Checkmate! 40 questions with America’s chess champion Hikaru Nakamura
Motez Bishara, CNN
Updated 1208 GMT (1908 HKT) August 21, 2015
(CNN)Hikaru Nakamura was always the smartest kid in the room.
By the time the Japanese-born American reached the ripe old age of 10, he was anointed the title of chess master. Five years later, he became the youngest grandmaster since the legendary Bobby Fisher.
Now 27, Nakamura is the world No. 3 gearing up to face the rest of the top 10 in the $1 million purse Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis, Missouri.
CNN caught up with the speed-chess expert on his mind-set leading into the tournament’s opening move on Saturday, where he expanded on everything from Garry Kasparov to the stock market to sake:
How old were you when you won your first tournament?
I was seven years old.
Did you play high school chess?
No I didn’t play high school chess, because by that time I was already being home schooled. So I was competing in individual tournaments all over the world.
At what age were you pulled from the traditional classroom?
At nine years old, after fourth grade. Primarily it was to give me the opportunity to compete abroad because if I stayed in regular school I would not have been able to get the excused absences to compete in enough events to progress my career.
For example one tournament is roughly nine rounds, and most of them were serious enough that it was one round per day, so if you average that out, that’s nine days potentially. You can do that once or twice during the school year, but beyond that it’s just not going to work.
Any idea you’d go on to be a chess champion at that point?
I think they had some inclination that I might become a top chess player — I was already one of the top junior players in America — but to go from a strong junior player to world champion caliber, you really can’t know that ahead of time.
They perhaps had some dreams or thoughts, but I don’t think they really thought it was likely. I think they just wanted to see how far it could go.
At what age did the corner start to turn?
I think when I was 15-years-old, when I broke the record for the youngest American grandmaster. Bobby Fisher previously held the record (Nakamura was three months younger; it has been broken twice since.) Once I broke the record, I knew I would have some chances to go quite far.
Was there any fear you’d follow Fisher to become an anti-American recluse?
I don’t think there was, but that’s probably because the media attention for chess is not quite what it once was. There was definitely some coverage but I don’t think at the time that (comparisons to Fisher’s eccentricity) came into the equation.
Have you ever played in Washington Square Park (the home of street chess in New York)?
I used to when I was younger, but nowadays most people who hustle there all know who I am, so I really don’t have the opportunity to play against them anymore.
I’d have to put on a wig or makeup, something to really alter my appearance, otherwise they would recognize me right away.
How is the level of competition there?
Quite strong. Most of the players are master level, which is about a 2,200 rating. So basically they are better than 99% of anyone who is ever going to play chess — but they are not better than 99.99%, like I am. So it’s a very high level, just not at the elite level.
Have you ever had a job, other than being a chess player?
No, I’ve never had a job other than being a chess player. It’s kind of what I grew up with, so it’s what I spent most of my time on.
If you had the opportunity to have any other career, what would it be?
Probably somewhere in finance or Wall Street; probably in trading if I had to take a guess. I do have quite an interest in the markets as well.
Do you invest your prize money in stocks?
Yes, usually I invest my prize money in the market. Right now I think markets are a bit high so I wouldn’t be investing, I’d just be keeping it in the bank earning zero interest.
Any similarities between chess and the stock market?
In chess it’s very much about planning ahead and thinking things through logically, and if you’re actually investing — not day trading — then you try to understand the situation, the economics and the financial numbers, (to) make logical decisions. In chess you also try and control your risk- reward ratio.
Full article here.
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