The following is a conversation with Hikaru Nakamura,
a chess super grandmaster.
He’s one of the greatest chess players in the world,
including currently being ranked world number one
in blitz chess.
He’s also one of the most popular chess streamers
on Twitch and YouTube,
which you should definitely check out.
His channel’s name on both is GM Hikaru.
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in the description.
And now, dear friends, here’s Sukaru Nakamura.
You and Magnus played a private game,
40 games of Blitz in 2010 in Moscow at a hotel.
This sounds and just feels legendary.
Final score was 24.5 to 15.5 from Magnus.
Where’d you find out the score?
I’m actually curious.
I don’t think it was publicly said
or it was very briefly said,
but it wasn’t ever mentioned in a serious way, so.
I think it’s a deep dive based on a few links
that started at a subreddit,
which is how all great journeys start.
Yeah, so this is kind of a crazy story.
This was not pre-planned at all.
I remember this quite well.
I went out to dinner that final night
with someone who was actually very hype
within the Internet Chess Club at that time.
I went out for a nice dinner.
I think I had like a couple of drinks.
Maybe it was wine, beer, I don’t know what it was.
And I think towards the end of the dinner,
somehow they got word of this
and they relayed the information to me
that Magnus wanted to play a private match.
Now, I agreed to play this match.
Probably I should not have.
And actually, it has nothing to do
with like the state of having been out,
had a few drinks, anything of that nature.
But the reason that I probably should not
have agreed to play this match
and why I very oftentimes reference it
as one of the biggest mistakes
in terms of competitive chess that I made
is specifically because it gave Magnus
a chance to understand my style of chess.
And at the time, I actually had pretty good results
I think maybe he was up one or two games,
but there were many games where I had been pressing
close to winning against him prior to that match.
And so when I went and played that match,
there were a few things that happened.
First of all, Magnus really started to understand my style
because we played all sorts of different openings.
And so I think he understood that at times
I wasn’t so great in the opening.
And there were many openings where I would play
slightly dubious variations as opposed to the main lines.
And then secondly, from my standpoint,
the problem that I realized
is since we were playing with an increment,
there were many games where I was close to winning
and he would defend end games amazingly well.
He would defend what are technically drawn end games,
but where I would have like an extra pawn,
it would be like rook and bishop versus rook and knight.
Say I have four pawns, he has three pawns,
end games of this nature.
Now, if you aren’t super into chess,
you might not understand what I’m referring to.
If you are, you will.
But there are end games where one side
might have extra material, an extra pawn,
say extra two pawns, but theoretically it’s a draw.
So it’s perfectly-
Can you give an example of the set of pieces?
We’re talking about five, six, seven pieces,
like this kind of thing?
So, okay, like a very basic one would be rook and four pawns
against rook and three pawns.
So that would be nine total pieces on the board,
four pawns on one side, three pawns on the other side,
but it’s all on the same side of the board.
Now, this is a technical draw.
It’s been known for probably, let’s just say,
70 years roughly, give or take,
that this is a theoretical draw.
No matter the position of the pawns?
It’s just all the pawns are on one side of the board.
But like where they are?
So it’s like, let’s just say they’re four pawns right here.
They’re just four pawns.
And black has three pawns.
So your pawns are on H6, G6, and F6.
And there are no other pawns on the board,
something like this.
And you both have rooks.
And it’s a draw.
So no matter what the next 50 moves of the game are,
we know that it’s a drawn endgame with perfect play.
And so it was things like this
where Magnus actually saved,
I wanna say like five or six of these.
And I remember it quite well
because I think the score was very, very close
up until probably the last 10 games of the match.
And then at the end, he started winning in spades.
But there were a lot of situations
where he was up like one game
or maybe two games in the match,
and I had some endgame like this,
and I was not able to win the endgame.
And so for me, after that match,
it wasn’t even so much that I lost the match
or the margin I lost by,
but it was the fact that I realized
how hard it was to beat him
even once you got the advantage.
And I think for Magnus,
he learned that my weakness was openings.
I remember, because I actually,
I don’t remember the game itself,
but there was a game we played in Sicilian Nidorf.
And he played this variation with Bishop G5
on move number six.
I’m sure you can insert a graphic later, I can show you.
And I think-
Sicilian is a type of opening.
Sicilian’s the opening, Nidorf is the variation.
It was played by Bobby Fischer,
the former world champion,
Garry Kasparov as well.
And so we played all sorts of different openings
because of course it’s not a serious,
it’s a serious match,
but it’s not serious where it’s gonna count for the ranking.
So you’re trying to fill out
where your opponent is strong versus weak.
And so there was one game,
I remember this very clearly.
He played the Bishop G5 variation in the Nidorf.
And I think I played E5 or I played Knight Bd7 in E5,
which is dubious.
It’s not the best response.
And that’s just one example
where I was playing things that were a little bit dubious,
and I was not playing the absolute main line
with 20 moves of theory.
So I was trying to get outside of theory.
And I think Magnus learned from that
that even though it appeared
that I was very well prepared in these openings,
I wasn’t quite at that level.
Couldn’t you have a different interpretation
of you going outside of the main line,
that you’re willing to experiment, take risks,
that you’re chaotic,
and that’s actually a strength, not a weakness?
Especially when you’re sitting in a hotel room
late at night, this is past midnight,
I mean, why do you interpret that that’s your weakness?
Because Magnus, going forward,
was able to figure out the lines
where you have to be super precise.
You cannot deviate at all.
And I got punished out of the opening in many games.
So it was like, it wasn’t about the Nidorf,
the opening or the variation specifically,
but he knew what my repertoire was,
and he would pick lines
where I had to play the absolute best lines
in order to equalize, or I would be much worse.
And he was very effective at doing that.
But nevertheless, it’s pretty legendary
that the two of you,
you’re one of the best chess players in the world
throughout the whole period, still today,
that you just sat down in a hotel room
and played a ton of chess.
Like, what was that like?
I mean, what’s the, there’s a,
I think there’s a, there is a little,
here, there is a little video of it.
I mean, this is like epic, right?
How did this video exist, by the way?
I think there was one journalist, Macaulay Peterson,
who was able to film parts of it.
So it was in a room.
It was me and Magnus.
I think Henrik was there.
I think Macaulay was there, and that was it.
People can go on YouTube and watch.
It’s on Chess Digital Strategies, Macaulay Peterson channel.
For people who are just listening to this,
there’s a dimly lit room with a yellow light
emerging out of the darkness of the two faces of
Macaulay, I mean, and the deep focus here.
And what time is this?
This is probably like one in the morning.
This was, I believe, the day after the final,
this was the day that the final round occurred
and the closing ceremony, so we’re playing afterwards.
I mean, are you able to appreciate the epicness of this?
Many of my favorite memories are actually similar to this.
Another memory that I really have,
that I recall very fondly, was after the US Championship.
It was called the 2005 US Chess Championship.
It was held at the end of 2004 in,
I believe it was in La Jolla in San Diego.
I won that event, and after that event,
I was playing Blitz probably for like four or five hours
in the lobby of the hotel.
So it’s the same kind of situation where you’re just playing
for the love of the game as opposed to anything else.
Of course, nowadays, I think both for Magnus and myself,
just playing a dimly lit room like this
would almost certainly not happen.
There would probably have to be certain stakes
involved for us to play, but if you go back in time,
these are the sorts of memories and moments
that would happen all the time.
So is there a part of you that doesn’t regret
that this happened?
I think it comes back to my general philosophy.
I feel like everything happens for a reason,
and so because I have that, that’s one of my core beliefs,
I don’t really look back on it as mistakes.
I feel like everything has happened,
and things have transpired the way they have for a reason.
If I look at it in terms of potentially
world championship aspirations,
I think certainly it was a big mistake
because from a competitive standpoint,
Magnus figured out what my weaknesses were at the time,
and he exploited it for many, many years.
In fact, I think if you look at the match
I played against him in the Meltwater Tournament
at the, I think that was in June, or no, it was later.
It was like September of 2020.
We played this epic match.
It was the finals of the tour,
and it went all the way to the seventh match.
Magnus won in Armageddon,
and in that match, my openings were much better.
I was able to match him in the openings.
I was not worse out of the opening in most of the games,
and that made a huge difference,
but for many years, he was able to exploit my openings,
and that’s why the score,
I mean, it’s not the only reason,
but it’s one of the reasons the score
is so lopsided the way it is.
Is there any of those games that you mentioned,
the seven games that are interesting to look at,
to analyze, ideas that you remember
that are interesting to you?
I mean, the whole, it was actually,
so to set it up, and this probably will come into play
in terms of world championship format,
it was seven matches of four games,
so we played a four-game match,
and after four games, say I’m up 2 1⁄2, 1 1⁄2,
I win match number one.
So it’s like you have to win four matches of four games.
Do you remember how you won?
There were a couple of Berlin games in the sixth match,
I believe, in the seventh match as well,
where Magnus actually made some mistakes,
and I won some critical games.
You’re gonna have to explain some basics here.
So Berlin’s the type of opening, what’s that?
