Interviews Feb 27, 2014 | 7:07 PMby Macauley Peterson

Nakamura: "Fischer would almost certainly lose to all of us"

Yesterday GM Hikaru Nakamura participated in an online interview on the social news and entertainment website reddit. He took questions from reddit users about his chess career and personal life.

During the session, the twenty-six year old American number one related that his favorite players in history are Kasparov, Fischer and Tal, that he's becoming more mellow as he gets older, and that he recovers from a loss by watching the TV series Breaking Bad.


Below are a few excerpts. You can also read the complete interview "subreddit" which contains over 500 comments and replies.

Reddit user: You've mentioned that you think you are the prime contender to challenge (and defeat) Magnus [Carlsen], but you haven't fared so well against him in the past. In light of this, why do you feel this confidence?

Hikaru Nakamura: 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!

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?

Nakamura, Tata Steel Chess 2014

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?

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!

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?

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 thought about chess during my 2 weeks of vacation!

What is a typical day like for you when you're not playing in a tournament?

A typical day for me when I am not playing chess varies, but I will always study a few hours a day, (2-3) watch some of the BBC series, whether it is Frozen Planet, Planet Earth or one of the others, I will read some (I recently finished reading Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller by Chernow) and study about 1 hour of Italian! However, when tournaments are happening within the next week or two, I will be studying a lot more chess!

Are you happy that chess has always been the center of your career (and perhaps even life)?

For the most part, I do not feel unfulfilled in a traditional sense. However, the three most difficult things about chess are:

  1. Having to prove yourself every single day. In normal jobs, when you have made say VP in a company, you are set.
  2. Having to travel a lot and not being able to spend as much time as you want with your family.
  3. Chess is not always secure if you have a lot of bad results. 

Most of my non chess time (excluding minor activities) is spent on trading derivatives in the stock market, so I do often consider whether that would be a more logical career.

What is your favorite part about being a Grandmaster? Traveling? Not having a '9 to 5' job?

My favorite part about being a professional chess player (not a Grandmaster as plenty of them do work normal 9-5 jobs) is that I am my own boss and make my own schedule.

Nakamura with his fiance Maria De Rosa in 2013

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?

My fiancé 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!

How big of a role computers play in your chess life. How much and in what ways do you use them when studying chess? Do you ever play against them as practice? What do you think we can learn from computer chess and what can't we?

Your question is very pertinent not only to my chess career but the very future of chess as well. I would say that nowadays, when I study, computers comprise 90% overall.

I do not play against computers anymore because it is severely depressing to lose every game without ever even having a chance!

I think mainly what can be learned from computers is a deeper understanding that almost all positions are ok with accurate play. In the past, many people assumed certain positions were automatically bad, but computers have shown that the rules and thought processes aren't always accurate!

Do you think there will ever be a time in the future when Chess960 is a serious competitive chess format?

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.

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

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 [Kirsan Ilyumzhinov —ed.] 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 [Garry Kasparov —ed] will be able to bring in money and sponsors which he speaks of in his campaign.

Are you playing in the US Championship this year, since it doesn't overlap with Norway?

I have not decided on the US Championship, but I have chosen to play a tournament in Prague instead of Norway.

Who has been the most challenging opponent you've faced?

Without a doubt, I am having the most problems with Aronian! I have lost something like 6 games in a row!

When do you decide a position is gone as in unplayable? A full minor down or just a lack of counter-play and a pawn or something?

Well, my position with Carlsen [in Zurich, Round 3 —ed.] was +10 and he did not resign. It is all relative!


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