The Best in American Chess
by John D. Warth
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Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura, by Karsten Müller and Raymund
Stolze, Edition Olms 2012, Paperback, 231pp. $29.95 (ChessCafe Price
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Playing in his first chess tournament as a child, Hikaru Nakamura said he lost
every game of every round. Some might have quit, but his step-father, Sunil
Weeramantry, a master-level player and renowned chess coach, told Hikaru to
believe in himself and keep trying. Confidence combined with perseverance
and long hours studying and struggling at the board eventually won out. These
fighting qualities – grit, raw talent, and a love for the game – have served him
well, catapulting the now twenty-five-year-old to compete and rank among
the world's best.
Anecdotes such as this, revealed in an exclusive interview for the book, are
among the many items that make Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura
compelling reading. This compendium, by Karsten Müller and Raymund
Stolze, catalogs Hikaru's rapid rise with games and highlights from his career,
while comparing his record-breaking progress with another American
prodigy, Bobby Fischer.
Fighting Chess with
by Adrian Mikhalchishin
& Oleg Stetsko
The authors have selected Nakamura's five best games in a section of its own,
a trove of endgame studies, and another of tactical puzzles – all culled from
Hikaru's games. There is also a chapter on the importance of blitz chess, the
five-minute games that have so impacted his spontaneous playing style.
In other topics, Nakamura weighs in on changes in qualifications for the
world championship cycle, the challenges of grueling tournament, team, and
match play; some changes to his opening preparation, and some insight into
his productive but brief tutelage under Garry Kasparov. However, the bulk of
the book is devoted to covering Nakamura's rise marked by game milestones
from his career. The authors examine these games and others and recap
Hikaru's achievements with a comprehensive, readable, and relevant
Secrets of Positional Play
by Mark Dvoretsky
& Artur Yusupov
Fighting Chess is the first book to be published that focuses exclusively on
Hikaru Nakamura's career. In his earliest major successes, Hikaru won the
2009 U.S. Championship at St. Louis and went on that year to win the San
Sebastian tournament in Spain, putting him on the world stage. Since then he
has won the prestigious 2011 Tata Steel chess tournament held at Wijk aan
Zee, in the Netherlands; a major achievement that he humbly recognizes as
significant, but not life-changing.
That the authors have high expectations for Nakamura is clear. The book's
subtitle, "An American Chess Career in the Footsteps of Bobby Fischer"
spells out the enormity of filling Fischer's size thirteens. Comparing records
of players from different eras is always problematic, as the authors readily
admit, but broach anyway, perhaps to grab attention and add to the narrative.
In any case, Hikaru's early successes invite comparisons.
Nakamura at twelve-years-old broke one of Fischer's longest-standing
records: Hikaru became the youngest American to defeat an international
master (against Jay Bonin). Fischer won that distinction in 1956 at age
thirteen in a game against international master Donald Byrne at the
Rosenwald Memorial Tournament in New York. Grandmaster Hans Kmoch
dubbed it the "Game of the Century" because of Fischer's brilliant queen
by Tibor Karolyi
& Nick Aplin
Soon Hikaru broke another American record: he earned the grandmaster title
106 days sooner than Fischer, perhaps attributable to today's modern training
methods. The authors also compare and examine playing styles. Both Fischer
and Nakamura are accomplished blitz players. Both disdain playing from
defensive positions. Both are champions of the King's Indian and Sicilian
Defenses, among other shared playing preferences. Both men are fiercely
independent. Both have trained alone to some extent, etc. However, if there is
one weakness to the book, it is that the authors stretch almost beyond reason
in comparing Nakamura's and Fischer's records and careers to the point that
this theme nearly becomes unsustainable. Also, part of the problem of the
records is that they are scattered throughout the narrative and not listed in a
Beyond the games and records, the interview may be the best section of the
book. Nakamura answers the authors' probing questions with depth, feeling,
and candor on many subjects. These involve training, preparation, and a shortlist of his most dangerous rivals. Nakamura names Magnus Carlsen of
Norway, Sergei Karjakan of Russia, and Levon Aronian of Armenia as his
biggest threats. All three have invigorated the game with their sharp and
creative playing styles.
Yet what emerges from this interview is a portrait of a player who is honest
with himself and others, practical, realistic, spontaneous, and generous in
spirit from a grandmaster who loves the game but is never consumed by it.
Nakamura has an objective outlook about his strengths and weaknesses and
about his plans for the future. The game itself is changing, and he predicts that
Chess960, a variant of FischerRandom chess, may dominate the game's
future. He is confident but cautious: level-headed yet aware of his
responsibilities as a role model. He seems grateful for the opportunities,
successes, and recognition that chess has given him, while also modest, since
being a chess professional in America is conferred without celebrity.
Nakamura's generous spirit transcends merely winning and losing.
Paradoxically, he wants to promote chess among the young, but dislikes
teaching. Chess for American youth is an activity that waxes, wanes, and
often flags. Here chess struggles to compete with a huge range of enticing
activities, including after-school sports, satellite TV, the distractions of
mobile phones, Twitter chatter, and an explosion of video games.