The Ruy Lopez, or the Spanish opening,
it actually existed all the way back in the 60s,
but it really became popular in 2001, I believe it was,
when Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Kramnik
played their world championship match.
Kasparov had been the world champion for a very long time,
I think it was close, I think it was about 15,
15 years roughly, maybe a little bit more than that,
and he lost the match
because when Garry had the white pieces,
Kasparov was not able to effectively get an advantage.
A lot of those games were very quick draws,
and in chess, you want to put pressure on your opponent
when you have the white pieces,
so Kasparov was not able to do anything
with the white pieces,
and Kramnik was able to beat him
when the colors were reversed.
Kramnik won a game in the Grunfeld,
he won a game in one of the Queen’s Gambit,
declined slash Nimzo variations as well,
and that was the reason
Garry Kasparov lost the world championship title,
was because of this variation.
Can you teach me the Berlin opening?
Absolutely, so the opening starts,
let me just move this microphone up a little bit,
it starts with E4, and then it goes E5,
Knight F3, Knight C6,
yeah, Bishop B5, and now Knight to F6.
And at which point is this the standard,
like, this is the Berlin standard?
Yeah, this is the Berlin,
this is the starting position of the Berlin defense,
and white has many, many options here.
Now, it’s interesting,
because I did work with Garry at a certain point,
and I remember I had access to his database,
and he had something like 220 files on the Berlin defense,
because what happened is,
is Garry’s somebody who, the way that he learned chess,
it’s very much like, there are certain openings
that are okay, there are other openings that are not okay.
So this was considered dubious at the time.
And so Garry basically decided to go into this endgame
with castles, Knight takes pawn.
Why is the castling an endgame?
So I’ll show you, Knight takes pawn.
All these moves are very, very forced.
You got pawn to D4.
What does it mean, they’re very forced?
That means, like, those are the optimal things
that you should be doing?
Exactly, these moves are, I think they’re almost,
at least for black, they’re absolutely forced,
or else you end up in trouble.
You said Knight takes D4?
Knight to D6.
So this attacks the bishop on B5.
Black takes back with the pawn in front of the queen.
Pawn takes pawn.
Knight to F5.
And then it goes, queen takes queen.
King takes queen.
It’s very aggressive.
Yeah, so you get this position
where we’re in an endgame.
You just ruined all the normal conventions, I guess.
On the other hand, for Kramnik it was quite brilliant,
because Gary, what he was known for
was opening preparation and getting the advantage.
He was a very tactical, very aggressive player,
and you’re playing an endgame right from the start.
Now, Gary basically thought that this was better for white,
and he tried to prove it, and he was unable to prove it.
I think up until, maybe it was game nine or game 11.
Actually, maybe I have the order wrong,
because I think he was white in the even number games.
Basically, he spent four or five games
with the white pieces trying to win this endgame,
and he was not able to win.
In fact, he didn’t even come close to proving an advantage,
so he kept wasting the white pieces in that match,
and Kramnik basically took advantage.
When he had the white pieces and Gary had the black pieces,
he was able to win some games in very nice style,
and that was the difference.
That’s kind of brilliant.
So he had, this is a new problem presented in that match,
and Gary’s gut says-
White is better.
White is better, and so in white,
I’m going to push with this position,
and I’m gonna not change anything from match to match.
I’m going to try to find a way that this is better.
It’s that kind of stubbornness,
and what do you think about that?
That’s the way of chess, right?
That’s not a mistake.
That’s the way you should do it.
If your gut says this position is better,
you should capitalize, right?
I think that’s an old school way of thinking in chess,
because before computers, basically it was up to humans.
Your intuition, your calculation process
really determined whether a position is better,
and so in Gary’s time, if openings were dubious,
they’re dubious, it means somebody is better,
but as we’ve learned with computers now,
even small advantages, generally that doesn’t mean anything,
and a position is defendable where you won’t lose the game
if you play optimal moves,
even if the advantage is like half a pawn, for example,
like 0.50, with optimal play,
a computer will still prove that that position,
you can hold it and not lose the game,
and so for Gary, he learned it where like,
if an opening’s not right, he knows it’s not correct.
He has to prove it.
Now finally, towards the end of the match,
he tried to switch, but it was already way too late,
and he didn’t have time to win with the white pieces.
He did come close in one of the later games,
but he spent the whole match trying to prove
that this Berlin defense is not playable.
So this position, the computer would say
that black is better.
It would say that white’s very slightly better
because black has moved the king.
You’re unable to castle the king,
and it’s kind of open in the center of the board.
Oh, so wait, so Stockfish or Danjin
would agree with Gary’s intuition?
Yes, but at the end of the day,
when you go like five moves deeper
in any number of the sequences,
it’s gonna go to 0.00.
Which means draw.
And that’s a bad thing because white should be winning.
Well, you wanna put pressure on your opponent
when you have the white pieces in any tournament, any match.
Got it, so if the engine says 0-0,
that means you’re not doing a good job of playing white.
Correct, you should be putting pressure.
That doesn’t mean you’re gonna win.
There are gonna be a lot of draws
because the game of chess has drawish tendencies,
but you wanna try.
Normally, the general approach these days
because of computers is you try to put pressure
on your opponent when you’re white.
And when you’re black, you try to be solid, make a draw.
That’s the general approach.
Now, when Gary was actually at his peak,
it was quite the opposite.
Gary was trying to win games with the black pieces as well
by playing openings like the Sicilian Night Orf.
But with modern technology,
and I did a podcast recently where I also spoke about this,
computers are so good and players can memorize so many lines
that nowadays trying to take risks with the black pieces,
it almost always backfires.
Or if you’re very lucky, you might make the draw,
but you never get the winning chances.
So from a risk-reward standpoint,
you have to play almost perfectly just to make the draw,
but you’re never gonna have any winning chances.
Where in the old days, generally you might lose the games,
but you’re gonna have chances to win as well.
But now it’s very much one-sided.
So a lot of players try to be very solid.
This is, by the way, the C Squared podcast?
Yeah, this is an amazing podcast.
So shout out to those guys.
I’m glad that they started a thing
that seems to be a good thing.
And I hope they keep going with this good thing.
That was a great interview that I did with you.
In that podcast, I talked about the Sicilian Eidorf.
Very aggressive opening.
The problem is white is the one who has the choices.
After the first five to six moves,
white has the choice of what do you wanna do.
Can you show me that opening?
Sure, so it’s, for example, that would be E4.
I’ll just set it up, E4.
And now we get knight to F3, pawn to D6.
Pawn to D4, trade.
Knight to F6.
Knight to F6.
And now pawn to A6.
So this is an Eidorf.
Bobby Fischer really popularized it
in his run up to becoming the world champion.
Gary played it for probably the last 15 to 20 years
of his career.
So it’s a very solid opening defense.
What’s interesting about this,
so there’s a, for people listening,
on the white side, there’s a couple of knights out.
So black has many options.
Black can play for B5 here to develop the bishop to B7.
Because the pawn on A6 guards the pawn on B5.
You can also play other setups, like potentially G6
and putting the bishop on G7.
Okay, so you can play the bishop on G7.
You can play the bishop on G7.
Putting the bishop on G7.
Okay, so bringing, doing different things
and bringing out the-
You can also push the pawn to E5
or push the pawn to E6.
So there are many different setups
and it’s very, very flexible.
But white is the one who has the choice here
in terms of what to play.
And there are many moves.
There is this move that I mentioned before,
bishop to G5, which Magnus played against me.
There’s also bishop to E3, bishop to C4.
And now there are also moves like H3, H4, Rook G1.
Even moves like A3 and A4.
So there basically are nine or 10 moves
that white can play here.
But the move that white plays sort of dictates
the direction of the game.
And you have to be extremely precise if you’re black.
So if white plays something like bishop G5,
this is very sharp and aggressive.
But you can also play something like bishop to E3,
pawn to E5, and something like knight to F3 here.
And it goes in a positional direction.
So again, this is very advanced.
These are very advanced sort of setups.
And what I’m explaining is not at a basic level.
But white is the one who chooses the type of game.
Is it very aggressive, very sharp,
or both sides of chances?
Is it something very positional,
where if you’re black, you’re probably okay,
but you have to play the best moves in order to equalize,
or you can end up worse.
Okay, so you’re always responding
as black in this situation.
So how different are all those different variations?
So like with the bishop, with the different,
you said you bring out the bishop to this position,
to this position, or to that position.
Like how are those fundamentally different variations?
Like I just wonder from a AI computational perspective,
like a single step.
Yeah, well, I’ll make it even simpler here.
If you put the knight here, it’s very positional.
If you put the knight on this square, it’s very aggressive.
Because normally white is going to push this pawn
from F2 to either F3 or F4,
and potentially a pawn to G4 later.
So even here, based on where you go,
it changes whether it’s a positional game
or it’s a very tactical.
Just those little, and those are the choices
you’re constantly making.
Am I going to be standard and basic and positional,
or am I going to be aggressive and take risks?
And I can actually give you another example.
So psychology plays a big role.
