Nakamura on Reddit: “Focus is the key”

  • PeterDoggers
  • on 2/28/14, 12:39 AM.

On Wednesday Hikaru Nakamura did an “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, a social news and entertainment website where registered users submit content in the form of links or text posts. The result was a very honest and interesting “interview” with one of the more colorful chess players of our generation! Below is a selection of questions and answers; you can read the full Reddit AMA here.


How do you think Fischer would do against top players like yourself, Carlsen, or Kasparov? How would Morphy do?

Fischer would almost certainly lose to all of us, but this is due to the fact that the game has so fundamentally changed. If Fischer had a few years to use computers, I think he would probably be on the same level.

Who do you support for FIDE president?

I do not particularly support one side over the other as both candidates have serious flaws. However, one must look at what the incumbent has done over the past 20 years. It does not seem as though chess has fundamentally moved forward in a new direction. At the same time, it remains to be seen whether the opposition leader will be able to bring in money and sponsors which he speaks of in his campaign.

When you visualize a chess position, such as during a blindfold game, or when going over a score without a board present, what do you see? Do you see a full board and pieces, just like you were actually looking at a real board, or do you have some kind of abstract representation in your mind (such as a list of pieces and key squares and their attack/defense relationships)?
If you see a board, is it a 3D board, or is it like a diagram from a book? If a 3D board, is it some particular set you like, or something generic?

Hello Harlow_Monkeys!
When I play 1 blindfold game or any amount, (I have done 15 on two separate occasions) I essentially see the whole board, but I very rarely calculate deep lines beyond 2-3 moves. In tournaments such as the Amber Blindfold and Rapid where it is 1 game against another top level play, I very often will calculate 2-3 lines of about 5-6 moves. I wish I could say that I am some sort of mathematical genius and I see a bunch of right triangles or some picasso style art lines, but that would be going too far!
When I see the board, it is usually the blue board from the chess program chessbase with the white and black pieces. I suspect that for most modern day players, blindfold chess is a lot easier because of the endless hours we have all spent studying chess on computer screens.

Do you think there will ever be a time in the future when Chess960 is a serious competitive chess format? Do you feel it does a good job of shaking up the theory-heavy metagame for more "casual" observers?

Great question, apetresc!
I think chess960 is great as it is simply pure intuition and understanding without theory or computers. In my opinion, a lot depends on the trends. For example, at the moment everyone is playing the Berlin Defense which has severely reduced the number of games with 1.e4 If this trend of attempting to "kill" the excitement continues, it is hard to believe 960 won't take over at some point. However, if we start seeing a lot of deep preparation and exciting games in in the Najdorf or Dragon, then I think the scope of normal chess will continue for a very long time.

It seems that you are more in control of your emotions currently than has been the case in the past. Is this something you agree with and if so, is it something you consciously work on or do you feel it's something that has come with age?

Hello Veritas, and thank you very much for your question which I will try to answer very truthfully! ;)
I'm not sure that I am ever really in control! I would never really say that I worked consciously to become calmer and more mellow, but I think that lifestyle plays a big roll. In my late teens and early 20s, I spent a lot of time out on the west coast (Vancouver in particular) and this really helped a lot. Although, I do think that with every passing year, I become more mellow!

What's going on in your head when you realize during the game that you are winning?

Thank you for the question, ColoradoSheriff!
In general, I try not to think too much about outside factors during the game except for the position on the board. However, it does get difficult not to start wandering off and thinking about the future during especially critical games. Nevertheless, as with any other game or sport, focus focus FOCUS is the key!

Hello Hikaru! Big fan here! In a time where the majority of elite players choose safe and dry positions I really appreciate your aggressive and entertaining style, constantly going for complications.
Is it easy for you to switch off from chess completely, or do you pretty much think about or calculate positions in your head all the time?

Thanks for the compliment weasl! My general approach/philosophy is that we are all going to die, so might as well try to create some interesting games which will be remember 50-100 years from now!
Unless I am thinking about chess, I find it quite easy to not think about it. For example, after my recent tournament in Zurich, I did not have a single though about chess during my 2 weeks of vacation!

