As if playing a child genius wasn't tough enough, the next round of the Eastern qualifying tournament brings Chihaya an even tougher challenge - former Queen Yumi Yamamoto.
Although she may look dour and plain on the outside, within Yamamoto lies a fiercely competitive, no-holds barred karuta player - or so we're told at least. In reality, the player facing Chihaya seems to be a shadow of her former self - a woman who has lost interest in the game and lost confidence in herself since being deposed as Queen in the face of slowly but surely worsening results.
Ergo, it's Chihaya who makes some early headway in the sweltering tournament room, taking a number of early cards in the row and seemingly leaving Yamamoto on the ropes. It's here that Chihaya makes a fatal error - in choosing to press home her advantage by going all-out with her speed and energy, swearing to herself not to lose a single card more, she inadvertently enrages her opponent into revealing her true self. All of a sudden, we see a gutsy and determined performance arise from Yamamoto, as she contests every close call and generally makes life as difficult as possible for her opponent. With the tables turned, it's now Chihaya who sees her confidence drained as Yamamoto gains in stature and powers home using all of her experience and nous.
Despite occasionally feeling as if it was trying to stretch out the running time of its featured karuta match-up (yes, we get it, the room is hot and the windows are steamed up, you don't need to mention it every minute), this was another oddly compelling episode for the most part thanks to a game which waxed and waned between its two players and their very different takes on how to play. Despite being more fired up by some of the secondary aspects of this show for the most part, I have to admit that its karuta games have become just as fascinating as they've gained in prominence for the second half of the series, making for yet another reason to love almost every minute of Chihayafuru as it barrels along towards its climax. Goodness knows where it's planning to finish off though - I have a horrible feeling we may be left hanging...