Habu’s seven eisei titles deserve applause as historic shogi landmark

The Yomiuri ShimbunPraise can be bestowed on the latest unprecedented achievement that is indelibly engraved in the time-honored history of shogi.

Kisei title holder Yoshiharu Habu, 47, has won the Ryuo title match by defeating Akira Watanabe, 33, who had been the holder of that title, with four wins and one defeat — a feat that has earned Habu the eisei lifetime honor for the Ryuo title. It also means he now holds eisei honors for all seven major shogi titles, an unprecedented accomplishment in history.

In the past, Habu went after the eisei honor for the Ryuo title — and thus the eisei honors for all seven titles — on two occasions. Blocking both his challenges was Ryuo title holder Watanabe.

The 2008 Ryuo title match in particular was a crucial one in which the winner was to become the eisei Ryuo. After gaining three consecutive wins in the match, Habu suffered four painful defeats in a row. Overcoming that setback, Habu has now beaten his archrival in a third-time-lucky moment.

“I’m glad I’ve established this record. I confronted [the latest match], saying to myself, ‘This may be my last chance,’” Habu said as the new Ryuo title holder.

Some said Habu’s best days were over, as he lost his Oi and Oza titles this year. Shogi is a merciless world of competition, in which the abilities of individual players are truthfully reflected. It was splendid for Habu to win a sweeping victory by reversing the adverse conditions.

Second to Habu’s win of gaining eisei honors for all seven titles are the late Yasuharu Oyama, the 15th Meijin, and Makoto Nakahara, the 16th Meijin, both holders of five eisei titles. There are only 10 shogi players who have earned even one eisei title, as the honor is limited to players who have achieved top-notch results for many years. Given this, Habu’s accomplishment must be described as extraordinary.

Many expect dream match

In 1985, Habu became the third junior high school student in history to turn pro, and he earned the Ryuo title at the age of 19, his first accomplishment in this respect. Since 1991, he has never been without a title. In 1996, he became the first person in history to hold all seven titles, a feat that generated great enthusiasm for shogi.

He has what it takes to turn the tables on an opponent in the final phase of a match through what is called “Habu magic.” He also has no weak points in the initial stage of a game. He can flexibly handle any fighting pattern. Habu’s latest achievement signifies a landmark in the “Habu era.”

The objects of his intellectual curiosity are not limited to shogi. He is one of Japan’s top chess players. He has a keen interest in artificial intelligence, whose shogi-playing power has exceeded that of humans, and published a related book this year.

At times, AI can produce a move in shogi that cannot be thought of even after 100 years of contemplation. However, that does not necessarily mean the move is absolutely right. Humans excel over AI in creativity, with which they can invent something new.

So Habu has said in a past interview. His wide range of intellectual power and creativity seem to serve as a basis for his presence as a leading shogi player. The number of times he has earned any of the titles stands at 99, only one short of the 100 mark. Habu is expected to make a further spectacular display.

This year, fourth-dan Sota Fujii, 15, who also became a professional as a junior high school student, achieved an amazing 29 consecutive wins after making his debut, an achievement that has served to draw renewed attention to shogi.

Many shogi enthusiasts may look forward to enjoying a dream match for a title between the old and new geniuses against each other. The future world of shogi is a source of delight.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 6, 2017)Speech


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