Nakamura storms to victory in Gibraltar!

Hikaru Nakamura at 2008 Gibtel Masters

Hikaru Nakamura at 2008 Gibtel Masters.
Photo by ChessBase.

I guess naysayers will be quieted somewhat after another victory by American Grandmaster, Hikaru Nakamara. Nakamura (FIDE 2670) has been playing very well lately and will soar toward 2700 after winning the Gibtel Masters tournament in Gibraltar, Spain.

There is still some doubt that Nakamura is as strong as Magnus Carlsen, Teimour Radjabov or Sergei Karjakin. Certainly, his three peers have more experience in strong tournaments, but Nakamura has held his own in strong competition. In fact, he absolutely crushed Karjakin in a match in 2004. He faired well in the 2004 FIDE Knockout and has dominated the American circuit.

Hikaru Nakamura at 2007 Gibtel Masters... nice shirt!

Hikaru Nakamura at 2007 Gibtel Masters wearing a very nice-looking shirt! He would win the 2008 tournament over Bu Xiangzhi in a blitz tiebreak. Photo by ChessBase.

Last January, he got joint 2nd in Gibraltar and returned this year to beat out Bu Xiangzhi in an playoff. Last October, he won a strong tournament in Barcelona and uncorked a brilliant queen sacrifice against Michal Krasenkow. A week later, he then won a strong rapid tournament in Corsica. The only thing missing is that he has not played elite competition on a regular basis.

With his win in Gibraltar, he will approach the magical 2700. If Nakamura gets more opportunities, he will certainly be a threat to break into the top 20.

Nakamura vs. Bu in blitz tiebreak.
Video by Zeljka Malobabic of MonRoi.


  1. I’m involved in a discussion at The Daily Dirt and the issue of Magnus Carlsen has come up. In an ongoing debate about whether Carlsen has received more opportunities than Nakamura or is more naturally-talented.

    I have made the point that Nakamura has more raw talent and many may disagree, but if you make it to 2670 with the poor condition of the U.S. chess environment, then your talent is unquestioned. The same argument is made for someone like Amon Simutowe of Zambia.

    Is there a reason that America has not produced a high-level GM in decades… Nakamura is the first in a long time. It is interesting, but the truth is that Nakamura receives very little support here in the U.S. He has posted that he may switch his federation to Japan! 😯 He would do so in order to get financial support he needs to travel and compete at a high level. This is a bombshell!!

  2. Hey,

    I have followed the discussion at The Daily Dirt and you make some valid points.

    But I think that there are ways around the poor American chess environment as Caruana has showed. I think if Nakamura would follow this example and set up camp in Europe his natural talent will “reveal” itself. Someone like Anand has done this in the past (I think it is safe to say that the Indian chess environment was a lot worse back then than the situation in the USA for the moment).

    I also seriously doubt if changing to the Japanese federation will be the answer to his problem: chess just doesn’t seem such a big deal in Japan.

    Anyway I think Nakamura will get decent opportunities if he goes for it. He is a strong player, with an interesting openingrepertoire, a combative playing style and an interesting profile.

  3. Mr. Vananderoye!

    I agree wholeheartedly. I was taken aback by his suggestion of a federation switch to Japan although I understand his frustration. When Nakamura won the U.S. Championship a couple of years ago, we were debating the best way to leverage his appeal to sponsors. It was on Daily Dirt as well. I believe the U.S. Chess Federation blew it. Perhaps that was when the organization nearly went bankrupt.

    I remember talking to his stepfather (FM Sunil Weeramantry) about this a few years back. It is my view that Nakamura could be leveraged quite easily to attract corporate sponsors. The Daily Dirt debate brought out his Japanese heritage and name as being hard to sell, but I disagree. Certainly, in Japan that would get him quite a number of sponsors… easily. He knows this!

    Yep… Fabiano Caruana is a name that has not come up in the conversation and it is a perfect example of how progress could have been made… migrating to Europe. However, Nakamura is still 2670-2690 player despite being in such a poor environment. I would suggest he try out the European circuit and perhaps play in the Bundesliga.

    If he can get into some elite tournaments, I believe we will see his true strength. It is not certain whether Nakamura will want to do this. He seems like a grassroots type person and appears a lot like Alexander Morozevich and Bobby Fischer from a chess standpoint. All are (were) revolutionaries and non-conformists, but have (had) interesting approaches to chess.

    I hope Nakamura continues to win.

  4. mr Daaim Shabazz, I love your web site and blog. i hope you keep up the good work brother. if you dont mind me asking you a question or two on this subject of nakamura. I would like to know what is raw talent?. I asked henrik carlsen a question about carlsen’s talent and he didnt seem to know how to define talent!
    In my mind i wondered why that could be, he is the father to one of the greatest young talents who ever played the game. i recall josh waitzkin saying that talent is cheap! to say that nakamura has more raw talent does not answer the question of how he made it to 2670+ in a messed up u.s system. then perphaps the three things that seprates the them is a sponsor,work eithic, and invitations.
    i refuse to to think that the only way into the top is by sponsorship, and invitations if naka worked as hard in chess as say carlsen or say as deep as fischer i see no reason why he wouldnt break into the top with ease. Not because of his raw talent but because of where he was rasied. naka was rasied in the open tourneys where there is a kill or be killed mind frame in every player gunning for the big pay day. to come out on top of that would make round robins look like a joy ride.

  5. Hello Mr. Lopez,


    Talent is very difficult to define, but I make an attempt here. Bear in mind that I’m not a psychologist, but my opinion is based on my experience as a university professor and having to constantly judge talent.

