GM Hikaru Nakamura

Full name
Hikaru Nakamura
Born
Dec 9, 1987 (age 31)‎
Place of birth
Hirakata, Japan
Federation
United States

Rating

Bio

Hikaru Nakamura was born December 7, 1987 in Hirakata, Japan. His family moved to the United States when Hikaru was just two years old, and the stars and stripes are the only national banner he has ever known as a chess player. 

Nakamura has been one of the world’s top players for over a decade. He was clearly the top American player for much of that time, and is now a key contributor to one of the strongest chess scenes in the world.

He is a five-time U.S. champion, claiming the title in 2005, 2009, 2012, 2015, and 2019. Only Samuel Reshevsky and Bobby Fischer (eight each) and Walter Browne (six) have won more U.S. Championships since the tournament format began in 1936. 

Nakamura was also a participant in FIDE’s 2004 World Championship tournament and a candidate for the world championship in 2016. He is further renowned for his blitz prowess.

Career through 2009

Nakamura became a National Master (USCF) in 1998, an International Master in 2001, and Grandmaster in 2003. At the time, he was the youngest American grandmaster since Fischer.

In 2003 he participated in his first U.S. Championship tournament, scoring +3 -1 =5 in the event, which was won by Alexander Shabalov. In January 2004, Nakamura played in Group B at the Corus tournament and finished fourth with a plus score on his way to cracking the 2600 rating threshold in June. By October, he was in the world’s top 100 for the first time.

He achieved the 2600 mark during FIDE’s 2004 knockout tournament to determine its champion. As the 83rd seed, Nakamura defeated higher-rated opponents Sergei Volkov, Aleksej Aleksandrov, and Alexander Lastin to become one of the last 16 players. In that round, he fell to third seed and eventual finalist Michael Adams, who entered the tournament with a 150-point rating advantage.

In 2005, along with Alexander Stripunsky, Nakamura topped a 64-player field for his first U.S. championship with a +5 -0 =4 score. American chess was not at its best in 2005, but this was nonetheless a competitive field that included several strong players, most notably Gata Kamsky. And at just 17 years old, Nakamura was not yet near a finished product. 

Nakamura won his second U.S. Championship in 2009 against a similar field, one which also included Kamsky. He had joined the 2700 rating club the year before, in October 2008.

2010-15

The crowning achievement, so far, of Nakamura’s career may have been his performance at Wijk aan Zee in 2011. He won with a +6 -1 =6 score, clearing a field that included world champions past, present, and future (Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen). Nakamura only scored two draws and a loss against them (and fair enough: they were the first-, second-, and fourth-highest rated players in the world entering the tournament!), but dominated the remainder of the field, including a 33-move win against Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Nakamura’s rating climbed 23 points in the tournament, from 2751 to 2774.

Also a contender for Nakamura’s best-ever event, considering the circumstances, was his joint first-place finish at Khanty-Mansiysk in May 2015 (achieved with a +2 -0 =9 score). It was the final event of the 2014-15 FIDE Grand Prix and Nakamura needed the result to earn second place in the overall event and thus qualify for the 2016 Candidates tournament.

After his performance at Khanty-Mansiysk, Nakamura achieved the coveted 2800 rating on the June 2015 FIDE rating list, with a 2802 after years of flirting with the mark. His rating would reach its peak, 2816, on the October 2015 list. At that point, only Carlsen had a higher standard rating in the entire world.

Hikaru Nakamura, 2015
Nakamura at Khanty-Mansiysk in 2015. Photo: Kirill Merkurev.

In 2012, Nakamura won his third U.S. championship by a full point over Kamsky. Nakamura then skipped the event in 2013 and 2014 before returning in 2015, when he won it yet again in Wesley So’s first appearance (although So was forced to forfeit the event). Fabiano Caruana joined the fray in 2016 and won it by a full point over each of Nakamura and So. 

2016

Nakamura played in the second-most decisive games at the Candidates tournament in March of the following year, but scored just +3 -3 =8 to finish 1 ½ points behind Sergei Karjakin. (The two, Nakamura and Karjakin, have known each other as chess players for quite some time: they played a match in 2004, won decisively by the American.) Nakamura was out of contention early, going +1 -2 =4 in the first half of the tournament and dropping the first game of the second half against Caruana. Late victories against Veselin Topalov (from whom Nakamura swept both games) and Anand were only enough to bring about his equal final score, which tied three other players for a share of fourth place.

Nakamura vs. Topalov
Nakamura facing Topalov at the 2016 Candidates. Photo by Lennart Ootes.

The 42nd Chess Olympiad would be held later the same year, in September, when Nakamura played second board for the United States. Among second board players, only Kramnik had a stronger rating entering the Olympiad. Nakamura scored +5 -1 =5 in the event to help the Americans win the competition for the first time since 1976.

US team, 2016 Olympiad
Nakamura and the U.S. team at work in the 2016 Olympiad

2017-present

The U.S. championship has been an incredibly strong event ever since So and Caruana began playing in it in 2015 and 2016. It only became stronger with the recent arrival of Leinier Domínguez Pérez to the scene, making Nakamura’s 2019 triumph perhaps his most impressive U.S. title yet. Nakamura used the Dutch Defense to defeat Jeffery Xiong with the black pieces in the final round, while Caruana and Domínguez could only draw their games. As a result, Nakamura’s +5 -0 =6 score was enough to beat Caruana and Domínguez by a half-point each. 

Earlier, Nakamura also won the Grand Chess Tour in 2018. It being dominated by rapid and blitz events played into Nakamura’s strengths, and his first place finishes at Paris in June and St. Louis in August helped qualify him for the four-player finals at the London Chess Classic. There he defeated Caruana and Vachier-Lagrave to win the whole event.

Unfortunately, Nakamura was on the sidelines for the 2018 Candidates tournament after losing to Vladimir Fedoseev in the third round of the Chess World Cup 2017 and a seventh place finish in the FIDE Grand Prix 2017.

Rapid and Blitz

A great player at standard time controls, Nakamura’s star shines even brighter in rapid and blitz. As of August 2019, he is 19th in FIDE's world rankings at standard, 3rd in the world at rapid, and 3rd in the world at blitz. In addition to his wins in the Paris and St. Louis legs of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour, he has finished third in the 2014 and 2018 World Blitz Chess Championships. He is also the top-rated blitz and bullet player at Chess.com, by nearly 100 points each.

Present and Future

Hikaru Nakamura

Nakamura in 2018. | Photo: © Maria Emelianova/Chess.com 

Despite losing ground in the classical rating list since his late 2015 peak, Nakamura’s performances in the 2018 Grand Chess Tour and 2019 U.S. Championship indicate a player who to this day remains more than capable of strong play against fellow Super GM’s. 

Given that he has represented the United States so well for so long from such a young age, Nakamura has long been thought of as its next potential world champion. Caruana, having already been a challenger, appears to have surpassed him, but Nakamura remains a threat.

The Chess World Cup in September 2019 and FIDE Grand Swiss in October 2019 will be his next chances at qualifying for the 2020 Candidates. The top two finishers of the World Cup, a 128-player knockout tournament, and the winner of the Grand Swiss will all advance to the Candidates tournament.

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