Hikaru Nakamura. Photo: Lennart Ootes

Nakamura: “People need to start thinking more about what they can do to make chess more exciting”

There may not be an ‘official’ world title cycle in Fischer Random, but there has been a history of regular top-level championships, and there is every reason to call American Grandmaster (GM) Hikaru Nakamura the reigning champion.

He shares his thoughts here about the match with Magnus, and assesses their chances in this interview given between the super-tournament in London last December and the recent super-open in Gibraltar, where he tied for first place. Armenian GM Levon Aronian emerged victorious in Gibraltar after a four-man blitz-chess playoff. Nakamura and Aronian are old rivals in Fischer Random, also called Chess960 as well.

The ‘unofficial’ world championship began as a side event to the Mainz Chess Classic in 2001. Nakamura won the 2008 Finet Chess960 Open in Mainz and then the match title the next year by beating holder – Aronian – in the final Mainz event.

“How do you feel about playing in a match like this?”

“It should be an interesting match. I am looking forward to it. It’s very interesting to play a Chess960 match and it’s been a while since I played one. Considering the high rate of draws in classical events, people need to start thinking more about what they can do to make chess more exciting. I am really looking forward to being in Oslo in February.”

Nakamura points out his improving score vs Carlsen in online events on chess.com.

“It will be very competitive. I feel like I’ve played much better against Magnus recently than I’ve done in the past couple of years. Not just here in London, but even in the games in St. Louis and in Norway. I think I have good chances and I’m looking forward to it.”

“It will be broadcast on national TV, it’s called an unofficial World Championship match. How seriously will you take this event?”

“I take the match very seriously. The thing that is different in a way, is in terms of preparation. You can do some basic preparation, but it’s not something where you can blitz out 15-20 moves and then start to play. I am not crazy about it, so I am looking forward to just starting afresh and playing interesting positions that probably will be quite a bit different.”

“Do you consider yourself and Magnus the best Chess960 players?”

“If you had given me a list, Magnus, Levon and myself are almost certainly the three best 960 players. I did watch two of Magnus’ games against Wesley in their (online blitz) match. Even though Magnus made a couple of bad moves, and I saw some things in those games, it was very clear that he was much better than Wesley. So it’s obvious that Magnus is very good at 960 as well.”

“When you look at a starting position in a 960 game, what is the first thing you look for?”

“I think the first thing is how similar it is to a normal game, whether to castle or not castle. The second thing is looking at the center and looking at which pawn to push. I feel like in 960 it’s very rare to move a knight in the first move and just develop normally. First I see if I can develop like g3, Bg2 and castles for example or something similar. If it’s more complex, then in the center if I have Queen on c1 and king on e1, I am never going to play e4. e4 versus c4 or d4, it just depends.”

“Do you see this as a possible revival of Chess960, something you would like to see more of?”

“Absolutely. I think it was great that they held the event in Mainz every year. They were very popular events and I really liked it. I think there should be more Chess960 events. The thing is, a lot of people feel it’s just too fundamentally different from the start, but more often than not the positions are fairly similar to regular chess. The piece play is a little bit different, and it’s not as easy to simplify the positions as in classical chess. So yeah, I hope there will be a lot more 960 for sure.”

(Jonathan Tisdall contributed to this report)