And in the candidates tournament,
which I played in June of this past year in Madrid, Spain,
I actually, I had the white piece against Ali Reza Faruja,
who is a rising junior, originally from Iran,
And I knew that he wanted very aggressive games.
So he doesn’t normally play the Sicilian Eidorff,
and he chose to play it in this one tournament.
So I knew that he wanted these very sharp positions
where he can lose, but he can also win.
And so when I played him,
I intentionally played this variation
because I knew that he was going to be unhappy.
He wanted these sharp, exciting games.
And here I am playing something very boring
where if he plays it correctly, it’s going to be a draw,
but he’s not going to be happy.
And so he actually did something dubious
because he wanted to create tension.
He wanted to create chaos.
So you knew by being boring, you would frustrate him,
and then he would make mistakes.
Exactly, yes, yes.
So that played a big role.
That’s the ultimate troll
at the highest level of chess.
Yeah, you mentioned psychology,
and then taking us back to the Magnus,
even in 2010, the Magnus games.
Reddit said that you’ve spoken about losing to Magnus
being a hit on your confidence.
Is there some truth to that?
So is there some aspect about that 2010 match
that’s not just about Magnus figuring stuff out,
but just a hit on confidence?
Like how important is confidence at that level
when you’re both young and like firing out all cylinders?
Well, it’s not just a problem with me.
This is the problem everybody has when they play
against Magnus, because what happens is,
is on a broader level, when you play against somebody,
no matter who you’re playing against,
but when they’re somehow able to save positions
where they’re much worse, almost in miraculous ways,
the way that Magnus has done against everybody.
He’s done it against me, done it against Aronian
many times, done it against Kramnik, just about everybody.
When someone’s able to save games,
it really starts to affect you
because you don’t know what to do.
And the more and more times that happens,
it starts adding up and it just affects you
in a way that it’s very, very hard to overcome.
And I think every top player has that issue
where if they’ve played against Magnus
more than like five times,
they’ve seen things happen in the game
that don’t happen against anybody else.
And then psychologically,
it becomes harder and harder to overcome it,
which is why I think a lot of the junior players,
they don’t have this long history and it does affect them.
As far as myself directly,
certainly after that match though,
it was not the same playing against Magnus
because I viewed him completely differently too.
After all those games where he was saving these end games,
I started thinking like, this guy is superhuman,
but you can’t really have those thoughts
when you’re playing competitively.
But in the back of your mind, it’s always there.
And I think every top player has that issue.
Is there a way to overcome that?
Because you have to.
I don’t know if I’ll necessarily do better
against Magnus going forward,
but I felt that when I started playing against him
more than just a game here or there in classical chess.
During the pandemic, I played in these online tournaments,
seemed like every month.
I came very close.
I beat him in one event.
I think I lost in two others, and then the tour final.
But when I was playing against him more and more,
he didn’t feel superhuman.
It felt like as I’m playing more and more
and learning about his style, that I was doing better.
So I think for me, the weird thing is
that I just wasn’t playing against him that many games.
But when I start playing against like 20, 30 games
during the course of a year,
I actually started feeling more confident
because I feel like I can compete.
Whereas when I was only playing him like three
or four times in classical chess
in the previous couple of years, I wasn’t doing great.
And then you don’t have those glimpses of,
you don’t have those moments where you feel
like you’re going to be able to win against him.
But when you start playing 20, 30 games
and you get these opportunities,
even if you don’t convert,
you feel like you have the chances.
When you play three or four games
you might lose one, draw three,
you never have those opportunities.
And so you feel very negative about what’s going on.
When you were able to beat him
or not necessarily win the game,
but win positionally something, what was the reason?
Technically speaking, the matchup between the two of you,
what were the holes that you were able to find?
I mean, the answer I think is actually quite simple.
I think it’s all psychological, actually,
more than anything else.
Because I didn’t feel like I was doing anything differently,
but I was also not making the mistakes
that I was making before.
So I think it was more psychological than anything else.
On your part versus his part.
It’s very weird because when you think about chess,
it’s a mental game.
But we all are capable of beating Magnus, all of us,
but we all have very, very bad scores against him.
And I think people underestimate
how much of a role that plays.
And for me, when I played him in these online events
in 2020 specifically,
I felt like there was really nothing to lose,
which also ties into everything else that happened
during the pandemic as well.
But I just felt like there was nothing to lose.
And I felt like I was playing very freely, unlike before.
Now that’s not to say that Magnus isn’t a better player
that somehow I expect to beat him,
but I felt like I wasn’t making the same mistakes
that I was making in the previous years.
If we dig into the psychological preparation,
is there something to your mental preparation that you do
that makes you successful?
Like what are the lessons over all these years
that you learned?
What works, what doesn’t?
Do you drink a bunch of whiskey the night before?
Is there some small hacks or major ones
about how you approach the game?
It’s really hard sort of in a way
because I feel like I’m two different people.
I was one person up until the pandemic
as a professional chess player solely
where I earned all my income.
Everything was derived from that.
And from the pandemic on, I’m sort of a different person
because that is not where I’m making my income from.
And so the whole psychological profile that I had before
is completely different from now.
There’s this joke about the, I literally don’t care
phrase that I’ve used.
And in a sense, what that means is not that I don’t care.
Obviously I’m competitive, I want to do well.
But if I lose a game or I don’t do well in a tournament,
it’s not the end of the world in the same kind of way
that I felt it was before.
Because that pressure of needing to always perform
was very, very high.
And so I think before the pandemic,
what I would try to do more than anything
is just not think about the previous game
for the most part.
Like say I had a bad game,
I’d go out for a walk that evening, just clear my mind.
These sorts of things, now they aren’t really hacks per se,
but it’s trying essentially to have short-term memory loss.
So I literally don’t care.
It’s not just a meme, it’s a philosophy.
In a sense, yeah.
It’s a way of being.
It’s basically that, yes, I do want to perform well,
I’m going to give it my all,
but if I lose a game, it’s not the end of the world.
That should be the title of your autobiography.
And it should be, I know you’re probably mortal,
but if you do happen to die,
that should also be in your tombstone.
Charles Bukowski has Don’t Try in his tombstone.
Which I think emphasizes a similar concept,
but slightly different, more in the artistic domain,
which is, well, a lot of people
have different interpretations of that statement,
but I think it means don’t take things too seriously.
Yeah, I mean, I agree with that completely.
I think that if you look at my career prior to the pandemic,
I put huge amounts of pressure on myself
because I really wanted to be as good as I could be,
but it was the way I was earning a living.
One thing that’s very difficult about chess
is that only the top 20, maybe 30 players in the world
make a living from the game.
Now, you make a very good living.
No way am I diminishing chess,
but the problem with it is it’s not secure at all.
So if you don’t get invitations
to the absolute top tournaments,
which have prize funds from anywhere from maybe 100,000
up to potentially half a million dollars,
if you don’t get those invitations,
it’s very, very hard to earn a living.
You can go from earning maybe 200,000, $300,000 a year
to earning like 50,000.
So it’s very, very unstable.
And I think for myself,
I really put a lot of pressure on myself
and in a way that it affected me and not in a good way.
So in part, it was also financial pressure.
So like once you’re able to make money elsewhere,
it makes you more free to take risks,
to play the pure game of chess.
Yeah, it makes, yeah, exactly.
It makes, it made me, it took all that pressure off
and I kind of, I’m just trying to play as well as I can.
And I don’t really worry.
Like if I lose a game, it’s not the end all be all.
And maybe that’s just like psychological stuff
that I should have tried to sort out before.
I mean, I did at some period of time,
like do certain things along those lines,
but I just, yeah, I became free.
And I think it definitely, it was not about the chess.
And that’s one of those things that’s also very hard
because when I look at myself
and when I had these periods
where it seemed like I played better or improved,
one of these periods was in 2008,
where I basically, I dropped out of college.
I was about 2,650 Elo,
so I was roughly top 100 in the world.
And for the first probably half part of 2008,
I played very little, almost not all.
I went up to Vancouver.
I was living on my own for the first time
and I was not studying that much.
And then after that period, I started playing
and I actually improved very quickly
and I broke 2,700 shortly thereafter.
So it had nothing to do with chess.
When you moved to Vancouver and weren’t doing much,
what were you doing exactly?
Oh, I was enjoying nature.
I was going outside, hiking mountains,
like going and kayaking,
all these things that I was not,
that I had not done for many years.
I’m glad I asked, because I was imagining something else.
I was imagining you like in a dark room,
drinking and playing video games.
Not at all.
That’s an interesting break.
So dropping out of college and then giving,
taking a break and then giving everything to chess
in terms of preparation and so on.
Maybe actually, if we can rewind back to the beginning,
you’ve said about yourself
that you’re not a naturally talented chess player.
Your brother was, but that’s really fascinating
because what would you say was the reason
you’re able to break through
and become one of the best chess players in the world,
having been not a naturally talented chess player?
Yeah, I think that this applies to actually chess
or any number of sort of basic games,
actually, for that matter,
is that I’m not naturally talented,
but if I don’t get something,
I try to figure out why don’t I get it?
What am I doing wrong?
Over and over and over again.
And I mean, there are many games like this.
