TOKYO -- Sota Fujii has taken the world of shogi by storm since his debut by overturning a 30-year record with 29 straight victories in a professional career barely more than six months long.
Last fall, Fujii became the youngest professional player ever of the chess-like Japanese game at 14 years and 2 months. His winning streak has sparked a shogi fever not seen in two decades.
Fujii's still-boyish features give way to a face brimming with uncanny concentration and competitiveness once in front of the board. His weapon is the ability to solve complex shogi puzzles, allowing him to hold his own against Japan's top players despite being in the sixth grade. In addition to an outstanding endgame, Fujii has closed gaps in his opening and middle game by incorporating artificial intelligence into his training since last summer.
Fujii hates losing. As a younger boy, he would cling to the board and bawl after a loss. He admits to thinking about the game when he walks, causing him to fall into a street drain once due to his focus -- or lack of it. Fujii may be a shogi fanatic, but he makes time for other pursuits as well. He is an avid newspaper reader, as demonstrated by his broad vocabulary in interviews.
This spring, the middle schooler trounced shogi greats including Yoshiharu Habu, who wowed Japan in the 1990s, in a series of unofficial matches broadcast on the internet. Some expect him to become the youngest player to win a title. But Fujii remains humble, saying "I'm still nowhere near good enough, but I'd like to put myself in a position to aim for a title soon."