What are Hikaru Nakamura’s Favorite Openings? (A List!)

Hikaru Nakamura is one of the most famous chess influencers right now. If you like chess and don’t know about Hikaru then you must be living under a rock.

The guy alone almost doubled the overall interest in chess. People want to know everything about this grandmaster, they love him so much.

Despite this, a lot of things are obscure in hikaru’s life, especially some of the things that he did in the past.

I will not be talking about that, I will be talking about something else. I will talk about his favorite openings.

Surprisingly not a lot of people can make a list on his favorite openings despite his renowned status.

In this article I will do my best to do that. With all of that in mind, let’s begin.

1.) Ruy Lopez

A picture of Ruy Lopez.

This is not a surprise, the Ruy Lopez is one of the most popular chess openings used in the higher level. The notation of Ruy Lopez is 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bb5.

I initially didn’t want to include this opening on this list since almost every grandmaster plays the Ruy Lopez at the elite level.

However, from what I notice with Nakamura, he plays this in almost every serious game.

Other grandmasters will sometimes switch it up with an Italian game or a d4 line, Hikaru on the other hand prefers to just go for this line more than anything else. It is rare that he will not go for this if the game is serious.

Hikaru plays a lot of weird openings when he is going casual, but if it is a serious game and he is playing white, you can bet that Ruy Lopez is about to be played.

In his younger years he studied this line a lot, it may have stuck to his repertoire as he grew older.

In games that he really wants to win he will likely play the Ruy Lopez, there is just a higher likelihood.

It is one of the most studied openings out there, Hikaru Nakamura himself must have invested a lot of time mastering this line.

Due to the frequency of Ruy Lopez appearing in his games, I will take a guess that this is one of his favorite openings. 

2.) English Opening

A picture of English opening.

Hikaru also likes playing the English opening with the notation of 1. c4. I have to admit, this is not what I expect.

The English opening is also popular at high level chess, but it is definitely not that popular. Magnus Carlsen for example doesn’t play the english opening as much as Hikaru does.

See the best openings of Magnus Carlsen in this other article.

Nakamura likes this opening so much that he even plays this on casual games. I have watched a lot of streams where he played the English opening consecutively whenever he had the white pieces.

This is something that he doesn’t even do with Ruy Lopez.

I have also read confirmation from other strong grandmasters that this is Hikaru’s signature opening line.

It is unexpected since I never thought that Nakamura’s playstyle would be accommodated by the less exciting English opening.

However, I have to place this on this list since it really is one of HIkaru’s favorite chess openings with white.

3.) Giuoco Piano

A picture of Giuoco Piano.

With the black pieces, Hikaru really likes playing the Giuoco Piano with the notation of 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Bc5.

This opening is one of the two most popular replies to the Italian game. The Italian game in itself is very popular at the high level of chess, it can be compared to the Ruy Lopez.

When I watch the games of other super grandmasters, they also really like playing the Giuoco Piano, but they will also play the two knight defense every now and then.

Hikaru really likes going for this line, so much so that I have never seen a game where he goes for the two knight defense.

I’m sure that he had played such an opening before, but what I am saying is that he does not prefer it.

Once he replies e5 to the e4 move, you can count on the Giuoco Piano occurring over the board.

I was actually debating whether to put Berlin defense here over the Giuoco piano, but it seems that this opening comes up on top.

With Ruy Lopez, it is not like Hikaru only goes for the Berlin defense, I have seen him play many weird moves on the said line.

With the Italian game however, it is automatic that he will go for the Bc5 line (Giuoco piano).

I think he really studied this line a lot, this makes him prefer this opening more than any other.

On a side note, there are some openings that you should absolutely avoid. See my other article about this.

4.) Queen’s Gambit Declined

A picture of Queen's Gambit Declined.

This is another of Hikaru’s favorite openings with black. The queen’s gambit declined has the notation of 1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6.

There are many positions that can lead to this variation which is not necessarily straight forward.

Regardless, this is one of Hikaru’s must play openings. It would be hard to find a tournament that he had played without the queen’s gambit declined being played, he really likes it.

Sometimes he would go for the King’s Indian defense or the Grunfeld defense, but this is rare.

On most occasions, he prefers going for the straight queen’s gambit declined as it suits his playstyle.

The queen’s gambit declined is very solid. White will of course be slightly better, but it would be difficult for white to gain anything significant.

Hikaru likes playing this opening since he can play solidly while trying some new ideas on the side.

I have also seen him play this on his casual stream. I am sure that this is one of his favorite chess openings.

Other considerations

As I have somewhat alluded earlier in this article, there have been other considerations while writing this article.

I didn’t include them since Nakamura doesn’t play these openings enough that they will be called his “favorites”. Regardless, I think that they deserve a spot here.

Berlin defense

A picture of Berlin defense.

The Berlin defense has the notation of 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Bb5 Nf6.

It is an opening popularized by Vladimir Kramnik after he took down Kasparov with it without dropping a single game.

Hikaru likes playing this opening whenever Ruy Lopez is played.

King’s Indian defense

A picture of King's Indian defense.

The King’s Indian defense has the notation of 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7.

This is one of Hikaru’s most played openings. If he doesn’t play the queen’s gambit declined, expect that he will play this next.

It is a defensive opening that plays into Nakamura’s strength (since Hikaru has a solid playstyle), it is no wonder that he plays this often.

Grunfeld defense

A picture of Grunfeld defense.

The Grunfeld defense has the notation of 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5.

This is a sideline of the Kings’ Indian defense. I noticed that when Hikaru wants to mix it up and avoid preparation (since his opponents have likely studied the King’s Indian line), he will play this.

It is definitely an interesting opening that will bring results when played the right way.

That is all for this article, thank you for reading.