There’s this funny game on the phone.
I’ll just use it as an example.
There’s a game called Geometry Dash.
Now, I’m not like, I’m not world-class or anything at it.
It’s just a silly little game on the phone that you play.
You just tap and it goes up and down.
People will probably know what that is.
But like I said, I played that for maybe like an hour or so.
I just randomly play this for one hour
and I was terrible at it.
And I kind of forgot about it for a week.
And then I came back, I saw it on my phone.
I’m like, okay, what am I doing wrong?
Like, why am I not good at this game?
So I spent like probably like a hundred hours
over the following month,
just playing it nonstop over and over and over again
to get better at it.
And again, I’m not like world-class or anything,
but I’m pretty good at the game.
And so with chess, it’s the same thing.
It’s like, when I started out, it’s like,
why am I not good?
What am I doing wrong?
And I basically refused to accept
that I couldn’t be good at the game.
And so, at the start, I actually,
I played for a couple of months.
I did very poorly.
And then my parents stopped me
from playing for about six months.
They just said, no, you’re not playing.
Your brother’s quite good.
And my brother was one of the top ranked players
in his age group in the United States.
So you’re not playing.
Then after about six months,
they relented and they let me play.
And the first term back, I actually, it was four games.
I was playing against other kids
and I won the first three games.
So it was really good.
And then I lost the form of checkmate in the fourth game,
which is, of course, quite ironic.
How did you?
Oh, I guess this is, how old were you at this time?
I would have been about eight years old, seven or eight.
So an eight year old future top ranked chess player has,
so it’s great to know that somebody
has lost to that checkmate.
So it’s possible to lose to that checkmate.
I remember that game quite well, yeah.
Was it, I mean, at that time,
did you know that that checkmate exists?
I mean, I think I probably knew it existed,
but I didn’t, I was just playing.
Like it’s a completely different world than now.
If a kid goes on their computer,
they can immediately figure out
what are the basic checkmates, all these different things.
At the time that didn’t really exist.
You’d have to find it in a book.
Yeah, so this is just a basic blunder.
Yeah, so it’s like I came back, it was a very good start.
And then I lose like this, but I stuck with it.
I improved very, very quickly thereafter.
And yeah, it was very straightforward.
What was the secret to that fast improvement?
So you said like this very first important step,
which is saying like, what am I doing wrong?
Like I have to figure out what I’m doing wrong,
but then you actually have to take the step
of figuring out what you’re doing wrong.
Yeah, I think it was just, I played as much as I could.
Like it wasn’t like I was consciously thinking about it.
As an eight-year-old, you’re not really thinking
about those sorts of things or the big picture.
So I just basically kept playing as much as I could,
whether it was online, whether it was against my brother,
reading these chess books as much as I could.
I just devoured as much information as I could.
So you were studying chess books?
You were studying chess books?
I was, I mean, I wasn’t studying them
cover to cover, though.
It’s like you just study certain diagrams,
So openings and stuff like that, you were?
Mostly tactics, actually.
Openings were not, other than top-level chess,
openings were not a thing, probably.
I wanna say for players below maybe master level
in a serious way until maybe like the early 2000s.
So for people who don’t know chess,
what kind of tactical ideas are interesting
and basic to understand that once you understand,
you take early leaps in improvement?
Yeah, so it’s things like forks, for example,
where you attack two pieces at the same time,
discovered attacks like checkmates,
and again, winning like a queen or other material.
Those are probably two most important ones.
Batteries, or batteries and pins, things of that nature.
How many, how rich is the world of,
and by the way, discovered attacks
are when you move a piece.
And you put a king in check to win like a rook,
for example, or other material.
And forking pieces is when you’re attacking two pieces,
so obviously the other person can’t move
two pieces at a time,
and they’re gonna have to lose one of them.
Okay, so how big is the world, the universe of forks
and discovered attacks?
You know, I myself know, so there’s like knights attacking
attacking like, what is it?
There are forks, knight attacking like a queen and a rook,
for example, or like a pawn attacking a queen and a rook,
or like a rook and a bishop.
There, I mean, but I will say that I think that with chess,
the more of these patterns you see,
the quicker you catch them.
And that’s how you improve, I think, the most,
is by learning these basic tactical themes
at the beginner levels.
Are you, when you’re discovering those patterns,
are you looking at the chessboard,
or are you looking at some like higher dimensional
representation of the relative position of the pieces?
So basically something that’s disjoint of the particular
absolute position of the piece,
but like you’re seeing patterns like this kind of pattern,
but elsewhere on the board.
Like are you thinking in patterns
or in like absolute positions of the pieces?
Both, I think that at the higher levels,
you’re always thinking about like,
you’re thinking about the patterns
on one side of the board specifically,
but then also what happens is you play more and more.
If you’re a very strong player,
you will be able to remember say pawn structures
where the pawns are on certain squares
from games that you’ve played like 15, 20 years ago,
So it’s a mix.
I think a lot of it is more subconscious
than actively thinking about it
and like figuring it out like that.
The only thing for me that I definitely
am doing very frequently when I play
is trying to look at my pieces.
Are they placed on the optimal squares?
Are there better squares?
And then once I get past that, like using the basic logic,
I start to think about, okay, what pure calculations,
like what are the moves that make a lot of sense
and start calculating direct moves.
But one of the most basic things that I think
that I do that a lot of people actually should do
that they don’t do is looking at the piece placement
and trying to figure out what pieces look like
they’re on good squares versus bad squares.
So am I, for each piece asking the question,
am I in my happy place?
Am I in my like optimally happy place?
Yeah, I think that’s very important.
If we look at this position on the board right now,
this is a good example.
Who is not in their happy place on the board right now?
I think both sides are actually pretty happy right now.
But the thing is, if you’re playing with a black piece,
what is a move that sticks out to you
to like follow basic principles?
Basic principles probably bring out the bishop.
And then castle the king.
And castle the king.
Right, exactly, that’s correct.
And that’s what you should do.
That’s the best way to play the position.
Now, once you do that though-
By the way, I have a vibrating device inside me right now.
So I knew that.
So my rating is 3,400,
which is what I believe Stockfish is.
No, it’s higher.
It’s like 3,800 actually.
Is it 3,800?
I think it is.
I’m using an earlier version of Stockfish.
Anyway, sorry, you were saying-
So like that’s very basic.
But then if you move the bishop out and you castle the king,
well, let’s just say bishop B7.
Play this, you castle.
Okay, so now you’ve done everything
with the pieces on the king side.
So what would be the next set of,
what’s the next way to try and develop the pieces?
So everything here is pretty strong,
except maybe this pawn?
I don’t know.
Okay, but think about the pieces.
So by pieces, I mean everything except the pawns.
Except the pawns, okay.
Probably either bishop or knight on the other side.
Yeah, and that is correct.
You want to bring out the bishop and the knight.
So let’s say you go bishop E6.
Bishop E6, yeah.
Now you can move the knight to either square.
It’s somewhat irrelevant, but just move the knight.
I’ll just play it.
Knight to C6.
What was your random move?
Bringing the bishop out?
I just moved my rook to the center.
Okay, got it.
Well, what’s your unhappy place right now?
Okay, so let me move the queen
to just follow some basic principles.
Okay, because I want to bring my rooks
to the center of the board.
So like in this position,
you’ve pretty much developed all your pieces.
There are only two pieces
that you haven’t brought into the game.
The queen and the rook.
You consider it to be in the game because of this?
I wouldn’t say it’s in the game,
but there isn’t really a great square
for that rook right now.
But in this position,
you would probably move your rook to C8,
and then the middle game begins after that.
Got it, so here.
Because now you’ve gotten your piece
to all the optimal squares,
and now you have to look for a specific plan,
but you have gotten these pieces developed
out of the opening.
And that’s a very basic thing
that I think a lot of people don’t think about
is what are the optimal placements for the pieces?
So you’re constantly thinking about the pieces
that are not in their optimal placement
as you’re doing all the other kind of tactics
and stuff like that.
But that’s a basic thing that people can follow.
Actually doing pure calculations,
like moving five or 10 moves in your head,
that’s not realistic.
But trying to use basic logic
to figure out what pieces are on squares
that look correct is something anybody can do.
What about looking at the other person’s pieces
and thinking about the optimal placement of them?
If you see a bunch of pieces
not in their optimal placement for the opponent,
what does that tell you?
I mean, that’s a higher level concept, of course.
I’m trying to give a beginner example.
That is something that I do think about as well.
I try to think about my opponent’s pieces.
That is basic logic.
I think a lot of people these days,
at the upper levels of chess,
they look at the game as something of pure calculation,
and you lose that human element.
You’re trying to just calculate
all these different sequences of moves,
and you don’t think about the basics.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens
with the next generation of kids who become very strong,
because that is really how they approach the game.
They learn with computers.
Whereas I learned with computers at a certain point,
but I did not start off with computers from the get-go.
So that human element still exists in my game.
Actually, Magnus, I think, has said this too,
where he did not use a computer, I think,
until he was maybe 11 years old, something around there.
So we have that human element to our game
that I think the newer generation won’t have.
