Nakamura Can’t Beat Carlsen? I think I know why . .

Hikaru has the worst score against Carlsen since he tends to play tactical short-term goals and moves faster with lesser analysis. He also plays bad openings and he regularly battles with Magnus making the difference in score much highlighted.

Hikaru Nakamura is a respected figure in the chess world both as a player and an influencer, but one thing remains true. He seems to be always dominated and by world champion Magnus Carlsen, with a one-sided score even more than other players.

That is what I’m taking a closer look at today, why is Nakamura’s score against Carlsen seem to be so puny? With the caliber of a player Hikaru is, it should have been better than what is in the current scoreboard.

For the record, I respect both of these players and I do not mean to hate on Hikaru as he is clearly a strong player, this is just a comprehensive analysis. With that out of the way let’s begin.

How good is Hikaru Nakamura at chess?

Hikaru Nakamura is great at chess. He is a five times U.S. champion. His highest USCF rating is 2900. In 2015 he had a peak fide rating of 2186 second only to Magnus Carlsen. He had remained the number 1 blitz and rapid player for quite some time over Carlsen. He is nicknamed the speed demon.

What is the head to head score between Magnus and Hikaru? 

In classical games, Magnus Carlsen beat Hikaru 14 to 1 with 25 draws, including rapid/exhibition games Magnus wins 74 to 32 with 91 draws,  and only rapid exhibition games Magnus also win 60 to 31 with 66 draws.

Here is the source.

Here’s the picture representing the numbers above to make it visually comprehendible:

A picture of head to head score between magnus carlsen and hikaru nakamura.

I presented this statistic since there has been a misconception that Hikaru has never won a game against Magnus. This is of course not true, Hikaru actually has a fair score when you include faster time controls where he excels.

If we’re only including rapid and exhibition games, Nakamura has half of the win against the world champion. This is still dominating but not as one-sided as what other people expect, Magnus after all has similar standing against other players.

The only discrepancy is with classical games (longest time control) where Nakamura only who 1 against Carlsen’s 14. But we have to remember that Nakamura is more of a blitz player, not a classical one, so this is acceptable.

The numbers don’t hold up to what other people are constantly saying, that Nakamura always chokes against Carlsen. It’s just that the discrepancy is much highlighted when the games are seen by many people (since nobody sees the other games).

Does Magnus Carlsen have better achievements than Hikaru?

Magnus Carlsen is better than Hikaru Nakamura. Magnus is a five-time reigning world champion. He is also a three-time World Rapid Chess Champion and five-time World Blitz Chess Champion. Hikaru never won a world title. Hikaru has a better peak blitz rating of 2850 but Magnus is still better overall.

See the reasons why Magnus is so strong in this article.

Is Hikaru being good at blitz the reason he can’t beat Carlsen?

Hikaru tends to play on short-term tactical goals against Carlsen who specialize in grinding drawn-out games. Hikaru also play less optimal openings with a dashing speed that are usually not well-analyzed, giving opportunities for Magnus.

Now that we’re done with that, it cannot be denied that Hikaru still plays worst than Carlsen. The reason why that might be the case is Hikaru’s affiliation to blitz games (fast games).

One of the key issues is openings, Nakamura regularly plays less optimal openings which gives Carlsen an advantage right off the bat. This works fine with faster time controls since there is lesser time to take advantage of the small edge.

In classical format though against Carlsen, he seems to have carried this habit of playing bad openings (unlike Magnus). Carlsen’s favorite openings on the other hand are more refined, those that are favored by the engines.

The world champion being one of the greatest players that he is, will of course punish him for such a display.

On top of this, Nakamura plays very fast on most of his moves, which opens up potential inaccuracies. This is again an influence of playing excessive blitz games that Nakamura has developed even on long formats.

I’ve seen him moving incredibly fast in classical chess against slightly lower-rated opponents, but this is Magnus we’re talking about.

Lower efforts that have been put into the analysis should translate into weaknesses that Magnus could obviously convert.

Moving fast is a symptom of someone who has been in the clutches of blitz, prioritizing short term goals (tactical) over long term ones (strategical).

And Hikaru might have nullified some aspects of this, but completely shows the weakness against someone of Carlsen’s caliber.

Hikaru has shown tendencies of being impatient in long positional struggles where little things matter, a place where Carlsen excels.

Carlsen’s style involves finding opportunities in theoretically drawn positions and grinding it, so it’s likely to be a long game.

Hikaru Nakamura, who’s used to playing very fast games has incorporated elements in his game that restrict his full potential, I’m sure even he is aware of these.

Is Nakamura better than Carlsen in blitz?

Hikaru Nakamura is better than Carlsen in blitz chess. Hikaru’s highest rating in blitz is 2850. Magnus Carlsen’s highest rating in blitz is 2832 which is not even close. If we are talking about head to head scores, Magnus beat Nakamura in blitz. However, Hikaru is better if we take their scores.

Is Carlsen just better in chess than Nakamura?

Nakamura can’t beat Carlsen since Magnus is just in a better form being the world champion while having the experience/preparation that comes with the title.

Of course Nakamura not being used to long games is not only to cause of this, Carlsen is just stronger currently being the world champion and possibly in his prime.

Otherwise, Hikaru would have a bad standing against other players, which he didn’t have.

