder Habu — who was winning like crazy at the rate of about 80 percent of his games after his debut — about four years to win a title. As [Fujii] advances, he will have to go up against opponents who are much better, and it’ll be no easy task to break that record.”

Even so, Watanabe pinned his hopes on the up-and-coming player.

“Fujii is already playing at the main rounds of the Ryuo and Kio championships. I expect him to take aim at the record,” Watanabe said.

Said Tanigawa: “Fujii must compete with top-level players more as he advances to the main rounds of title competitions. He relishes going up against top-class competition during his mid-teens, which is the best time to develop as a player.”

Habu is ready for the challenge.

“The 29 consecutive wins are a historic achievement,” Habu said. “The result is already great, but what’s awesome is that his playing style comes with the results. I’m looking forward to facing him on the big stage.”Speech

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