Hikaru Nakamura: The Next Bobby Fischer? | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : Tell Me More

Filed Under:

Hikaru Nakamura: The Next Bobby Fischer?

Play associated audio

At the U.S. Chess Championships under way in St. Louis, all eyes are on America's top-ranked player, and the favorite going into the tournament, Hikaru Nakamura.

During the past decade, Nakamura has made a name for himself as the new superstar of American chess, and with it, he's become a kind of spokesperson for a game that hasn't been too popular in this country since the days of world champion Bobby Fischer.

In an interview with NPR's Michel Martin for Tell Me More's series on Asian-American "game changers," Nakamura says the comparisons with Fischer are always present. In 2003, at the age of 15, Nakamura became the youngest American chess grandmaster. In 2005, he became the youngest player to win the U.S. Championships; he won it again in 2009.

Now, at the age of 24, Nakamura is ranked seventh in the world, and is believed to have the best chance of any American since Fischer to take the No. 1 slot. But he doesn't mind the pressure that comes with that role.

"What Bobby Fischer did for chess in America was great," Nakamura says. "I feel like I have that chance, that opportunity to get to world champion, to raise the profile of chess, and ultimately that's my goal."

Heading into the U.S. Championships, Nakamura was 10 points shy of breaking Fischer's record for most points earned in his chess career. To prepare, Nakamura pores over databases of past games, looking at his opponent's first few moves, searching for any kind of weakness.

All grandmasters look for "some sort of nuance, where our opponent will feel a little bit uncomfortable," Nakamura says. But unlike other players, Nakamura says, he doesn't easily accept draws, or ties. He's in it to win, even if it means playing grueling matches that last for hours.

"Ultimately, I try to intimidate my opponents, I try to scare them," Nakamura says. "I try to get any advantage, little edge that I can."

He doesn't throw chess pieces, he doesn't stare down his opponents, but he's not willing to give too many compliments, either. His self-proclaimed "anti-establishment" attitude, along with his aggressive playing style, have earned him the nickname "The John McEnroe of Chess."

Plus, he hates to lose. Nakamura began playing chess at the age of 7. In his first tournament, he lost all four games, and he says that initial experience, along with a subsequent losing streak, pushed him to get better.

"It sort of was a way of motivating myself to try to be better, because I hated losing," he says. "I just wanted to win more and more, and through that I started slowly progressing."

Now, with two U.S. Chess Championships and the No. 1 U.S. ranking under his belt, Nakamura says he wants to use his chess stardom to inspire other kids to take up the game.

He says he hopes kids playing chess will look at him and think, "One day they can maybe become as good as I've become, or become world champion."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Lost — Then Found — Along The Border, Objects Become Art

A photographer's journey along the U.S.-Mexico border turned up dramatic images of lost possessions. Those found items were later made into instruments that sound just like that desolate landscape.
NPR

Need A New Sweet Potato Recipe For Your Thanksgiving Table? Try Gnocchi

Because some cooks like to mix it up for Thanksgiving, we offer a Found Recipe from our archives: Julia Della Croce's purple sweet potato gnocchi.
NPR

Some In Las Vegas Not Sold On Obama's Immigration Pitch

President Obama made his sales pitch for why five million people should be protected from deportation, Friday. But many in Las Vegas, where Obama defended the executive action, aren't happy about the changes.
NPR

Car Ride Service Puts Gender In The Driver's Seat

Car share programs are extremely popular, but so are concerns for safety. NPR's Tess Vigeland talks to Stella Mateo, founder of SheRides, which allows passengers to choose the gender of their driver.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.