Hikaru Nakamura, American Chess Superman

Hikaru Nakamura, American Chess Superman

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GM Hikaru Nakamura's qualification for the Candidates Tournament came as a big surprise for the chess community since it appeared as he had pretty much retired from competitive chess. Yet, Nakamura's hunger for serious tournaments after a long period of inactivity, coupled with his enormous talent, made it look quite easy. 

Nakamura's success is very important for the popularity of our favorite game since the American grandmaster is considered to be the most popular chess streamer. It is amazing how a super grandmaster of his level can find the right way to make his chess understandable for a wide audience of chess fans, including total beginners. In my opinion, Nakamura is an ideal chess ambassador who can both entertain people and use his popularity for a good cause. He has even raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for various charities!

It is a big mystery how a player with such sparkling talent never became the world chess champion or at least played a match for the title. I think I know the answer and bear full responsibility for this sad fact. Yes, you read it right; I believe it is solely my fault. You see, after Nakamura won the US championship at the tender age of 17, I was so impressed by his play that I told everyone that one day he was going to be a world champion for sure.

I have already used this kind of sentence before. In the 1990s, I was saying it about GM Vasyl Ivanchuk. In 2000 I played in the FIDE knockout World Championship and lost my match against GM Alexander Grischuk. I was so impressed by his play that I said the same thing about him. Then it was Chinese prodigy GM Wei Yi... Well, by now, I guess you can see the pattern. I already regret my last year's forecast about the future of GM Alireza Firouzja. So, if you ask me about Nakamura's chances in the coming Candidates Tournament, I better keep my mouth shut!

Two things make Nakamura dangerous for any opponent: his famous fighting spirit and unbelievable tactical prowess. Here is a good example (which shows some ideas from my article on The Art Of Doing Nothing). Our game from the US Championship mentioned above reached the following position:

At that point, I thought: "Come on, you cannot really win this kind of position against a grandmaster!" He almost did! I had to find a study-like stalemate escape:

I remembered our game when I saw Nakamura's recent encounter against GM Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Again, I had the same thought: "How can you play this position for a win against a former world number two?" Yet, Nakamura kept playing. 

He never had anything significant this time, so you might think that he is wasting his time playing this kind of position against grandmasters. Well, look at the following game:

In this year's Grand Prix tournaments, Nakamura produced numerous tactical brilliancies. I will use some of them in the little quiz section I put together below. Try to play like Nakamura!

Let's start with the simplest one:

It is funny that one month later, Nakamura used exactly the same tactical idea against the very same opponent to force simplification into a winning rook endgame:

Here are two funny traps. The first one was set up for Nakamura. Why can't he just win a pawn?

Of course, traps like this are a child's play for Nakamura. He declined the gift and won the game:

The second trap is trickier, but Nakamura's opponent didn't fall for it either. Why can't White win a pawn?

Since we already analyzed the game above, you know that Mamedyarov didn't fall for this trap either.

Finally, here is the most difficult combo of all:

In the game, GM Andrey Esipenko chose the lesser evil and lost just a pawn, but it didn't change the outcome of the game anyway:

I hope that Nakamura will produce more beautiful games like these during the Candidates Tournament, and then maybe...

Well, as I said already, I better keep it quiet for now.

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