Chess TV's Q&A with GM HIKARU NAKAMURA
The year was 1972 and American chess was on fire. In Iceland, Robert James "Bobby" Fischer had a date with destiny: to become the "King" of the Chess World (even though in his mind he already was) by defeating the World Chess Champion, Russian Boris Spassky who, at the time, was part of the Soviet chess machine.
Since then, and again in 1975 when Fischer forfeited playing Anatoly Karpov, stripping Fischer of his title, not many Americans have come close to accomplishing Fischer's feat of becoming the World Chess Champion. In less than 10 days, GM Hikaru Nakamura will be looking to repeat what only Fischer had been able to achieve.
In Moscow, Russia, the 2016 Candidates Tournament is being held from March 11-30, 2016. This double round-robin, grueling 14-game tournament boasts eight top-ranked GMs, all vying for the chance to play against the current World Champ. As one of them, Nakamura will compete in what many say is the most important tournament of his life. If he wins the Candidates, he will face his biggest rival, Norwegian GM and current World Champion, Magnus Carlsen. The 2016 Championship itself will be held in New York City (Nov.10-30, 2016). How fitting would it be for him to play for the World Championship in the United States? And win it? Time will tell and we’ll be waiting with bated breath!
Since Bobby Fischer, it is GM Nakamura who stands as America's greatest hope to bring the FIDE World Chess Championship title back to the U.S. where, if Fischer was still alive, I’m guessing he’d probably say it never really left here. Considering the fact that Nakamura holds this esteemed position and the Moscow competition looms large in the window, The Chess.com/TV group is honored to have recently been able to interview him. And here it is!...
A Chess.com/TV “Lighter Side Up” Q & A:
Getting to Know GM Hikaru Nakamura
Hikaru Nakamura, born December 9, 1987, was two years old when his family moved to the U.S. from Hirakata, Osaka, Japan. By the time he turned nine, his parents realized he had potential as a chess player, deciding to home school him to afford the opportunities to travel and compete. Could they have had an inkling their son would someday become one of the most successful U.S. chess players in history, gaining many prestigious accolades in the world of chess.
At the age of ten he became the youngest player to achieve the title of Chess Master from the USCF, and went on to become the youngest American GM, beating Fischer's time by three months. No small feat!
During his career, GM Hikaru has achieved notoriety in many venues, including having won 4 U.S. Chess Championships (2005, 2009, 2012, 2015), the London Chess Classic in 2013, Tradewise Gibraltar twice in a row (2015 & 2016), recently won the Zurich Chess Challenge 2016 , and has been a Champion at the Tal Memorial , Biel & Wijk aan Zee.
Going into 2014, GM Hikaru was #3 in the world, behind GM MagnusCarlsen (#1), and GM Levon Aronian (#2). In May of that year, he was #1 in the world in Blitz & Rapid ratings. In fact, here at Chess.com, as of this posting, GM Hikaru ranks as the #1 Top Titled Player in Blitz and Bullet (see column on front page).
His peak rating of 2900 was achieved in August 2015, and at 2787 he is currently tied with GM Fabiano Caruana for 5th-6th place on the FIDE top 20. This year’s 2016 FIDE Candidates Tournament awaits , and it comes as no surprise that “Naka” is America's greatest hope of becoming the 1st American World Champion since the legendary Bobby Fischer.
So now that we got some of the weighty “stats” stuff behind us, let’s settle in and get comfy with a bit of the “lighter” side of this “legend in the making”…
How and at what age did you discover chess?
I first came across chess when I was around five years old as my older brother was a national champion. However, I did not start playing until a few years later.
Which chess tools and resources for learning/playing (e.g., books, videos, coaches, computer software, chess sites, etc.), according to skill level, do you consider essential?
I think in general, the software program Chessbase is essential to becoming a serious amateur/professional player. At lower levels, I would also recommend studying tactics and watching videos. Chess.com is a perfect site for this, I might add as I love the tactics trainer.
Chess fans, in general, would likely agree that chess should be as commonplace and encouraged as other extracurricular activities such as sports and dance at a young age. Going a step further, do you feel chess should be included as part of school curriculum?
I think chess is a very beneficial tool for children, however I would not go so far as to make it a mandatory part of the curriculum. In my opinion, it is very important that the children also want to learn about chess as opposed to having it forced upon them. Being interested is always a big part of learning the most about any topic.
Of the Masters you’ve studied, from who have you learned the most and why?
Without a doubt, I’ve learned the most from Kasparov. Growing up as a fan, whether it be chess or another sport, we naturally idolize the people dominating the landscape. As such, my style and openings resemble Kasparov’s in many ways.
