Hikaru Nakamura makes a name for himself by winning the Tata Steel chess tournament.
TAKE note of the name Hikaru Nakamura. For years, he has been skirting around the peripherals of true chess fame but finally, he has arrived to claim his place in history.
He achieved this more than two weeks ago at the Tata Steel chess tournament which was played in the Dutch seaside resort town of Wijk aan Zee. This is a tournament with a history that goes back to 1938.
It is a prestigious event; it is already difficult enough for any chess grandmaster to get an invitation to this tournament, what more to win it. But Nakamura did just that. Against all odds, he played the tournament of his life there.
Claim to fame: Japanese chess prodigy Hikaru Nakamura played with confidence among the world’s best.
For this year’s edition, the organisers had invited the world’s top four chess players to be part of their 14-player field: world chess champion Viswanathan Anand, world No.1 Magnus Carlsen, former world champion Vladimir Kramnik and world No.3 Levon Aronian.
Also invited were Alexander Grischuk, Nakamura (former US chess champion), Ruslan Ponomariov, Ian Nepomniachtchi (current Russian chess champion), Wang Hao (current Chinese chess champion), Alexei Shirov and Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (current world junior chess champion), all top players in their own right.
Then there were also 16-year-old Anish Giri who had qualified into the main tournament from last year’s B-event, Jan Smeets (current Dutch chess champion) and Erwin l’Ami.
But who exactly is Hikaru Nakamura? His father is Japanese but his mother is American, which qualifies him as an American, too. He was born in Japan in 1987 but at the age of two, his family moved to the United States. He started learning chess at five years old and progressed to become a grandmaster at 15.
He is recognised as a chess prodigy, winning his first US chess championship in 2005. In 2009, he became the US chess champion for the second time. At the end of that year, he played in the London Chess Classic and had indifferent results.
The year 2010 began with Nakamura playing on the first board for the United States at the world team chess championship in Turkey. He then finished tied in fourth position in the 2010 Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee and fourth in the 2010 Mikhail Tal memorial tournament in Moscow which incidentally was the third strongest tournament in chess history.
It was Nakamura’s performance in this tournament that made the chess world sit up to take notice of his potential. In December 2010, he again played in the London Chess Classic.
By the time 2011 began, he was already ranked No.10 in the world.
And so we arrive at the present moment. The race for the top honours in the Tata Steel chess tournament was very close and Nakamura played with absolute confidence among the world’s best. Except for a slight hiccup – he lost in the eighth round to Carlsen – he has shown an ability to compete with them at their standard.
Not only that, Nakamura was not awed by the fact that he was racing against no less than the world champion, Anand. Nakamura was running neck-to-neck with Anand after the eighth round and in the 11th round, assumed the sole lead in the tournament. To his credit, he never lost his nerve and romped home as worthy winner.
Here is one of Nakamura’s games from the tournament.
White: Hikaru Nakamura (2751)
Black: Jan Smeets (2662)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 e6 5.Bg5 dxc4 6.e4 b5 7.e5 h6 8.Bh4 g5 9.Nxg5 hxg5 10.Bxg5 Nbd7 11.g3 Bb7 12.Bg2 Qb6 13.exf6 c5 14.d5 0-0-0 15.0-0 b4 16.Na4 Qb5 17.a3 exd5 18.axb4 cxb4 19.Bf4 Bh6 20.Qd2 Bxf4 21.Qxf4 Bc6 22.Qd4 Kb8 23.Rfe1 Rhe8 (White already has the upper hand in this game. Now, 24.Qf4+ would be the strongest move. Instead, Black is allowed back into the game and the win is not so simple anymore.)
24.Re7 Qa5 25.Rxf7 Bxa4 26.Bxd5 Qc5 27.Qf4+ Ne5 28.Be4 Rd7 29.Rg7 Bb5 30.Rxd7 Bxd7 31.Bg6 Rf8 32.Re1 Qd6 33.Qxe5 Rxf6 34.Qxd6+ Rxd6 (And suddenly the game enters the endgame phase. But although the position is better for White, there’s still a lot of work to convert it into a win.) 35.Bf7 Rd2 36.Bxc4 Rxb2 37.h4 Bg4 38.Kg2 a5 39.Re5 Rc2 40.Rb5+ Kc7 41.Bd5 Rd2 42.Bf7 Bd7 43.Rxa5 Bc6+ 44.Kf1 Bf3 45.Ra1 Kd6 46.Bb3. 46.Re1 Rd3 47.Rb1 Kc5 48.Ke1 Kb5 49.Bd1 Bxd1 50.Rxd1 Rc3 51.h5 b3 52.Kd2 Rc8 53.Rc1 Rf8 54.f4 Kb4 55.Rh1 Ka3 56.Ke3 b2 57.g4 Rc8 58.Rb1 Ka2 59.Rxb2+ Kxb2 60.h6 Kc3 61.g5 1-0