Now, it doesn’t mean they aren’t gonna be better than us,
but it’s gonna be a completely different approach.
What do you mean by human element?
It’s just basic logic versus raw calculation.
So it’s like anybody now will use a computer
from the time they start the game.
And you use a computer, you look at the evaluations
after the game to see how you’re doing.
But you don’t really ever have those moments
where you’re just, it’s you,
or it’s just you and your opponent.
One thing that was great in the old days
before computers simply became too strong
is that you would actually do analysis
with your opponent after the game.
And that’s very much two humans analyzing a game.
It’s you and your opponent, two peers,
and you come up with these human ideas.
It’s not automatically run back to your room,
look with a computer, and oh, I should’ve played this move,
and it’s just like winning the game.
So that is kind of something that no longer exists
in the game of chess because, as I said,
there’s no reason to analyze with your opponent
after the game.
Are there ideas that the engine tells you
that you can’t reverse engineer with logic
why that makes sense?
Can you start to just memorize it that’s good?
Yes, so in the opening, for sure,
there’s certain positions where moves are playable.
And I can even give you an example,
actually, in this knight or if we can just
set the position up a few moves earlier.
Yeah, knight over on B8, bishop on C8,
and just move the king back to the center,
bishop back to F8, and pawn to E7.
So the pawn in front of the king
can just push it back two squares.
So here’s an example.
There’s a move here that nowadays humans will play,
which is this move, pawn to H4.
And this is a move that 20 years ago,
if someone showed this move to Kasparov,
he would just laugh at them.
No matter who you were, he would basically say,
you’re an idiot, what is this move?
You’re pushing a pawn on the edge of the board.
It does nothing.
And this is something that’s playable,
but even if you were to ask me or any other top grandmaster
why it’s playable or why it’s a move that makes sense,
we wouldn’t be able to say why it makes sense
because it doesn’t.
We just know that it’s fine
because the computer says it’s fine.
It’s fine or is it good?
It’s just fine.
It probably, like everything else,
is equal with perfect play,
but it definitely, if you’re not careful with black,
you can be worse, for sure.
But if you ask me, I can’t say why it’s a good move.
I can say, okay, maybe I’m gonna expand on the king side.
I’ll push this pawn here and push the pawn forward.
Maybe I can put the bishop on G5,
and in some situations, the pawn guard’s a bishop,
but I can’t give an actual good explanation
for why it’s a move that makes sense
because it doesn’t make sense.
It’s fascinating that young people today,
kids these days, would probably do that move
much more nonchalantly.
You’ll see that a lot more
because they know it’s safe, at least.
Right, because they know the computer says it’s fine,
but I grew up without computers,
and so to me, it’s you’re pushing a pawn on the edge.
It’s the opening phase.
You don’t do things like this.
It’s just, it looks ridiculous.
Now, of course, I have worked with computers long enough
that I know, like I’m not,
I know that computers are,
computers prove that everything is fine,
but still, to me, it does feel wrong.
Yeah, well, I think as computers get better,
they’ll also get better at explaining,
which they currently don’t do,
at basically being able to do,
so first of all, simple language generation,
so a set of chess moves to language conversion,
explaining to us dumb humans
of why this is an interesting tactical idea.
They currently don’t do that.
You’re supposed to figure that out yourself.
Like, why, what’s the deep wisdom
in this particular pawn coming out in this kind of way?
Let me ask you a ridiculous question.
Do you think chess will ever get solved
from the opening position
to where we’ll know the optimal, optimal level of play?
I highly doubt it.
Without major advances in quantum computing,
I don’t think it’s realistic
to expect chess to be hard solved.
I just, I don’t think that will happen,
but I don’t know.
It could happen 20, 30 years, maybe,
but I think in the near future, it’s not realistic.
Well, then let’s go up with a pothead follow-up question.
Suppose it does get solved.
What opening do you think will be the optimal?
Well, everything will be a draw, for sure,
after move one. For sure.
After move one, yes.
For sure. Absolutely.
You’re absolutely sure of that?
Why are you so sure?
I’m so sure because when you look at the computer games
and you see these decisive results,
it’s because the openings are set, generally.
They can’t, for move one, they play set openings.
Like, you might play the knight
or you might play the Berlin defense.
Normally, it’s set openings,
as opposed to computers being able to do whatever they want.
I just believe, in general,
in the openings that are symmetrical,
like E4, E5, D4, D5, the computers will draw,
and I think the optimal opening,
I think E4, E5, Knight F3, Knight F6,
is probably a guaranteed draw.
If there is perfect, if we have perfect information
and we know that chess is solved,
E4, E5, Knight F3, Knight F6,
the Russian or the Petrov defense,
that will be the optimal strategy.
See, so that’s symmetrical play
is going to lead to a draw,
but what if you can constantly, as White,
constantly keep the opponent off balance?
So yes, E4, then you’re always doing this symmetry,
but what if chess inherently,
there’s something about the mathematics of the game
that allows for that thin line that you walk
that maintains to the end game, the asymmetry,
constantly, that there’s no move
that can bring back the balance of the game.
You don’t think that exists?
I don’t think it does.
So basically I’m saying E4, E5, I think is a draw.
I think D4, D5 is a draw.
C4, C5, I think basically it’s symmetry.
All of it’s a draw.
I think that’s why it’s a draw.
So it doesn’t even matter.
Like you’re saying if it’s solved,
most openings will be a draw.
Yes, I think E4, D4, C4, Knight F3,
for sure will be a draw.
Other openings, I’m not sure about,
but those first four possible starting moves,
I think chess is a draw.
Knight F3, what’s the response to Knight F3?
Probably Knight F6 again.
Or to make it simple,
if I play Knight F3 on move one,
black here can also play D5 on move one.
And normally at some point,
white’s gonna end up playing D4.
So the order of-
So it’s probably gonna lead back,
yeah, all roads kind of lead back there as well.
There probably are other ways which,
where there is play,
but I think that’s at the end of the day,
the symmetry is what’s gonna lead to like a forced,
forced equality or a draw in the game of chess.
So Demis Hassabis is the CEO of DeepMind.
DeepMind helped create or created AlphaZero.
He says that he’s also a chess player
and he’s a fan of chess.
And he says the reason,
his hypothesis is that the reason chess is interesting
as a game is the creative, quote unquote,
between the bishop and the knight.
So like there’s so many different dynamics
that are created by those two pieces.
You think there’s truth to that?
I mean, some of that is just poetry,
but is there truth to that?
I think it’s definitely true
when you look at the imbalances
that are not like crazy attacking positions.
Like one thing that Bobby Fischer was really,
really good at when he was the world champion
is playing end games with a bishop versus a knight.
Now, traditionally we think of the knight
being better than the bishop, even today in end games.
But Fischer proved that there are a lot of end games
where a bishop is better than a knight.
So I do agree with that statement.
It’s like the imbalances between like bishops and knights
in many positions, you never really know.
Like there are many positions where a knight
is better than a bishop or knight and bishop
are better than two bishops or like,
it is all the, generally it is the imbalances though,
between the bishops and the knights
or combinations of the two pieces
that lead to the most interesting positions.
So I agree with that.
What about fun?
Is there like aspects that you find fun
within the game itself?
Not all the stuff around it,
but just the purity of the game.
I think for me these days,
when I see some of these moves that computer suggests
after a game that I play and I just go, wow,
that is the beauty for me.
Because these are not moves that I would ever consider.
And when I then see the move and then like,
I might make a couple of moves to try and understand why,
that is the beauty to me,
is seeing all these things that just like 10 years ago,
I never would have even seen.
Because computers weren’t at the level they’re at today.
And so the depth and creativity of what they’re saying,
even if it’s not like in our language,
but in the evaluation,
that’s where I find a lot of beauty.
Oh, that’s fun.
So like the computer is a source of creative fulfillment
I mean, I think also it’s very humbling as well.
It’s like, when you spend your whole life playing a game
and you get pretty good,
you think you’re pretty good at it.
But even like, even for Magnus,
I think when we look at it and you see like these things
that we’ve spent 20, 30 years playing this game,
and it just, it doesn’t click.
And then you see it, it’s just like,
it really is beautiful.
You’re known for being a very aggressive player.
What’s your approach to being willing to take big risks
at the chessboard?
Well, I think that’s another thing.
I was a very aggressive player,
probably until I got to about this 2,700 Elo.
And then it kind of, my style changed a little bit.
I think what it is, is I like to play attacking chess.
I loved playing openings like the King’s Indian,
the Sicilian Eidorff as well,
when I was a little bit younger.
And it’s just like, why not try to fight with both colors?
Try to fight in every game and win if you can.
Try as hard as you can.
Now, one of the things is, as you get better and better,
players are also better and better prepared.
So you have diminishing returns
when you play these very aggressive openings
like the King’s Indian or even the Dutch,
which I played for a while.
You can only, it only takes you so far.
And then at a point, people figure out
what, how to respond to those choices.
So I still do play these openings.
For example, I played a tournament in St. Louis
about three weeks ago
and I played a great King’s Indian game,
which I won against Jeffrey Zhang, an American junior player.