He is actually doing pretty well against many of his colleagues, it’s just that he always stumbles with Carlsen. But who doesn’t? Most people just notice Hikaru’s losses more since he is a figure that a lot of people know, unlike other players.

Magnus Carlsen also has an overwhelming win rate against other super grandmasters. I have explained in another article why I think Magnus is so far ahead. I just think that he is too strong right now.

Carlsen is grinding everything to make the most of his peak, Hikaru on the other hand may arguably have yet to reach his, or has already passed it.

Aside from this, Carlsen has more games as well as preparation due to his experience in the world chess championship matches.

He plays a lot of his preparation against Hikaru that has a lot of backing from chess seconds and computers.

Hikaru also has access to seconds and computers as well but is not on the same level as preparing for a world chess championship match for example.

This means that Magnus is always more prepared and experienced to deal with the pressure of crucial moments than Hikaru, as he dealt with those in his world title matches.

This illustration shows the difference in ability/skill between Carlsen and Nakamura. It can be seen here that Magnus is way better than Hikaru at the moment.
This illustration shows the difference in ability/skill between Carlsen and Nakamura. It can be seen here that Magnus is way better than Hikaru at the moment.

Can Hikaru Nakamura become the world champion?

Hikaru Nakamura can never be the world champion. In order to be the world champion a player has to excel in classical chess not blitz. Hikaru might be a phenomenal blitz player but he is always beat in classical games. It is possible he can be the blitz world champion but not the real world champion.

Does Nakamura’s online personality make him lose against Carlsen?

With Hikaru Nakamura being invested in twitch and youtube than Carlsen, it gives more chances for Magnus to improve his game therefore the dominant score against Hikaru.

Hikaru invests a lot of time in his streaming and youtube channel, and though I find it inspiring being an influencer myself, it means he has less time to work on his games.

I will compare this to myself who is busy running this blog and has suffered a decline in my own games, although I still get a win here and there.

One is just likely to improve more if they invest their time preparing more lines, learning new things, and playing tournaments rather than being an influencer.

And Hikaru is incredibly busy, I am honestly surprised that he is still able to maintain his status with so many things he is juggling. 

Magnus does have a youtube channel but not on the same scale as Hikaru, Carlsen usually plays there only for banter blitzes and fun. Carlsen is more active in tournaments polishing his repertoire as he should be, being the world champion.

But this is undoubtedly one of the reasons Magnus regularly outplays Hikaru, he just put more work to see the results.

This is probably the distribution of Hikaru's time as a renowned streamer. As you can see this is not really healthy for chess improvement.
This is probably the distribution of Hikaru’s time as a renowned streamer. As you can see this is not really healthy for chess improvement.
This is probably how Carlsen's time distribution looks like, he has the power advantage because he spends more time with serious training.
This is probably how Carlsen’s time distribution looks like, he has the power advantage because he spends more time with serious training.

Who is GMHikaru?

GMHikaru is simply the online username used by Hikaru Nakamura. Both his twitch account and youtube channel has the name GMHikaru. Most of his fans know him by this moniker.

Is Hikaru being a competent player the reason Magnus dominates?

Every other player would have about the same score against Magnus if they played many games. Hikaru just looks worst as being a competent player, he is always able to face Magnus thus more chances to be defeated.

We are all pretending that other players don’t have similar results to Carlsen, in fact, he dominates everybody. Hikaru is a very competent player that is able to go head to head with Carlsen every time, hence the bad record.

Some other players who have a good record against Magnus are someone he played very early in his career and have left behind. Others that were closer to his rating rarely face him since they didn’t qualify for the tournament or the final round.

Hikaru checks those marks, qualifying for tournaments and regularly competing in the final rounds. And what do you usually see on final rounds? Magnus Carlsen himself, who has the opportunity to put a stint in the record.

In fact, we should be praising Nakamura for always being able to play a match against Carlsen at such a high level.

Is Hikaru’s bad record against Carlsen psychological?

Arguably Hikaru Nakamura has enough repertoire to at least snatch a quarter of games against Carlsen. The issue may be psychological where Nakamura is pressured by the results of previous encounters.

Magnus Carlsen’s dominance over Nakamura may just be psychological, I do in fact believe that Hikaru is capable of having more score than what he already has.

But there is a thing in competitions where previous results contribute to the mindset going into the new games.

This may have gotten into Nakamura’s head that has led to such an overwhelming difference than what is dictated solely by skill.

Even Carlsen suffers the same issue against Ian Nepomniachtchi who has a positive score against him, again, likely due to psychological reasons. (Update: Magnus crushed Nepo on the Word Chess Championship!).

Not that Ian is inherently better than Carlsen though he is a strong player, more like the outcome of previous encounters may have affected the game leading to such a result.

I am convinced that Nakamura finds the same difficulty when playing Carlsen, that things he can try have already been revoked once.

This would make him choose decisions that he wouldn’t have done to other strong players, locking his inner strength. You could say that Hikaru Nakamura’s kryptonite just happens to be the world champion of all people.

Do you now know why Carlsen always beat Hikaru?

Nakamura really is a respectable player that should not be judged solely on his record, especially against the world champion. If anything this is just a testament to how Carlsen becomes so dominant in his career.

Hikaru has a lot of things in his belt to take care of, and I don’t think the difference will change all that much. However this does not change the fact that talent-wise, he is near or at the same level as the overachiever champion.

This article meant to serve an additional perspective in this case, I hope you’re satisfied, sleep well and play chess.