You have been known to play non-mainstream openings at times. Is this mostly a tactic to throw off booked opponents, a trick to force a certain type of position, general curiosity, trolling, or something else?

Thank you for the question LastChance!
For the most part, I tend to consider myself a creative person in almost any endeavour I am actively involved in whether its games like chess or tennis, I like to be creative. Therefore, when I play offbeat openings its more because I prefer the pure aspect of just playing moves and seeing fresh new positions. There is certainly a psychological aspect as well since most people tend to frown upon offbeat openings. However, I will always take creativity, new positions and playing the game over studying the Berlin Defense for 6 hours every day! :-D

I have been wondering about your Japanese heritage. How often do you visit and can you speak Japanese?

I was born in Osaka, Japan to a Japanese father and am American mother. However, my parents separated and I moved back to the US when I was 2 years old. After that, I grew up with only English. I did take some Japanese lessons when I was about 10, and also took Japanese 101 during my 1 semester at Dickinson College.
However, at this point my Japanese is pretty mediocre and I wouldn't say I know more than 20 words. Sadly, it's probably my 4th best language :(
I went back to Japan about once every 3 years growing up until I was 18. While I saw my Japan dad, I never had the opportunity to meet my half-siblings.

I really like your aggressive style and that you play for wins.
You've mentioned that you think you are the prime contender to challenge (and defeat) Magnus, but you haven't fared so well against him in the past. In light of this, why do you feel this confidence? What will be different in the future? (I hope this isn't rude, I actually really like your confidence. I'm rooting for you.)

Elmobob, thanks for the question!
My main reasons for the boost in confidence is that I have had him under pressure in the last 4 games. While one would be wise to remember the past, it is important to remember that you can also change everything in the future!

As a world class, how many hours do you focus on chess per week? Describe what the study plan for a GM is like. Like percentage do you work on opening prep, what percentage on going over past games, etc.
What books/study plan would you recommend for a class A-B level player?

I already gave a general response to a schedule during a week. As for specifics, I think it's probably 80% openings 10% endgames, 10% reviewing your games.

You also follow Napoli FC, a football club in the city of Naples, whose manager ideologically believes that the game is similar to chess in the aspect of exerting control from the center. How did you actually end up following the club though, which I believe is not an automatic choice for mainstream followers of the game?

Buona sera, aravindreds!
My fiancée is Italian and lives in Naples. Therefore, I have been spending quite a lot of time there in the past year and a half. One day, I hope to meet Rafael Benitez!

If you weren't playing chess for a living what do you think you'd be doing?

If I was not playing chess, I would either be working at a hedge fund or a linguist/archeologist doing something with ancient history.

Are there any blunders that have really stuck with you?

Yes, I had nightmares about the Carlsen game for 4 days afterwards...

Update: The title of this article was changed because the original title did not reflect properly Nakamura's thoughts about Fischer.

18261 reads 67 comments
12 votes


  • 3 years ago


    Russian chess players at the time of fischer are the best just like computer engines now and fischer beat them.if fischer have lived and played with todays players at the same time he would certainly beat everyone i just don't know with carlsen.fischer is the carslen in his time.and he is kasparov in kasparov's time.

  • 3 years ago


    Because its true !!

  • 3 years ago


    "He went out of his way to be tactful, respectful, and still give his opinion"

    Yes, but when Fischer is involved many can't accept any other view than that Fischer always would beat all other players from all other times no matter what :-)

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    LIke i said, i met Naka and his very polite family when he was 10, i like his game very much, and i will always root for him to win , and someday  become world champion !! but in my eyes and mind, nobody will affect me like Bobby Fischer did !! His will to study the game, and will to win is awesome !!

  • 3 years ago


    He went out of his way to be tactful, respectful, and still give his opinion. He is not saying he is better than Fischer, he is saying that given all the additional resources he has he would win, but on an even playing field he would lose easily. Naka has gained my respect for more than his chess recently

  • 3 years ago


    @Kijiri Well he isn't Magnus and we all know Magnus is god so that means Hikaru has no ground to stand on and should remain silent on controversial chess topics.


