TOKYO – A 14-year-old boy is taking his country by storm with a record-breaking start to his pro career in the Japanese version of chess.
Ninth-grader Sota Fujii broke a 30-year-old record this week with his 29th win in a row in the game of "shogi." His face was plastered across front pages of major newspapers Tuesday, getting bigger display than the bankruptcy filing of Japanese air bag maker Takata.
Shogi is similar to chess, though players can reuse captured pieces as their own, making it more complex. In competitions, they kneel on the floor of a traditional tatami-mat room and play on a thick wooden block that is the board.
Fujii defeated 19-year-old opponent Yasuhiro Masuda after a more than 11-hour battle — with lunch and dinner breaks — that ended Monday night.
Kneeling with his eyes cast downward, the teenage phenom told dozens of reporters, photographers and video journalists crowded around him that he was both happy and surprised to win 29 consecutive matches.
His accomplishment is all the more impressive because the matches are the first 29 he has played since becoming pro.
Fujii became the youngest-ever to qualify to enter the professional ranks last October. In his first match in December, he defeated Hifumi Kato, a then-76-year-old master who had set the previous record for the youngest-ever pro in the 1950s.
Japan's Kyodo News agency says public interest in the game has not been as high since 1996, when a player won all seven major championships in the same year.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that Fujii had made history with a victory that he thinks will inspire the hopes and dreams of other Japanese.
Fans wonder just how good Fujii is, and how far he will go in this year's tournaments. His next match is July 2.