Candidate Profile: Hikaru Nakamura

Candidate Profile: Hikaru Nakamura

| 61 | Chess Players

By GM Robert Hess and IM Teddy Coleman and the world at large need no introduction to GM Hikaru Nakamura.

2015 was a fantastic year for the four-time United States chess champion. Nakamura, who is well-known for his blitz and bullet prowess, kicked off the year with a Death Match victory over compatriot Wesley So and ended it with a resounding win over Maxime Vachier-Lagrave.

But this past year Hikaru also dominated over the board in classical chess. His rating skyrocketed from 2776 in January of 2015 to his peak of 2816 on the October 2015 list, thanks to dominant tournament victories in Gibraltar, Zurich, and the US Championship, and a second-place finish in Norway. Of course, his crowning achievement was a second-place finish in the Grand Prix standings, which qualified him for the Candidates’.

Stylistically, Nakamura’s play is antithetical to Anish Giri’s. Whereas the Dutch supertalent is quite conservative, Nakamura seeks out melees. No sane soul questions Nakamura’s ability to win games (against those not named Carlsen), but his success will be defined by his ability to hold.

At the 2014 Gashimov Memorial tournament in Shamkir.

Key Strengths

Nakamura is a tactically gifted player whose ambition to play fighting chess might be unparalleled. He has shown a penchant for making positions complicated when others might opt for tamer moves. His confidence at times borders on arrogance, but it allows him to stay headstrong in critical moments and outplay his opponents. Check out his wins over Caruana and Gelfand, where from the very onset of the game it is clear Nakamura was playing to win despite having the black pieces.

Another critical element of Nakamura’s success is his strong opening preparation. He is the world’s leading authority on the King’s Indian Defense, and his wins in this opening include many of the game’s best players. In the following games, Nakamura demonstrated his better-than-So understanding of the King’s Indian and entered murky waters against Karjakin.

Key Weaknesses

There are two sides of every coin, and when Nakamura isn’t outmaneuvering his opponents, he often is struggling. While Nakamura takes many wise calculated risks, in cramped positions he sometimes tries to lash out when passivity is called for. Against Magnus in the 2014 Sinquefield Cup he was too eager to enter complications and got punished, whereas in his battle with Pavel Eljanov at the 2015 World Cup he did not find the precise continuation in a positional battle.

What to Watch for:

Hikaru Nakamura scored recent wins in Gibraltar and Zurich after a difficult final stretch of 2015. Nakamura is certainly one of the favorites at the Candidates’, but he will need to remain calm at the board. This is not the tournament to go all out simply for the sake of enterprising play. Rather, he will need to be opportunistic and capitalize in dynamic middlegames.

Nakamura has the ability to come out on top in this event, but he will have to get off to a strong start. A middling performance could cause him to start swinging, which tends to hurt his chances more than help. With three Whites in the first four games, it is imperative he scores early.

With his second Kris Littlejohn at Norway Chess 2015.

Will Hikaru find his wings and soar above his competition or will the American be overly bullish and push too hard? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

And for those of you who can't get enough Nakamura, here is a vintage Nakamura combination:

Want more Nakamura? Check out's videos featuring Hikaru Nakamura.

The FIDE Candidates’ Tournament runs March 10-30 in Moscow. The winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a match that will be held November 10-30 in New York.

The eight participants are Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura (both USA), Vishy Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler (both Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Levon Aronian (Armenia). is publishing profiles of each participant.

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