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  • 1. The Best in American Chess by John D. Warth Purchases from our chess shop help keep ChessCafe.com freely accessible: Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura, by Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze, Edition Olms 2012, Paperback, 231pp. $29.95 (ChessCafe Price $22.95) Book Reviews Translate this page 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 Magnus Carlsen 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. Rating Chart Awful – Poor – Uneven – Good – Great – Excellent – 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 approach. 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 Kasparov's Fighting Chess 1999-2005 by Tibor Karolyi & Nick Aplin
  • 2. sacrifice. 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 table. 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.Rg1. 10...Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Bc6 Black takes fright at the idea of 11...e5!? 12. fxe5 dxe5 13.Qg3 Bd6 14.Be3
  • 3. Bc6, which is unclear according to Kasparov. 12.Bxf6!? Hikaru is planning to work up pressure against the e6 pawn. White's game is developing well. 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. 14.Bc4! 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. 25.Nh5 Qb7?! Black has problems in any case, but this queen move allows a pretty combination. [FEN "1r2k3/1q2bp1p/2bp1p2/4pPrN/ ppB1P1P1/1P5P/P1PQ4/1K1RR3 w - - 0 26"] 26.Nxf6+! 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. 28.Qxe5 f6 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. 29.Qe6 Rg7 Prevents 30.Qf7 mate. 30.e5!
  • 4. An obvious pawn breakthrough, but White also had to see the pretty queen sacrifice which was linked to it. 30...Bd7 [FEN "1r2k3/1q1bb1rp/4Qp2/4PP2/ ppB3P1/1P5P/P1P5/1K1RR3 w - - 0 31"] 31.Qxf6!! Bxf6 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. 35.Rexd7 Of course White must avoid 35.Rdxd7?? Qh1+ 36.Kb2 a3 mate. 35...Qe4?! 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. 36.g5+! Kxg5 Black loses his queen after 36...Kxf5 37.Bd3 or 36...Ke5 37.Re7+. 36...Rg1+ White wins the queen after both 37....Kf6 38.Rf7+ Ke5 39.Re7+ and 37...Kf4 38.Rg4+ Black resigned. 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
  • 5. systems played on either side of the board. Nakamura also has a strong winning ratio playing as black with the King's Indian Defense. Nakamura's style has matured. He no longer takes the kinds of risks he was once famous for, including "dropping the H-bomb," a moniker earned when he impetuously moved his queen to the h5-square on his second move – a Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Qh5) in which his impudence was soundly punished. Where from here? What more can we expect from Hikaru Nakamura? More importantly, what can Nakamura expect from himself? He has achieved much, but there is much left to do. With fighting spirit, drive, and a level head it seems that Hikaru Nakamura will be among those who will be around for the long term, and perhaps poised to avoid pitfalls that have plagued despairing souls whose lives have been ravaged or destroyed by the vortex of the game's all-consuming fury. America's Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer come to mind, and perhaps England's Tony Miles, all from whom impending madness had stolen the gifts that Caissa had once bestowed. In Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura, Müller and Stolze have penned a large, readable, and entertaining work that comes loaded with anecdotes, insights, and career highlights that will put the reader inside the heart of the action. Exciting games are accented with great notes. The book itself is beautifully bound in a durable cover, with large, readable type in an attractive font, with generous diagrams that make following the action easy. Fighting Chess succeeds as a biographical sketch, as a games collection, and as a record of comparative achievements in American chess. The authors have compared the records and highlights of two American prodigies. Nakamura emerges as a bold-spirited, creative, and inspiring player. We find in him the heart of a champion – a hard-working and levelheaded realist – a creative but practical player who represents what is best in American chess: both now and for the future. My assessment of this product: Order Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura by Karsten Müller & Raymund Stolze A PDF file of this week's review, along with all previous product reviews, is available in the ChessCafe.com Archives. Comment on this week's review via our official Chess Blog! [ChessCafe Home Page] [ChessCafe Shop] [ChessCafe Blog] [Book Review] [Columnists] [Endgame Study] [The Skittles Room] [ChessCafe Links] [ChessCafe Archives] [About ChessCafe.com] [Contact ChessCafe.com] [Advertising] © 2013 BrainGamz, Inc. All Rights Reserved. "ChessCafe.com®" is a registered trademark of BrainGamz, Inc.