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Bobby Fischer vs. Hikaru Nakamura - Theoretical Match-up

User Rating: / 20
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 19 December 2013
By GM Daniel Gormally, England, FIDE 2504

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Hikaru Nakamura, #1 chess player in the USA

Bobby Fischer, a legend of American chess, XI World Chess Champion

Hikaru Nakamura and Bobby Fischer- arguably the two strongest American chess players in history. But who would win in a match?

Hikaru Nakamura showed what a dangerous beast he is becoming at the very top of the world elite, by winning the London chess classic at the weekend.

The second rapidplay game against Kramnik was a truly epic encounter and displayed what I believe to be Naka's greatest strength- his ability to resist in even the most hopeless of situations. Even the watching Super-Grandmasters, Luke McShane and Judit Polgar, looked shocked at the end of the game, as shocked as Kramnik was, when Nakamura turned around what looked like a clear exchange down position to trick the Russian and proceed to the final.

Of course, even an exchange down Nakamura had some tricks. He had a d-pawn. And that was enough, because by using this d-pawn as a springboard for some amazing tactical resistance, he was able to utterly bamboozle Kramnik, who left the board shaking his head, astonished no doubt at the never say die attitude of the American (and no doubt also confused by his own crumpling under pressure).

Clearly there are many similarities between Nakamura, and his great American predecessor, Fischer.
Both are highly charismatic, not afraid to say what they think. This openness and honesty may upset those lighter souls, but ensures they can never be accused of being boring. They are both great fighters, refusing to take draws in even the most arid of situations. Both are highly competitive and are imbued with a desire to dominate, and even at times to humiliate the opposition.

Bobby Fischer; a highly charismatic figure, but his later years were marked by a descent into mental illness.

But they are also in many ways very different. While Fischer was totally devoted to chess, you sense that Nakamura has a wider range of interests, and therefore is not vulnerable to the kind of mental collapse that forced Fischer into early retirement, and later led to some controversial and at times rather incomprehensible views on world affairs.

Fischer was in his prime, completely absorbed, fascinated by the royal game. This fascination and aptitude for hard work, brought him to an astonishing level, so far up in the chess firmament that he was even able to challenge, and ultimately defeat, the otherwise seemingly unbreakable Soviet chess hegemony.

This absorption though, was to come at a cost as Fischer became so utterly engrossed in the unending depths of chess, that he began to lose his grip on reality, becoming ever more paranoid. It is hard to see such a fate welcoming Nakamura, who seems an arch realist both in chess and in life.

Not only are they subtly different in personality, but their chess styles are also in many ways, far apart. Fischer was a great strategist, and had a brilliant feel for the game. He looked at chess in simple terms, but beneath that native simplicity was a an astonishing human powerhouse of a brain, able to divine his way through even the most torturously complex of positions.

Naka in familiar blitz mode

Nakamura however seems to be a practical player par excellence- combined with an almost laser-like ability to spot tactics, this makes him extremely hard to beat, particularly at speed chess.

In fact his ability at blitz is so impressive and is indeed reminiscent of Fischer, who dominated the field at Herceg Novi in 1970.

I have had the rather awe-inspiring experience of having faced Nakamura at 1 minute chess, which is where he really comes into his element. It rather brings to mind the famous quote of the poker player Stu Ungar about his ability to play Gin Rummy:  "Someday, I suppose it's possible for someone to be a better No-Limit Hold'em player than me. I doubt it, but it could happen. But, I swear to you, I don't see how anyone could ever play gin better than me."

Like Stu Ungar, I find it difficult to conceive of a better 1 minute player than Nakamura. Maybe Carlsen, and a match at the quickest time control between the two I would pay to see.

So the chess qualities of both Fischer and Nakamura are clear to see. But let's imagine that we have a time machine, and we send Nakamura back to 1972, when Fischer was at his absolute peak. Who would win?

I believe the match would be very close. Both players are rated in the high 2700s, Fischer at 2785 and Nakamura 2789. Four points in it, a hairs breadth. But while Fischer's rating at the time was far in advance from the opposition, rather Bob Beamonesque (it was to take Kasparov almost twenty years to overtake this record).