We know you enjoy playing Bullet, Blitz and Rapid chess, all of which you excel at, whether OTB or online. What skills and/or talents do you think attribute to your success with these fast forms of play?
About 70% is hand-eye coordination, but the other 30% is being able to predict/anticipate your opponent’s moves while they are thinking. This is the real secret!
Congratulations on your second win at Gibraltar! You are considered the first American Chess player since Bobby Fischer who has a shot at competing for the World Chess Championship. With the Candidates Tournament coming up in March, this being the first time you’re participating, anxiety and excitement are a given, and we know you’ll give it your all. Of the contenders, which ones are you most looking forward to playing in this heavy situation?
I’m looking forward to playing everyone. Anytime you have the chance to face the best, it is a great and enjoyable challenge. The whole Candidates Tournament should be incredibly interesting and exciting.
What moment in chess history is your favorite?
Without a doubt, my favorite moment in chess history is when Fischer beat Spassky in the 1972 World Championship Match in 1972. Chess reached a level of popularity which wasn’t seen before and hasn’t been seen since.
On a personal level, what moment in your chess life is the most memorable?
There have been many memorable moments, but I think the two which stand out for me are making Grandmaster in 2003 and winning my first US Championship (2005).
Speaking of memories, as a child, what were some of your favorite pastimes—e.g., games, TV shows, movies, books, sports, etc.—other than chess, that is J
Growing up, I was a huge baseball fan as the Yankees teams from 1996 until 2001 were awesome. I was also a huge Lord of The Rings fan and loved the television show, Smallville. The only games that I ever got into were Starcraft and Madden Football (EA Sports).
How about as an adult? How do you enjoy spending time aside from playing chess?
I love swimming and playing tennis when I am not competing. My other interests of late include playing the trumpet and reading as much as I can.
What would you consider your ideal vacation?
My ideal vacation would be on a sunny island sitting on the beach looking out at the ocean and enjoying the sun all while being completely isolated from technology (IE no internet).
For anyone who’s had exposure to cartoons, whether through television, movies or comics, we can’t help having one or more favorite cartoon characters. Which were—and are—your favorites?
I was never a diehard fan of comics or cartoons, but I always liked Peanuts with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy and the rest of the gang. My other favorite was Garfield!
If you could have one super power, what would that be and why?
If I could have a superpower, it would be to fly. I love traveling, and being able to fly and get somewhere a bit quicker would be quite convenient!
Though it can be difficult to narrow down a list of favorites, which musical artists and songs often rise to the top?
I’m a big fan of many styles, but of late I tend to be listening to a lot of British Bands such as:
The Clash, The Police, The Rolling Stones and of course The Beatles.
There’s something very satisfying about sandwiching something between two pieces of bread. Which sandwich/es do you eat most often?
The perfect question as I was just in Gibraltar and Malaga! I love the Bocadillos with Jamon Serrano and cheese.
When that sugar craving strikes, which candy bar/s would you storm the convenience store to buy?
I tend to eat chocolates and sweets very rarely, but when I do, I choose to eat Snickers or Twix.
It’s common to be drawn to more than one profession. Other than yours, which profession would you like to attempt? Never attempt?
Most likely, I will eventually get drawn into the world of finance at some point. I find studying technical analysis of charts as well as macroeconomic factors to be fascinating. It’s a lot like trying to put together the puzzle pieces. I would probably never attempt to become a professional basketball player as I’m too small to do anything except hoist up endless 3s, and I’m no Ray Allen or Steph Curry!
To close out this interview: there are countless famous quotes, from silly to poignant. Do you have a favorite or two you’d like to leave us with?
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –Santayana
“People think it must be fun to be a super genius, but they don’t realize how hard it is to put up with all the idiots in the world. – “Calvin and Hobbes Comic”
Thank you,GM Hikaru, for taking the time to share these thoughtful answers with us. We are honored to have you as our first “Lighter Side Up” guest! You’ve helped shine a brighter light on who you are as a person and chess player, and added a bit more color to the décor here at Chess.com/TV. It was fun for us to see there are quite a few “likes” we have in common :D
We wish you luck and great success at the upcoming Candidates tournament and look forward to seeing much more of you here on Chess.com!
:Donna and Mark
Co-founders & Super Admins of the Chess.com/TV Group
Note: For those of you who’d like a couple of nostalgic hits of Naka, Pete Doggers did a wonderful, in-depth Chess.com article/interview, and on the Chess.com YouTube channel you can view FM Mike Klein’s interview with him in April 2015 right after he won his 4th U.S. Championship.
Thanks for reading, everyone!