Nakamura has open forum Q&A with fans

by ChessBase
3/1/2014 – Hikaru Nakamura recently participated in a public Reddit AMA with fans. What is an AMA? It means "ask me anything", and the Reddit format allows anyone to drop in and join the interview. The top American answered questions on a wide variety of topics, from how to study, what to study, his favorite chess works, as well as his thoughts on emotional growth. Read more from this public interview.

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The following are a few of the questions and answers from a lengthy open forum Q&A on Reddit between GM Hikaru Nakamura and participants.

It seems like someone can't play chess for long without observing some unusual people and/or situations. What do you think is the most amusing chess anecdote you've picked up over the years that you'd be willing to share?

There are way too many stories which I will save for my book of chess stories in 20 years! Nevertheless, I remember a game from a tournament quite a few years back, where someone got up went to the restroom then came back only to see someone else sitting in their spot having played 3-4 moves. Suffice to say it was a very confusing situation!

Your recent loss to Carlsen was obviously a huge letdown. As you noted, if you play almost anything else, you win the tournament. For those of us who struggle with the ups and downs of tournament chess - how do you prepare yourself mentally for the next game and stay strong and focused at the board?

In many ways, I think the single most difficult thing about chess unlike almost any other game or sport is that when you lose, you aren't eliminated. One has to get right back up and continue playing the following day! Mainly, I think one just has to have selective memory or the ability to simply forget things in a hurry. I don't do anything special to prepare myself although I do occasionally meditate!

At the 2013 Sinquefield Cup, Nakamura sported Ray Ban shades against Carlsen

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 six games in a row!

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?

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

Are there any books that you feel after reading helped you improve?

Recently, I have really taken a liking to the My Great Predecessors series by Kasparov.

How do you view your fellow Top Ten players in the world relative to the greats of other time periods?

I find that it is almost impossible to compare different generations of players. All of us are only as good as we are because of the greats who came before us.

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?

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 six hours every day!

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.

Thanks for the compliment. 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.

Always making some time for the fans

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?

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.

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?

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.

Hikaru Nakamura was world champion in Chess960 in 2009

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?

When I play a 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 one game against another top level player, I very often 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.

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 are your favorite players throughout history and who do you think are the best players?

My favourite players are Kasparov, Fischer and Tal. Mainly because they were more tactical and aggressive which is how I tend to play.

The full Q&A can be found here.

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