So I still do play it here and there.
But when you start playing it every game,
there’s a point at which when you lose these games,
you just can’t, it becomes too much.
And I spoke about this in the C Squared podcast
where I played the Eidorff.
And then I played Fabiano Caruana,
a very strong American player as well.
And he just blew me off the board
in like four straight games.
I’m like, okay, enough, enough of this.
I just can’t, I can’t keep doing it.
Because, do you think he prepared for that opening then?
Because you see what have,
what has my opponent been playing recently?
Where’s their ideas?
And so I’m going to prepare for those ideas
that they’ve been playing with.
Exactly, yeah, that’s what you do.
And also you have to be very self-critical
because for Fabiano,
the Eidorff was the one opening he did very poorly against,
but he worked really hard
and he came up with a lot of different ideas
and he solved that weakness.
What’s the role of,
you’re also known of having a bit of an ego.
What’s the role of ego in chess?
Is it helpful or does it get in the way?
I think it’s a mix.
I think there’s a fine line.
I think you have to be very confident
in order to get to the top.
I know some players are very expressive like myself,
like Kasparov and others.
There are other people like Anand who don’t express it,
but then there was a book
that I think was released fairly recently
where he basically said like he was really angry in his room
when he was banging walls or doing something with chairs.
I don’t remember the exact story,
but he was able to, in public,
he kept it very buttoned up,
but then in private, he wasn’t.
I think you have to have that edge.
If you don’t have that edge
and you don’t get upset when you lose games
because you will lose games along the way,
then it’s impossible to get anywhere near the top.
So I think every top player has that ego
or extreme confidence that is necessary.
If you don’t have that, you’ll never, I think,
get to the top, probably in almost any field, frankly.
Do you have to believe you’re the best
to have the capacity to be the best in the world?
Yeah, I think you have to have that.
I think, for me, it wasn’t really ever about
thinking I’m the best in the world.
It’s about going into that game.
That game, whoever I’m playing,
I believe that I can beat them
or I know that I’m gonna beat them
or I’m better than them.
For me, it was always about that,
whenever I’m in that moment in the game,
just knowing that I can do that.
I think that is also another thing
that when you start playing more and more
in these top tournaments,
you kind of lose that sometimes
because the positions,
you have the same opening strategies.
You end up with positions that are very drawish
where you reach end games, things of this nature,
and so it can also make you very jaded as well
after you’ve been up there for quite a long time.
Were there times you were an asshole to someone
and you regret it at the chessboard or beyond?
Yeah, so I think-
Asking internet questions.
Yeah, I mean, this is definitely true.
I’m not gonna pretend it isn’t.
When I was younger, I was very angry
when I would lose games on the internet.
Many of these stories are specifically
from the internet, of course,
and I think I look back on it,
and of course, I wish that I had been able
to channel the anger differently.
Basically, I think the simple gist of it is
I would play Blitz games online, and when I lost,
I would get angry at my opponents
instead of getting angry at myself,
which, of course, it’s silly
because they’re playing the game.
They’re trying to win.
Why shouldn’t they try to beat you?
I think, for me, I’m not happy about that
when I was a young teenager,
getting so angry over these online games
and insulting a lot of people along the way.
But maybe that paved the way to your streaming career.
I think, for me, I feel like having
that me-against-the-world attitude, though,
it really fueled me when I was younger,
feeling like it was me against the world,
everyone hating me or me hating the world.
That was very important.
I was able to channel that anger
in a way that really helped me improve.
So do I regret it?
On the one hand, yes.
Of course, I think you don’t wanna be like that.
On the other hand, where I’ve gotten as good as I am,
if it was different, I’m not so sure.
Well, then I’ll ask you to empathize with somebody else
who currently has a me-against-the-world attitude
and is helping him, which is Hans Niemann.
For several reasons,
he has a me-against-the-world kind of attitude.
Well, let me ask, there’s been a chess controversy
about cheating and so on that you’ve covered.
People should subscribe to your channel.
You’re hilarious, entertaining, brilliant,
and it’s just fun to learn from you.
Do you think, as we stand now,
Hans ever cheated in over-the-board chess,
as things stand now at the beginning of October?
Yeah, that’s a very tough question for a couple of reasons.
I think, first of all, when people refer to evidence
in regards to whether Hans cheated over-the-board,
there is not, and I don’t think there ever will be,
quote-unquote, hard evidence.
The only thing that would ever constitute that
is if he’s caught in the act.
Literally, he’s caught using a phone with an earpiece,
whatever it might be.
That is the only way that there would ever be hard evidence.
So, as it stands right now,
there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence.
How much of it is legitimate or not remains to be seen.
I know people have questioned the statistics.
Some people think it’s very convincing.
Some people think it’s complete nonsense.
I think that right now, I’m very undecided,
but I do feel that within the next three to six months,
assuming Hans is able to play over-the-board
in more and more tournaments,
the stats will make it very clear,
one way or the other, based on our results,
whether it’s legitimate or not.
I think, for me, I would say that regardless
of whether I believe he cheated or not,
he is playing at probably at least 2,650, no matter what.
Regardless of whether he cheated or not,
he’s already at that level, which is very, very high.
So, I think the stats will bear it out
in the next probably, I said three to six months,
probably I would say next six to 12 months,
whether something happened, but I really don’t know.
Do you find compelling or interesting
the kind of analysis where you compare
the correlation between engines and humans
to try to determine if cheating was done in part?
So, initially, I thought that
that was actually quite legitimate,
but as I found out much more recently,
anybody can basically upload this data.
So, that whole theory,
while it seemed very convincing at the time,
it simply isn’t any statistical evidence in my opinion now.
But there are games from some of those tournaments
that definitely, considering where his rating was,
look very suspicious in 2020, I would say.
Again, that’s not the role of myself to decide
or Chess.com, that’s obviously gonna be up to FIDE,
whether they think that’s compelling evidence or not.
I think, for me, what I would say
from an intuitive standpoint is that
I’ve been in this world for a very, very long time.
I’ve seen most of the juniors
as they’ve risen through the ranks,
Magnus and many others,
and there’s always been something about them
that has stood out to me,
that’s been like a brilliant game
they’ve played against someone who’s much higher rated.
I’ve just seen it from all of those players.
I never really saw that with Hans Niemann,
so it’s very difficult for me to sort of,
with my own two eyes, being in this chess world so long,
see things a certain way,
and then something that’s never happened before
is happening, but at the end of the day,
it is still possible.
It is completely possible that Hans,
something clicked at a certain age and he started improving
in spite of the fact that the statistics look weird
in terms of his rating improvement.
So I don’t know, I sort of,
I think that in six to 12 months,
I’ll probably be able to say one way or the other
with very certain confidence,
like whether he should be there or not.
Speaking of statistics, I should ask,
I’m not sure about this, are you a data scientist?
Right, that’s a good one.
No, of course I’m not.
But that’s the thing, you see all these stats
are thrown out there and you try to understand
what’s being said, but it’s also very scary
because when you see these things that look very legitimate
and then they’re disproven,
or people say you’re cherry picking the dates
and all these other things,
it almost feels like you can come to any conclusion
that you want to.
And that’s why I think this is such a serious issue
for the world of chess because going forward,
if we don’t take it seriously now,
I think at some point there is the potential
for a much, much larger scandal.
Do you agree that, like what Magnus I think said,
that it is an existential threat to chess,
like this is a very serious problem
that’s only going to get bigger
because you’re basically, from a spectator perspective,
from a competitor perspective,
we’re not sure that you can trust any of the results.
Yeah, I think that’s for sure true.
When I think back to the last five to 10 years,
there are plenty of top level tournaments that I played in
where there was no security at all.
You would just go into the auditorium and play your games
and that was that.
So I do think it’s a big issue.
I think it has been a big issue,
but the reason it’s only coming to light now
is because it features a very strong junior player
who’s very close to the world’s elite.
There have been many cheating scandals before.
There was this French player, Sebastian Feller.
There was this player, Igor Rouses from Latvia.
There was this, I think it was from Belarus,
or maybe I have that wrong, maybe it was Bulgaria,
Borislav Ivanov as well.
Those are three big cheating scandals,
but they were not at the absolute top levels of chess,
which I think is why it never became the huge news story
that this is, or it wasn’t viewed in the same kind of way.
It’s why I think organizers were perhaps
a little bit too lax in terms of security.
So you said 2,650.
Is it possible that Hans is in fact
a kind of Bobby Fischer level of genius,
and he’s capable at times of genius at the chessboard?
100%, that is absolutely possible.
I think that’s why I think for everybody in the situation,
we wanna see what happens in the next six to 12 months,
because I think it will be very clear.
Also, it’s very interesting to me
because there are other stats from that 72-page report
that chess.com compiled, which in essence,
say certain other junior players basically have peaked,
that they’re not likely to improve further.
So it’s also gonna be very interesting
when you look at those, I think it was like 50 pages
of graphs, because there are graphs that say
some of the other junior players are done.
So when we look forward in a year or two,
if those players don’t improve,
it will also say something about their methods as well
that they’ve used to sort of compile this data.
