If only the Cold War were still going on, we have a chess player who might awaken the consciousness of the nation much as Bobby Fischer did some 30 years ago.
Hikaru Nakamura, now living in St. Louis, has moved to the No. 6 spot among world Grandmasters, and he has a definite star quality in his approach to the game. His family moved here from Japan when he was 2; now he is 23, the stepson of Sunil Weeramantry, one of the foremost US chess coaches. Essentially, however, he is self-taught and self-propelled. Weeramantry noticed that at an early age Nakamura was coming up with unexpected moves, of the type that put his opponents on the defensive. Nakamura has a single assistant, Kris Littlejohn, who is only a rated expert, though schooled in computer matters.
Perhaps we can call Nakamura the James Dean of chess, for his career has been one of unalloyed acceptance of risk and participation in the game to its very boundaries of enjoyment. No one thinks of him as an intellectual, but rather as a pragmatic player who will slug it out with any opponent. He appeared on the Internet early playing blitz and bullet chess, destroying most comers with enthusiasm. He even adopted bizarre moves such as an early queen move in the opening, a no-no in chess theory. Garry Kasparov said his shenanigans at fast chess and questionable openings were a waste of time. It turned out that Nakamura got burned a couple of times with his early queen move. It became apparent that if he were to invade the European redoubts of Grandmaster chess, he would have to feather his sails and he has recently played more sober chess and worked on his end game.
Nakamura moved from New York to St. Louis, where he works under the protection of the philanthropist Rex Sinquefield, who is incidentally building the new headquarters for the World Chess Hall of Fame. There is little doubt that Nakamura has his eye on the world championship. His recent international triumph occurred at Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands, where he came ahead of a field that included world champion Viswanathan Anand, Magnus Carlsen, and Vladimir Kramnik. Though he took first place, he had no victories against these top players.
One of Nakamura’s recent triumphs was against former FIDE world champion Ruslan Ponomariov in St. Louis. He followed this with a first place in the ICC Open on the Internet, in which 2,216 players competed in various classes. Players were allowed a generous 3 minutes per game. There were 661 players in his qualifying section and Nakamura survived to win a final against eight qualifiers. It catapulted him onto the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Not since Fischer took on the world has this happened.