    *sarcasm font in effect*

  • 3 years ago


    Nakamura is one of the best players in the world. He's a grandmaster among grandmasters. If you don't trust such an autority on the subject, then who can you trust? If he says that he would beat Fischer, it's a very educated opinion - much more than anyone else on this website. With that said his answer, both in the original thread and here, was much more nuanced and not disrespectful at all. I for one really enjoyed reading the AMA, so thank you for that Hikaru! 

  • 3 years ago


    I might as well add that i traveled to the New York city Manhatten Chess Club when i was 26 years old and Fischer was 23, to challenge him in a chess match ???? I always was brave to challenge other humans in any games, but i was kinda out of line on this one ....Hans Kmock met me and invited me in, very grasisous he was, and did not laugh when i told him i wanted to play Fischer ! Instead he said Fischer was not here at the monent, he could pop in anytime, and invtited me to play the other masters that were there. he introduced me to 4 players in the room at the time. and the one i happened to play was none other than Al  Horowitz..who promptly smashed me 4 games in a row !! i got up and appologized , i said , i thought i was good ....Hans kmoch then said , Fred ,you are good but you need to study a little more thats all ! I then left before Fischer came .  i never got to meet him, i was embarassed, never to return !! My  first time ever in new york city !

  • 3 years ago



    What those "patzers" disagree is the comment "If Fischer had a few years to use computers, I think he would probably be on the same level."

    From a statistical point of view(i.e. ELO rating), those "patzers" arguments are quite valid, at least more valid than a statisic from just 3 or 4 games.

    And why a patzer would call other people as "patzers" is beyond me.

  • 3 years ago


    I forgot to mention that Fischer was the best blitz player that ever lived also !!

  • 3 years ago


    Puts himself on the same level, curious.  I frankly doubt that.

  • 3 years ago


    I met Naka at the world open along with his parents when he was 10 years old ! i admire him , but he is out of line talking about the greastest player who ever lived !!! he should study Fischers games more !!

  • 3 years ago


    First of all..Michail Tal said it all....Bobby Fischer was a computer period !! If you bring all chess players back from the past, and everybody in their PRIME  to the present including todays players, Fischer would crush like he did prove !!....WHY ?...because he had the best over the board sight of chess position than anybody ! he might not have had the best opening skills , but if you threw the chess pieces up in the air, and no matter how they landed he would win in any position they landed......[ RANDOM CHESS ] Bobby Fischer is the best chess player that  ever lived !!!!!!!

  • 3 years ago


    I think a poll is needed here, after all there's a rating inflation that would boost Fischer's ELO to much higher value today.

  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    +1 alexcross90226628  Come on, no need to take offense, guys.

    Thanks for your time, Naka! 

  • 3 years ago


    nice Reddit, Hikaru - very cool

  • 3 years ago


    The angst over the Fischer comments is pretty funny. Also the people bringing in comparison of HIkaru and Magnus are pretty funny as well. Hikaru has had magnus against the wall 3 or 4 games in a row now which is more than most players can say. Magnus was -12 pawns at move 36 in their last encounter and was very lucky to escape. Before making comments about HIkaru and his "weakness" or lack of qualifications perhaps you should consult with Magnus about it. He would certainly give more respect to Hikaru than some of the patzers commentating here. As for the Fischer comments, there was no disrespect intended. Without computer opening prep and endgame studies, Fischer would get thrashed by most of the top players of today. It's just a fact. With some time to do some computer training he would be a beast of the field again. Not complicated at all. Thank you GM Hikaru for taking the time out of your studies/schedule to engage with us. I wish more of the top players cared but apparently they are too cool to mingle with the proletariat.

  • 3 years ago


    I think that this is only a Nakamura's atempt to boost himself into the all-time-geniuses of chess, which is a fantasy, he knows where he belongs, he's only the american top player at the moment. Beating Carlsen would become a monumental effort for him, situation I doubt will ever happen. Fischer wouldnt even need a computer, he studied all of the multiple variables positions with the book on his hand when he was merely 7 or 8 years old. He beated Spassky 20 years after he quit playing and he would problably beat nowadays players so easily, except for Kasparov and Carlsen who are naturals like Fischer.

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