Yeah, I wonder what those junior players do
if they look at that data.
So there’s a point where you should look at yourself
practically, what is the actual empirical data
over the past year of how much I’ve improved
at a particular thing?
I guess it’s one thing to kind of tell yourself
that these are the ways I need to improve,
and it’s another to actually look at the data
and face the reality of it.
Right, I think also that could have a psychological effect.
That is the other thing that makes
the whole Han situation so tough,
because if you think that he’s cheated
or you’re unsure about what’s going on,
that is another psychological factor
whenever you play against him.
In his favor or against him?
Definitely in his favor, because, for example,
if I go online and play against the computer,
let’s just say I go play against Sawfish tomorrow,
I’m gonna play a very certain type of opening strategy,
try to keep the board closed and maybe hope to get lucky.
Now, computers have gotten so good
that generally even that doesn’t,
I don’t even have a chance even with such strategies,
but you play differently than you normally would.
And so if you’re playing a game against him
and there’s a move that looks really weird,
it doesn’t seem logical at all,
that can also start to affect you
where you immediately make a mistake
or you start questioning yourself,
you start thinking, well, what’s going on here?
Is there something unbecoming?
Like, you start worrying about what is happening.
And so it definitely is, it’s a very tough situation.
Do you agree with Magnus’ decision to forfeit the match,
his most recent match with Hans?
Oh, tough question.
I don’t, in my heart of hearts,
I feel like there had to be a better way to handle it
than what Magnus did.
On the other hand, sort of being in this world
of top grandmasters,
having heard these rumors for two years,
I think that the fact that it was blown off
and it wasn’t treated seriously,
I’m not sure if there was a better option.
So in my heart of hearts,
I feel like there had to be a better way to handle it,
but in practicality, like in the practical world,
I don’t, I think he might’ve made the only decision
where it became a big issue.
Yeah, I mean, I guess I would have loved to see
just where 100% it’s certain that there’s no cheating
involved, that they play a bunch of games.
Yeah, I think there was actually an article
that was released today by Ken Rogoff,
who is a grandmaster at Chess,
where he wrote this article in the Boston Globe,
and he essentially said that,
like have Hans and Magnus play a match
and see what his score is,
because statistically, if it’s above a certain percentage,
that means he’s legitimate,
because of course you have security.
And if it’s below, that might mean,
that probably means that he’s not at the level that he’s at.
So I don’t know if that’s a real way
to settle it necessarily,
because also for Magnus,
to ask him to play against someone who’s cheated,
I think for him, he just,
he would never entertain the idea,
because it’s like,
why am I going to play against someone who cheated?
So, I don’t know, it’s very tough.
And you know, the one other thing I would say on the topic
that’s really important to note is,
this sort of came from left field for most people
who are in the general public or very casual chess players,
but this is not something that wasn’t known,
wasn’t even on the radar.
I think this has not been said before,
but there was one of these things where they talk about
how Hans has, he’s played better during a period of time
when games were broadcast versus not broadcast.
I actually heard this rumor two years ago,
during one of the terms he’s playing specifically.
So that is the thing,
is that this has been out there for a very long time.
And so it’s hard,
because you do believe that Magnus
could have handled it better,
but if it was two years of these rumors
and nothing was done about it, I don’t know.
And for people who don’t understand,
when it’s broadcast, it’s easier to cheat,
because you can have,
it removes one of the challenges of cheating,
which is the one-way communication
from the board to the engine.
Here, the engine can just watch the broadcast,
and then all you have to do is send signals right back.
I mean, that’s really, I’ve woken up to this fact.
I actually programmed,
so setting all the silly sex toys aside,
I have a bunch of these devices.
This is the size of a coin,
and it has a high-resolution vibration that you can send.
So you can just have this in your pocket.
It’s basically what your smartphone has,
ability to vibrate.
You can do programmatic communication through anything.
Bluetooth is the easiest.
So this made me wonder like,
wait a minute, how often does this happen?
Like at every level of play.
And you said this only became a huge concern
at the highest level of play,
but then how much cheating is going on
at like the middle level of play,
especially when more money is involved.
So in the game of poker, when like,
it really made me think like the future
will have devices like this much easier to,
like you will engineer smaller and smaller and smaller
devices that have onboard compute that like,
like this is the future.
I mean, I just, it makes me,
I think probably with all kinds of cybersecurity,
that means the defense will just have to get,
start to get better.
Even with chess, it seems like the security is very clumsy.
Just looking at the scanning of the recent tournament.
One thing you’ll see is that a lot of people are talking
about whether Hans is a cheater or not.
The one thing that almost nobody is doing
is actually like trying to show how it can be done.
Everyone’s basically avoiding that.
I think the single biggest reason for that
is simply because it can be done very easily
at like a weekend tournament.
If you play a weekend tournament
where the top prize is a hundred dollars
and the players are maybe mass level,
somebody could already do this.
Because even in St. Louis now where they have the security,
my understanding is the non-linear junction device
they bought costs about $11,000.
And organizers, if you have a weekend tournament
at the local club, you don’t have $11,000 to spend
on such a device.
And so that is why a lot of people have been talking about it
but I think it is very, very serious.
And that’s why it is good even if,
aside from Hans even, it is a very important question
or debate to be having at the present moment.
Well, I think it’s good to talk about it, right?
To make it so that the defenses will really step up.
I think you could do pretty cheap,
like the security pretty cheaply.
But you have to take it seriously.
Right, right, of course.
And again, we’ll see what happens.
I think that’s gonna end up being on FIDE
more than anyone else to try and do that.
I don’t think asking the organizers to do it.
I mean, I feel like FIDE, they are the governing body.
It will be on them at the end of the day to figure it out.
But it’s gonna be interesting to see what happens
in the next couple of months.
Will you play Hans if the opportunity arises?
Well, right now that’s not in the near future for me.
I think fortunately.
Well, because there’s maybe only one tournament
that I’m playing in that he could be playing in potentially
and it’s not even set to be happening
at the end of the year.
There might be like a World Blitz
and Rapid Chess Championship.
So I don’t think I’m gonna have to make that decision
for at least another six months.
What about a challenge match?
You’re one of, you’re the most famous
super grandmaster in terms of online.
So it makes sense in terms of chess is going through
a kind of like a serious controversy.
So it’s not just like the drama or something like this.
This is in part an existential threat to the game
in terms of how the public perceives the game.
So if the story that lingers from this
is chess is full of cheaters,
like you never know who is cheating or not,
that’s not good for the game.
So it makes sense for a high profile person
to go head to head.
How do you think you’d do against Hans?
I mean, I think I would probably beat him
in Blitz and Rapid.
Classical is a whole different question altogether.
I think in Blitz and Rapid I would.
I mean, one thing actually that was very telling
in both the report and also Hans’ interview
for all the other stuff that was said
is the one thing he did say and seemed very adamant about
was the fact that he had never cheated against me.
Which, so that was the one thing he did say
that at least according to the report was truthful.
So it’s something possibly down the road to consider.
But I do want to see what happens
with everything else first,
with FIDE and whatever they choose to do
in regards to Hans and Magnus.
And then see where the smoke stands.
But I think also one other thing
that is potentially very dangerous
about the whole situation is that I’m not convinced
that FIDE actually has the ultimate say in this
in that the top players,
if they feel that he has cheated over the board,
even if there’s a report that says he has,
that Hans has not cheated,
top players can still decide not to play him
and sort of override whatever
ultimate decision FIDE comes to.
So that’s also why it’s very unclear.
You know, this term, the U.S. Championship,
Hans qualified, he’s playing the tournament.
But beyond this, there are no terms
where he’s automatically qualified to.
And so it also is on the top players
to sort of have to reach some conclusion
on their own separate defeating.
So to flip that, is there some part of you
that regrets that the chess community
and you included implied that Hans cheated early on?
And I think without having evidence,
and that kind of thing, as we learn now, can stick, right?
And it kind of divided the chess community in part,
but like, I mean, I guess I do want to empathize.
From your position, can you empathize with Hans
that his reputation is essentially in part
or in whole destroyed at this point?
Yes, I absolutely can.
Again, I think it comes down to the specifics
of how it was handled.
Now, as far as I go, I was covering the news
and this is what makes it so difficult for me
versus say some of the other content creators
is that I do in a sense have that inside knowledge.
You know, again, this is probably,
this is also not really public knowledge,
but when I went to St. Louis
to play this Rapid and Blitz tournament
before the Sinkfield Cup happened,
where Magnus and Hans were playing,
there were people who told me very specifically
that they thought he was cheating.
Other players in the event,
they even gave me like actual theories
about like things in his shoes, things of this nature.
So I’m in a very awkward spot there as well,
because I know why, I mean, I was like 99% sure
why Magnus dropped out.
It would have come out regardless though.
It would have come out no matter what,
because Magnus was not going to back down
on his stance about Hans
and others would have brought it up anyways.
So it’s very tough.
I think if you want to look for blame,
I think probably it would be on chess.com ultimately,
because they were the ones who probably
could have nipped all this in the bud
at a much earlier stage
and it wouldn’t have gotten to where it got to.