Hikaru, and others of his generation, represent how chess is learned and
taught in the electronic age. Computers and the Internet have allowed players
of his era to play against strong competition, and that has meant the early
recognition of genius in high-achieving and talented players at younger ages
than in years past. Nakamura became a USCF master at age ten. Here is the
first game from the book, where Nakamura, playing white against the Sicilian,
defeats Nigerian international master Oladapo Adu. Hikaru played a bold
knight sacrifice, followed with a queen sacrifice to win in style. This game
can aptly be compared to Fischer's "Game of the Century" because, similar to
its counterpart, its audacious sacrificial style and rapier-sharp tactical thrusts
brought down an international master.
Here is the game with the authors' notes:
H. Nakamura – O. Adu
Eastern Open, Washington, D.C. 1999
Sicilian Defense [B82]
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 a6 6.f4 Nc6 7.Be3 Nf6 8.Qf3
Qc7 9.0-0-0 Bd7 10.g4!?
Hikaru attacks immediatedly. Garry Kasparov also suggested the preparatory
10...Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6
Black takes fright at the idea of 11...e5!? 12. fxe5 dxe5 13.Qg3 Bd6 14.Be3
Bc6, which is unclear according to Kasparov.
Hikaru is planning to work up pressure against the e6 pawn. White's game is
12...gxf6 13.f5 Be7
If 13...Qe7? 14.Bc4 b5 15.Bd5!, then Black either loses after 15...exd5 16.
exd5 or comes under intense pressure after 15...Bxd5 16.exd5 e5 17.Ne4.
This puts the bishop on the correct diagonal.
14...b5 15.Bb3 b4 16.Ne2 e5 17.Ng3
Preventing any counterplay for Black on the kingside.
17...a5 18.Kb1 a4 19.Bc4 Rc8 20.b3 Qb7 21.Qe2 Rb8 22.Rhe1 Rg8 23.h3
Qd7 24.Qd2 Rg5
This prevents 25.Qh6.
Black has problems in any case, but this queen move allows a pretty
ppB1P1P1/1P5P/P1PQ4/1K1RR3 w - - 0 26"]
This knight sacrifice rips the black position apart completely. Suddenly his
king becomes open to attack.
26...Bxf6 27.Qxd6 Be7
After 27...Bg7 28.h4 Rxg4 29.f6 Bh8 White has at his disposal the brilliant
stroke of genius 30.Ba6!! – the black queen is overloaded and can no longer
protect e7, c6 and b8 simultaneously.
After 28...Kf8 29.h4 Rxg4 30.Rg1 Rxg1 31.Rxg1 Bxh4 32.Qg7+ Ke7 33.
Rd1! White wins, for example: 33...Be8 34.Qe5+ Kf8 35.Qd6+ Qe7 36.Qh6+
Kg8 37.Rg1+, and he will go on to deliver mate.
Prevents 30.Qf7 mate.
An obvious pawn breakthrough, but White also had to see the pretty queen
sacrifice which was linked to it.
ppB3P1/1P5P/P1P5/1K1RR3 w - - 0 31"]
Willy-nilly Black must accept this sacrifice. The passive 31...Bf8 leads to a
nice mate: 32.e6 Bc6 33.Qf7+! Rxf7 34.exf7#.
32.exf6+ Kf8 33.fxg7+ Kxg7 34.Re7+ Kf6
If Black hides in the corner with 34...Kh8, then he has no counter-play and
after 35.Rexd7 Qc6 36.R7d6 Qc7 37.f6 he must look on helplessly as White
decisively advances his kingside pawns.
Of course White must avoid 35.Rdxd7?? Qh1+ 36.Kb2 a3 mate.
This hastens the end, but other queen moves do nothing to save Black in the
long term, for example: 35...Qf3 36.h4 Qc3 37.R7d3 Qe5 38.g5+ Kg7 39.Rd7
+ Kf8 40.f6, and White has woven a mating net.
Black loses his queen after 36...Kxf5 37.Bd3 or 36...Ke5 37.Re7+.
White wins the queen after both 37....Kf6 38.Rf7+ Ke5 39.Re7+ and 37...Kf4
Before winning the 2011 Tata Steel Chess Tournament, Nakamura trained
privately with world champion Garry Kasparov, but that relationship soon
ended with Hikaru feeling the need for a more spontaneous and less
regimented approach than Garry's methods demanded. Nakamura cares little
for others' intense opening preparation, preferring instead to try new ideas at
the board. Creativity greases his free-wheeling style, forged early-on in
thousands of blitz games played on the Internet. Because Nakamura favors
open positions and an attacking style, the Fighting Chess series is a fitting
showcase for his games.
Müller and Stolze have used modern methods for examining Nakamura's
record. They have used the latest ChessBase software, with its capability for
computing statistical data from a comprehensive archive of millions of
tournament and match games. This has yielded some impressive findings.
Nakamura's success playing white against the Sicilian Defense calculates to
an astonishing 72.7% win rate. The Sicilian is among the sharpest of opening