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St. Louisan looking to become highest-rated American chess player since Bobby Fischer

(photo courtesy of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis)
Hikaru Nakamura (L) has a chance to become the highest-rated American chess player during a week-long match against Ukrainian Ruslan Ponomariov (R). The 10-game contest is the first international match for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis

 A Japanese native who relocated to St. Louis from Seattle last year to take advantage of the city's growing chess infrastructure will go after one of the sport's top American records this week.

If he does well enough in a 10-game match against Ukranian grandmaster Ruslan Ponomariov, grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura can become the highest rated-U.S. player since Bobby Fischer.

To do so, Nakamura will have to win three more games than he loses, and just six games count toward the ratings. That means there are just six ways  for Nakamura to earn the necessary 2786 rating:

  • Win three games, lose none, draw three
  • Win four games, lose none, draw two
  • Win four games, lose one, draw one
  • Win five games, lose none, draw one
  • Win five games, lose one, draw none
  • Win all six games

"To draw a comparison, I would say it would have to be the same thing as somebody winning Wimbledon by sweeping everything 6-0, without letting their opponents score any points even," Tony Rich said. Rich is the executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, which is hosting the Nakamura-Ponomariov match - the first international match for the center.

The milestone's been on Nakamura's mind since he won the Tata Steel tournament in January, but he says he's been taking it one game at a time.  In addition to topping Bobby Fischer's record, he wants to rekindle American interest in chess.

"Fischer was very successful in promoting chess, and then unfortunately he kind of lost his mind, and chess in the U.S. has been on a bit of a downswing ever since," Nakamura said. "My dream is that should I keep progressing and hopefully become world champion, that one day chess in the U.S. will reach that stage that it was at in the early 70s."

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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