After Bounce from Airthings, Team Hikaru Fundraises More Than $350K to Close 2020

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Photo: Lennart Ootes

In one of the more altruistic defeats in recent history, American GM Hikaru Nakamura simultaneously resigned from an international super-tournament and tallied a win for international emergency relief. 

In the final week of 2020, Nakamura advanced to and began the knockout stage of the Airthings Masters, the second event of World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen’s online Champions Chess Tour. As the third seed in the 8-player bracket, Nakamura was paired with Armenian GM Levon Aronian – and not everything went according to the American’s plan. 

In the two-day, two-set quarterfinal match, Nakamura dropped the first day on Tuesday, December 29 by a score of 2.5-1.5, setting up a must-win situation that did not materialize on Wednesday. There, the American lost the first two games, ensuring at least a draw for Aronian in the four-game set and ultimately the match win for the Armenian -- and with that, Nakamura resigned and disconnected from Airthings.  

And seconds later, reappeared on his Twitch.TV channel, joining sidekicks IM Levy Rozman and Hungarian IM Anna Rudolf who were commenting on the quarterfinal games and holding a massive fundraiser. In four hours of commentary across the match, Team Hikaru raised more than $350,000 for CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere), an international humanitarian agency fighting global poverty and world hunger. 


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"The growth of chess was one of the few positives of 2020, and I think it is our duty as the game’s ambassadors to set a positive example and give back to people who need it most,” Rozman said. “The day of the stream, the chat was absolutely electric. We shattered our initial expectations by 250% and the community was excited to keep pushing for a higher goal. We are growing the game of chess and trying to help humanity—can there be a better job?"  

The effort proved a massive upgrade from October, when Nakamura raised $8,000 for Doctors without Borders in a 77-board online simul. This time, making use of the super-GM’s global notoriety, Team Hikaru pulled in over 885,000 viewers and collected a huge amount of small donations – the largest was $2,000 and only eight people donated $1,000 or more. The fundraiser is still ongoing and, as of Monday, is now just under $360,000. 


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"I'm incredibly proud of Anna and Levy for running this charity stream, and thrilled that [manager] ‘Chessbae’ set up the details and helped run the event,” Nakamura said. “I was astonished that the stream raised over $350k in four hours and because of the success, we all hope to do it again. It's our goal to raise 3 million US through the length of the Champions Chess Tour. It's a high goal, but I think we can make it." 


Nakamura Fundraiser Stream


Back at Airthings, Nakamura was not the only master to suffer an early exit, as his bow-out was matched by the other event favorites: both US Chess Champion GM Wesley So and the World Champion himself were shown the door in the quarterfinals Wednesday. Carlsen was knocked out by Russian GM Daniil Dubov, and So went the distance with French GM Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. After splitting two sets of regulation games, then splitting a pair of blitz overtime games, So in the Armageddon playoff could only draw with the white pieces, eliminating him from the tournament.  

After beating Nakamura, Aronian went on to defeat MVL in the semis, but lost in the finals to tournament winner Azerbaijani GM Teimour Radjabov. All eight players in the Airthings knockout bracket earned automatic invitations to the next Champions Tour event in February.