The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Hikaru Nakamura

Full name
Hikaru Nakamura
Born
Dec 9, 1987 (age 33)‎
Place of birth
Hirakata, Japan
Federation
United States

Rating

Bio

Hikaru Nakamura was born December 9, 1987 in Hirakata, Japan. His family moved to the United States when he was just two years old, and the Stars and Stripes are the only national banner he has known as a chess player. 

Nakamura has been one of the world’s top players for well 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. Nakamura was also a participant in FIDE’s 2004 World Championship tournament and a candidate for the world championship in 2016. As of August 2020, he is the highest-rated blitz player in the world with a 2900 FIDE blitz rating.

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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 GM 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 crack 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 GMs 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 GM 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 GM 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.

2010-2015

The crowning achievement so far of Nakamura’s career may be 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, is 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 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 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). GM Fabiano Caruana joined the fray in 2016 and won it by a full point over both Nakamura and So. 

2016

Nakamura played in the second-most decisive game at the Candidates tournament in March of the following year but scored just +3 -3 =8 to finish 1½ points behind GM 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 GM Veselin Topalov (whom Nakamura swept in 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 Dominguez Perez 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 Dominguez could only draw their games. As a result, Nakamura’s +5 -0 =6 score was enough to beat Caruana and Dominguez by a half-point each. 

Earlier, Nakamura also won the Grand Chess Tour in 2018 that played into Nakamura’s strengths because it is dominated by rapid and blitz events. 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 GM 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 2020, he is the highest-rated blitz player in the world with a 2900 FIDE blitz rating and the fourth-highest rated rapid player with a 2836 rating. In addition to his wins in the Paris and St. Louis legs of the 2018 Grand Chess Tour, he finished third in the 2014 and 2018 World Blitz Chess Championships. 

In April 2019 Nakamura won the Chess.com Bullet Championship ahead of a strong field, including GMs Vachier-Lagrave, Alexander GrischukLevon Aronian, Alireza Firouzja, Karjakin, Olaxandr Bortnyk, and Francisco Perez Ponsa. 

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura won the 2019 Chess.com Bullet Championship.

Present And Future

Nakamura took chess-streaming by storm in 2020. His Twitch channel has exploded and become the most-watched chess stream of all time in almost any measurable category. Nakamura's channel surpassed the 500,000-follower mark in August 2020, and he was a huge part of one of the biggest chess events of all time—PogChamps. Nakamura was a coach and commentator throughout the event and will continue with the next PogChamps

Hikaru Nakamura
Nakamura will continue to commentate and coach in the next PogChamps.

Nakamura played exceedingly well in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour in 2020. He finished in second place in the Lindores Abbey tournament, after playing a marathon match in the finals against the winner, GM Daniil Dubov, who won in the final armageddon game.

He also finished in second place in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour Finals. He defeated Dubov 3-0 in the semi-finals and led against Carlsen for most of the finals. It all came down to the last game on day seven of the match, where Carlsen held a draw in the armageddon game to win the event.

On August 27, 2020, Nakamura signed with TSM, the U.S.-based professional esports team, making him the first professional chess player to sign with an esports organization.

Nakamura finished 2020 with a bang. Just four months after signing a deal with TSM, Nakamura won Chess.com's Creator of the Year award. He also helped to raise more than $358,000 for CARE, an organization that fights hunger, defeats poverty, and saves lives.

2020 has been excellent for chess, and a large part of that is thanks to Nakamura. He now considers himself a professional streamer and has introduced chess to an incalculable number of people in the world through his Twitch stream. Nakamura continues to be an excellent player and ambassador for the game at its highest level. 

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