Nakamura impressed by Gukesh’s classical chess

The world’s top-ranked blitz player believes Chess960 will become more popular in future

Published - December 06, 2022 07:36 pm IST - KOLKATA:

Hikaru Nakamura has high regard for the new crop of Indian teenagers making waves

Hikaru Nakamura has high regard for the new crop of Indian teenagers making waves | Photo Credit: DEBASISH BHADURI

Much like cricket’s ICC rankings, there are three separate formats the chess players are assessed in. Two of them — classical and rapid — are headed by Magnus Carlsen, the five-time World champion and widely regarded as the strongest player of all time.

Hikaru Nakamura sits atop the blitz rating. He is a monster in the format. So it was hardly a surprise to find the American a bit disappointed shortly after the blitz event of the Tata Steel Chess India tournament concluded at the National Library: he could only finish runner-up, to Arjun Erigaisi.

A blunder, right at the end, had cost him that game in the penultimate round and thus the title. “Yes, such results leave a bad taste in the mouth, but overall I feel I am moving forward, with the World blitz and rapid championships  to be held later this month,” he told The Hindu.

Nakamura isn’t admired just for his brilliant moves on the chessboard. He is a hugely popular streamer, with about 1.4 million followers each on YouTube and Twitch.

“I am now getting used to having so many people following my streams, but I was surprised while I was streaming in 2019, when a lot of people were stuck inside during the lockdown,” said the World No. 5 in classical chess. “The lockdown contributed to the growth in popularity of chess the world over.”

Before coming to Kolkata, Nakamura had won the FIDE Fischer Random World chess championship. It is a format — also known as Chess960 — that allows creativity to thrive at the expense of theory.

“It is hard to tell how the format will progress and a lot depends on the commercial interest,” he said. “I think 960 will become a lot more popular but it will be a long time before it becomes anywhere near comparable to rapid and blitz chess.”

He enjoys playing 960. “I started playing chess at a time when computers were not widely available,” he said.  “So when I play 960 it is refreshing and reminds me of my childhood.”

About the magnificent quartet of Indian teenagers — D. Gukesh, Arjun, R. Praggnanandhaa and Nihal Sarin — that is threatening to take the world by storm, he feels that one of them is far ahead of the rest when it comes to classical chess. “I am very impressed by Gukesh,” he said. “When it comes to rapid and blitz, it is very much a toss-up between Arjun and Nihal.”

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