    Talent is related to self-knowledge which I believe is realized by constant self-assessment. I know that sounds philosophical, but Nakamura seems to have a deep understanding of his abilities and his limitations, thus is identifying his own incredible talent. Many chess players have trouble understanding their “chess self,” but I believe the key is continued self-assessment.

    Work ethic is a big factor it takes a lot of effort to improve in chess. I believe Nakamura has non-traditional methods for training, but he will continue to refine them as he evolves. I agree that the Swiss tournaments in the U.S. have given him a vicious fighting spirit. His playing 2.Qh5, strange openings and 100 bullet games (in a few hours) may not be the traditional or most efficient method, but he is conducting self-assessment. Each chess game we play is a self-assessment and one can tell a lot their own games. Depending on how deep we understand this process will determine how soon (or if) we will realize our talent. There is actually a subject called epistemology that deals with these issues.

    In my opinion, Carlsen is in a better environment for realizing his raw talent, but I believe Nakamura may have the better raw talent without the environment. We also see that Fischer realized his talent while working alone and constant study of his “chess self”… perhaps at the expense of everything else. I believe if Hikaru could get a good sponsorship, he may at least be put himself in a good environment where he could realize his own talent.

  6. hmm…. what kind of results would indicate who has the better raw talent? i agree that the powers of self-knowledge comes from alot of honest self-assessment, but what infomation is needed to show which of the two understands there “chess-self” better. i have a problem with saying that one is more talented or has the better raw talent. carlsen could have done anything he wanted with his childhood, according to his father “he had various deep interests prior to chess but somehow his passion for chess has persisted for more than 9 years now.” Nakamura it seems has a very strong will, he has milked that into becoming a 2670+ player while also creating some other talents on the way( speed chess, deep understanding of tactics,etc)
    nakamura needed a strong will in order to make it in the u.s system while carlsen needed passion in order to make it in his environment. either talent would make it but on the road they would have to learn other things like hard work, how to cope with loss, etc.. a truly talented person is one that can milk potental from anywhere so there is no way we can know if in nakamura’s shoes carlsen could become 2670+. so who would have the better raw talent if carlsen had the very strong will and nakamura had passion and the ” good environment” the problem i have is that for many players like myself who dream to be strong , raw talent looks like nakamura or like carlsen, young and naturaly gifted. how can black chess ever grow if we only look to the extremely young ones to hold the weight? or to the old guards? there is fresh blood in the streets. somewhere there is a young fischer or kasparov who dont have the strong will yet or work eithic so they are not considered “talented” so are they tossed aside? how many fischers in black chess have we loss because they didnt show remarkable progress.

  7. Julius,

    Of course, the assessment of talent is subjective, so most times we end up looking at results. I believe Carlsen is the overall better player right now, but what encourages me is that Hikaru has shown amazing creativity and inventiveness in his play. His improvisation is why he is able to catch many opponents off guard and get positions he can manage. This cannot be taught nor can it be studied… it comes from the ability of understanding your creative abilities. Most people did not believe Fischer was particularly special until he played the …Be6!! against Donald Byrne. Part of one’s talent is also the psychological makeup… having the determination and courage to play such creative ideas. I would say that Carlsen is more stable and has played at a higher level for a longer period, but looking at the type of ideas that Nakamura he expressed over the board is inspiring.

  8. naka’s skills are ones that are learned from the game of chess in relation to what he has faced and his personal style for dealing with those factors maybe carlsen doesn t have the creativity of nakamura but it was never needed. if it was the question would be weither he has it or not and if he can bring it out or not. i went into the world open 07 without an opening rep
    i dont know openings very well and was playing in the under 2000 section in my first round i played 1..c5 after 1.e4 and almost lost he played 2.nc3 and in the second round i played 1.e4 and somebody played 2.g6 i did lose that game but from then on whenever somebody play 1.e4 1..c5 i played 2.nc3 and vs e4 i played g6 i scored 6.5 going into the last round i scored 5.5 from these openings. what did i learn? one person can take out the fact that alot of work is needed in creating an opening rep or one could say that i have “talent” in chess adaptation and that i can rely on this and work on other things. our “chess self” is created by our answers to these questions. nakamura beat karjakin a few years back not in the opening but by out playing him. naka used this skill before and since then and this is what nakamura has become. His improvisation skill is one of the tools he used to build himself but this talent is not better or worse than the hard work talent or any other talent for that matter so nakamura’s talent can not be better or worse than carlsen’s the question is who did what with their talents.

  9. I have 4 sons! The oldest is 31 years old, and never plays chess. All of my sons know how to play, but I was not fortunate enough to get any of my sons to develop a passion for chess, like I have! With that as a backdrop, I want to relate an incident that happened with my oldest son. Now, remember, my sons only know about chess, but never have studied it, or have any real passion for it! They only understand that their dad loves chess! Well, once when I was playing a “just for fun” game with my oldest son, we got to a point in the game where tactics were very wild: somewhat akin to what we call the “Frankenstein or Dracula” variation in the Philador. I was pretty confident that my son would soon just blunder amidst all of the tactical complication, but he didn’t! Now don’t get too excited, because he didn’t beat me, but he uncorked a fierce attack with hidden traps and zingers that I had to really look hard to thwart! I am a USCF Life Master and have played and studied the game for many years! So for my son (a teenager at the time) to come so close to beating me with sharp tactics without really ever having given much attention to chess, I’d say was evidence of what could be called “raw talent!” I’m not so sure that it’s the appropriate thing to speak of “raw talent” when comparing chess grandmasters? As mentioned by Daaim, I agree that performance or results is probably a lot easier to define or quantify when looking at accomplished players!

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