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.

18253 reads 67 comments
12 votes


  • 3 years ago


    Keep them coming. Nice to log in and search the News. My favourite part of the day:)


    Cheers Peter:)

  • 3 years ago

    FM MikeKlein

    I thought the title of the article was fine. What else to call it? "Nakamura Answers a Random Collection of Questions"? I thought it got the reader interested.

    Also, props to Hikaru for taking 3 hours to answer as many questions as he could to an open audience. I don't recall too many other top-10 players giving that much time!

  • 3 years ago


    naka can't even beat carlsen and he thinks he could beat fischer? that's a good one. after 20 years out of the competitive chess circuit fischer beat spassky even though boris had been playing in major chess tournaments during that time.

  • 3 years ago


    Finally, an honest article worth-reading for.

  • 3 years ago


    I like Nakamura a lot more after reading this and agree that the title is misleading. 

  • 3 years ago


    Sounds honest and interesting as an interview!

    It was a curious point when Hikaru shared that he liked creative and new positions, yet at the same time spent 80% of his study time on openings -- obviously that emphasis suggests where those new positions come from, but also implies the impossibility of doing well in modern days without such a hefty investment.

    I wonder if other top players have similar percentages -- I know Kramnik does, and likely Aronian does too, but perhaps not Carlsen, at least not according to what we see him emphasize and play on the board.  So there's room for alternatives; and certainly there's room for chess960, in which case those 80% would be re-allocated in interesting ways to other parts of the game, likely on endgames and on deeper middle-game analyses of existing games.

  • 3 years ago


    A great interview is always built on great questions and honest answers. Go Naka!

  • 3 years ago


    "What would Pele do today if still playing football? Who would marry Marilyn if she were alive today? May Julius Caesar if still alive could kill his son? This is SF, good to write a book or make a movie (hoping someone may want to see it, read it ) but in the real world this are just stupid questions and remember, if you make stupid questions, chances are you only receive stupid answers." - satorichess

    I think the question and answer are a bit too complex for your understanding. They were not only imagining a hypothetical scenario, but were also emphasizing how much computers have affected the dynamics of the game. But thank you for proving that like stupid questions, smart ones are also vulnerable to receiving stupid answers.

  • 3 years ago


    Hikaru so you are saying you think computers are the reason players are as good as they are. Interesting point, but how do you use computers to effectivly study? (as i expect you will probably not have the time to answer this, could someone else who uses computers to study?) The only time's i use computers in my opening is to check some gambit lines, or something i played in a game that i wasn't sure about.....and the only other times is when i analyze tough games.

  • 3 years ago

    GM Hikaru

    This is the only time I will make a comment about an article, but here goes. 

    First of all, Fischer was by far and away the best player of his time, bar none. The 100+ point rating gap says it all, and in many ways I think this is the best way of measuring different generations. 

    My main statement about Fischer comes to the point of how chess has fundamentally changed since those days. For example, what Fischer spent 6 months or 1 year studying back in 1969-72ish would take us a month or less to study today with the help of computers. If Bobby could adapt to use computers, I think there is no telling how good he could be. That being said, I have heard that Karpov (a more recent WC than Fischer) has trouble understanding how to efficiently utilize computers in regards to analysis. All of this suggests that it would be very difficult.

    Secondly, I must laugh at comments such as Carlsen could hold his own. Who are you kidding? Carlsen, Aronian, Caruana, myself etc...none of us would be half as good as we are today without computers. We would get squashed like little flies on the wall by Fischer if somehow we could go back in the time machine.

    The bottom line is that we must accept and honour all the great predecessors from the past who have furthered the game. At the same time, we must all face the realities that computers have made the modern generation of players much stronger than the players of the past.

  • 3 years ago


    Nice guy!

  • 3 years ago


    go NAKA!!!!

  • 3 years ago


    The title was a bit 'out of context' ... Hikaru's answers were actually quite interesting and insightful.  Thanks for posting.

  • 3 years ago


    Plenty of commentators would say that (not in any order)....

    Capablanca, Alekhine, Lasker, Fischer, Kasparov, Karpov, and (now) Carlsen - represent chess genius of the modern era. Maybe put Keres, Spassky and Korchnoi a little behind these but close.

    I like Nakamura as a creative player but he falters in positions that require the deepest analysis as was recently shown in Zurich. Yes, he was dominant all through the middlegame, yes Carlsen was on the back foot most of the game, but Magnus found resources and continuations when it really mattered (and Naka failed to see them).

    "Blunder" is a face saving word in GM chess because "its better to be forgetful than to be dumb" as the Russian chess joke goes. Aronian and (maybe) Caruana seem to be the only people who can challenge the Magnus at this point. Not to say that Hikaru isn't as talented but he isn't there yet.

    As for Fischer, if Naka is 0-7 against the Magnus I doubt Naka will do better against probably the greatest chess genius of all time - everything being equal hypothetically.

    Another thing we have suddenly forgot that Wei Yi at 14yrs 3mo became the youngest player ever to surpass 2650 Elo!!! This is a potential 2800+ before he turns 17yrs and a future world champion.

  • 3 years ago


    That last answer... I hate to admit that I chuckled when I read that. 

  • 3 years ago


    The full Reddit AMA was interesting. Kudos to Naka for doing it. 

  • 3 years ago


    If Fischer would have access to same information would beat easily all of them, Nakamura couldn't even get a draw from him, strange he doesn't realize it!Laughing

  • 3 years ago


    From what I saw recently, Fischer would own most of the field, apart from maybe Carlsen. But we will never know as he got mad, quit chess and also decided to die without playing "new era giants" Karpov, Kasparov, Anand, Carlsen, Kramnik.. Nakamura talks, that is nice, but he has to prove himself first.

    And that would be bloody hard if he can't win better position against Carlsen :D So I don't take his: I've got computer what can Fischer do to me..

  • 3 years ago


    Amazing good questions and open answers by GM Nakamura! I have seen a lot of post-match interviews, but this is really interesting.

  • 3 years ago


    What would Pele do today if still playing football? Who would marry Marilyn if she were alive today? May Julius Caesar if still alive could kill his son? This is SF, good to write a book or make a movie (hoping someone may want to see it, read it ) but in the real world this are just stupid questions and remember, if you make stupid questions, chances are you only receive stupid answers.

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