Naka's rating doesn't set him apart from his contemporaries. In fact he lags more than 80 points behind the almost freakish rating of Carlsen. But does that mean that ratings are inflated, and Fischer was in fact the stronger player?

I'm not so sure. As I've stated before, standards rise over time, and while Fischer's accomplishments were extremely impressive, subsequent generations have been able to learn and absorb the lessons that he showed us, and been able to take chess to an even higher level of excellence.

I think where Fischer would struggle in this theoretical match, is in the amount of resistance that Nakamura would be able to demonstrate. Bobby would no doubt be taken aback by the tactical abilities and defensive skills of Nakamura, honed by working with powerful chess engines, that display remarkable abilities to save any position.

Garry Kasparov, the bridge between the generations.

Garry Kasparov agreed to coach Nakamura, because he saw something in him, that he also saw in Carlsen. The ability to transform him him into a contender for the highest chess crown of all.

Despite being known as the leaders of the new, computer generation, young talents like Carlsen and Nakamura can learn infinitely more from analysing with Kasparov than any amount of time spent with an engine, but that computer analysis still gives them an edge that would make them extremely dangerous against Fischer, who was from a different generation altogether.

I think of this when I saw this quote from the German grandmaster Michael Bezold, who was lucky enough to spend some time analysing with the legendary American Grandmaster.

"According to Bezold, he was obsessed with a game from the 1960's, and the question was whether or not to move the pawn to h6. This was the only question. And he said he'd been analysing this game for thirty years, and he still couldn't figure out whether it's better to play h6 or not. It was fantastic."

A fascinating account, but now a young player would just stick the same position on an engine and come to the correct conclusion in a micro second. The computer would say 0.48, they'd nod their head in agreement, then they'd move on. It's a different, perhaps more cynical generation, but it's a highly effective one.

Of course the possibility of a match between Fischer and Nakamura will never happen. A far more realistic possibility is for the young American to fight for the chess crown in the future. But a great hurdle waits in his path. If Naka wishes to become a chess icon, like Fischer was, he has to win the world championship and to do that he will have to defeat Carlsen, a formidable task that has so far proved beyond him.

But whatever the final outcome to the Nakamura story, it is clear that the chess world is a far more interesting place with him in it.

Originally published in GM Danny Gormally's blog

Other posts by GM Danny Gormally:
Interesting thoughts of Anand in defeat
London Chess Classic Preview
Losing your motivation
Playing blitz chess online & all the computer cheats
Anand-Carlsen borefest continues
Magnus, is this all he has?
A clash of kings
Do we overrate ourselves?
Computers and their all-pervading influence on modern chess
From Russia with love
The England Chess Team & Jack Wilshire
Should the grandmaster title be scrapped?
ECF Book of the Year?
Is being a chess pro worth it - continued?
Is being a chess pro worth it?
An Elitist Game?
Does hard work in chess pay off?
World Cup Final preview
World Chess Cup Semi-Final preview
World Chess Cup Quarter-Final preview
World Chess Cup 1/8-final preview
Why are Russians so good at chess?
British Champs-2013
Ghent and now the British
I'll never be fat again!
Lessons learnt!
The sad case of Borislav Ivanov: Part II
Does Anyone Have a Cure for Anger Problems?
The Depth of Chess
Fundraising in chess
Nurturing a Chess Prodigy
The Sad Case of Borislav Ivanov
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men - Part II
4NCL Impressions: no country for old men
One move, one line - Part II
One move, one line
Candidates Final Review & Preview of Upcoming World Championship Match
Would Carlsen have beaten Capablanca?

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Comments (3)
1. Written by 0_x on 10:40 15 2014 .
"The best people in the world are crazy & entirely bonkers..." 
said Alice. 

In wonderland. LoL :p 
2. Written by JDB on 17:41 03 2014 .
I enjoyed this piece.
3. Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it on 12:27 02 2014 .

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