Because they could have released the online cheating
and that would have…
I think, yeah, I think they could have released that.
I think also they could have probably not let him play
after it happened the second time as well,
because it seems like it happened like,
I think it was at least like four or five different times.
I haven’t looked very, very closely at that,
but it wasn’t just an isolated incident.
And so I think if there is blame for that,
it’s definitely on chess.com,
which should stop people from thinking
that I’m in some way influenced by…
Yeah, are you biased because…
Are you supported in part by chess.com?
Yes, I am, I am.
So does that affect your bias?
No, it doesn’t.
I’m actually quite independent of them.
One thing that’s interesting to note
is that a lot of people are under the assumption
that when I do like broadcasts of tournaments
or things of this nature,
that chess.com is actively helping me.
They are not helping me.
I’m an independent contractor.
And so my opinions are my own.
And there are no lists given to me about like cheaters,
anything of this nature.
That has always been completely separate.
Do they have compromising video of you
that forces you to, if you don’t follow the main narrative
that they will release that video publicly?
No, they definitely don’t.
But yeah, I think when I look at it all,
I feel like if people are looking for someone to blame,
I don’t think it’s actually Magnus at the end of the day.
I think it’s on chess.com very squarely
for not handling it sooner.
So you’re okay with like Magnus being silent
for long periods of time?
Well, I don’t know why Magnus is still silent
because my read of the situation
was that there was some sort of NDA
or there was some information that chess.com had
that they could not release.
And so my read of it was Magnus was essentially saying
the same thing chess.com said,
where like I can’t say anything about it
because of whatever or whatnot.
But then chess.com releases what I perceive to be
the stuff that they could not talk about anyway.
And Magnus still isn’t saying anything.
So I don’t really understand
why Magnus has not said anything further on that.
There could be legal implications
of accusing somebody of cheating over the board.
That could be like lawsuits
that he just doesn’t want the headaches.
He just wants to focus on the game
and have fun playing the game
and not get bogged down into lawyers
and all that kind of bullshit.
Yeah, it’s definitely possible.
But Magnus could also take the other route
and just say, well, he cheated online in a hundred games.
Like I’m not gonna play against a cheater.
That’s very easy to say.
That’s factual, it’s proven.
And that doesn’t have to go
into the speculation of over the board.
So I find it a little bit odd
that Magnus hasn’t said anything further.
At the same time, it’s also kind of peculiar
because Magnus’ reputation is also kind of in tatters
in a sense.
Like a lot of people are not happy with him
for what he’s done.
But still he goes and plays this tournament
in this European Club Cup tournament
and he’s just gaining like 10 points
as though nothing has happened.
So I mean, I don’t really know where Magnus’ head is at
because like if I was in that situation
and everyone’s coming after me
for making such an accusation,
I don’t think there’s any way I would be able to play chess
anywhere near the level that Magnus is playing at.
So the whole situation is, yeah, it’s very strange.
Yeah, I wonder where his mind is at
that he’s able to play at that level.
Before I forget, let me ask you a technical question
about cheating at your level.
Not your level, but at a very high Grandmaster level.
How much information do you need?
This is a technical question.
So for me, in terms of Morse code
and all those kinds of things,
I would need the full information.
So I would need probably, in order to make a move,
just let’s think about a very simple representation.
I would need two squares.
The first to designate which piece
and the second where the piece is moving.
That’s probably the easiest.
What’s the smallest amount of information
you need to help you?
Basically like a buzz in a critical position.
That would be good.
And what would the buzz say?
It basically would be something like
one buzz means the position is great
and two buzzes means the position is completely equal
or there’s nothing special in the position.
Oh, so just to know that it’s great will tell you what?
It will tell me with my intuition.
There are many times I play Blitz online,
I’ll say something along the lines of,
I can feel like there’s something here.
Intuitively, I feel like there has to be a good move
or I’m probably winning.
There’s something there.
But I don’t know that.
And most of the time, I’m actually right about it.
Like after the game, when I look with the computer,
usually it’s like, oh, I should have played this move
and it would have given me a big advantage
or I would have outright won the game.
So if I just know whether there’s something there,
that’s good enough.
That means it’s worth it to calculate here.
Yes, and I can follow that intuition probably to,
because what normally is gonna happen in such a situation
is there probably are two moves or three moves max
that you’re gonna consider in a really critical position.
Like if I feel like there’s something there,
they’re two to three moves.
So if I know something is there,
I’ll be able to figure it out
if I know that the position is very good.
Okay, one buzz for a good position.
For the current position, not for the next position.
So I just need to know.
I just need to know whether there’s something really good,
the position’s really good,
or it’s just like an equal position or it’s just normal.
That’s all I need to know.
So the current position, not even future moves,
just the current position, there is a lot of promise here.
Okay, what about the reverse, like something’s bad?
So you’re saying if I’m in trouble in a game
and I’m in the same situation.
So if I’m in trouble in a game,
it’s probably a little bit more.
It’s probably like I would say two to three times
where I would need to know.
The source of the trouble.
Yeah, I would need to know.
Yeah, I would need to know is there one move that’s good
or there’s more than one move.
Again, how you extrapolate that.
Well, wouldn’t it be useful to know the information
that you’re now in a position where the other person
could create a lot of trouble for you?
So find that, like it’s out there, find it.
Like if you look at Magnus’ games,
there are a lot of situations where the position is equal,
but it’s equal with one move, but only one move.
If you don’t find that one move, you’re significantly worse.
A lot of times that’s the case.
So if I can somehow know that there’s only one move
where I’m okay, I could figure it out.
Yeah, so that’s one move is significantly better
than the rest.
I mean, I could give you like a perfect example
as I played a game in the Canada’s tournament last round
against Ding Liren from China.
And there were many times where it was completely fine
for me, but it started drifting.
I started making some mistakes and I was worse,
but there was one last moment where I think I had one move
where I would have been able to draw the game quite easily.
And every other move I was significantly worse.
And I did not find that move and I lost the game.
But if I had known.
It would have been nice to have a buzz right then.
Yes, I would have known.
Who do you think is the greatest player of all time?
You’ve talked in from different angles on this.
Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, Bobby Fischer,
Can you make the case for each?
Can you make the case for you?
No, I mean, I can’t make the case for me.
I know there are a lot of people who want that kind of like
me to give off some kind of ego like that, but no.
Obviously I’m nowhere near the conversation.
I actually, on that note, I would say also,
I know people wanted to know if I’m the greatest player
to never have played for the world championship
or to have not got not become world champion.
I don’t think that I’m actually anywhere near the top
of that conversation.
I actually think Levon Aronian tops that conversation
by a big margin simply because he was number two
in the world for a very, very long time.
And he never even got to the match.
So as far as world champions and who’s the GOAT,
I think Magnus is the GOAT simply because he’s playing
the best chess by a bigger margin.
He has the highest ELO of all time.
On the other hand, chess is a game where, you know,
you build upon the giants of the past.
We learn from them.
And so you can definitely make the case for Gary as well.
I mean, he was the number one player in the world
for 20 plus years.
Lot of opening strategies he came up with
and people still play them today.
Bobby, I’m not so sure you can really make that case
because he shot up really quickly,
but he was the world champion for a very short window
And then he quit the game as soon as he became
So I don’t really feel like you can put Fisher
in that conversation simply because he didn’t have
that longevity at all.
He was up there for a couple of years.
So I would say it’s probably Magnus,
but I understand people can also say Gary’s the best player
ever, remains to be seen.
But I think if Magnus is number one for probably another,
let’s say another three to four years,
I don’t think there’s any debate at all.
Can you break down what makes him so good?
We’ve already talked about different angles of this.
And then I would also try to get the same from you
because we talked about early Hikaru.
Like I’d like to talk about that fuller,
but first Magnus, what makes Magnus so good?
What are the various aspects of his game
that make him so good?
I think for Magnus, he just,
you know that in the end games, if you get there,
he’s just, he’s not going to blunder.
That’s the first thing.
So, you know, if you reach an end game,
he’s not going to make a mistake.
He obviously plays great openings
and there’s just really no defined weakness that he has.
There’s no weakness that I can think of very specifically.
Many, there are many times where players actually
out-prepare him in the opening phase,
but as soon as they’re on their own
and they have to think,
very oftentimes they’ll make mistakes.
So there’s just no weakness for Magnus, really no weakness.
Unlike say Kasparov, like Kasparov on the other hand,
there are very clear weaknesses in his game,
like Kramnik exploited them.
First of all, very, I don’t want to say like,
ego is the right word, but like very stubborn,
believing that his openings were infallible,
that he could just win, he could just prove an advantage
and win the game out of the opening,
like against Kramnik when he ultimately lost.
Also generally not a great defender either,
very strong tactically,
but if he was in positions that were defensive,
he would make mistakes and lose in end games,
like he did in one of those games
in the World Championship against Kramnik.
So there were very clear defined weaknesses
in Kasparov’s game.
Whereas like Magnus, they’re just,
there are no clearly defined weaknesses.
Maybe he doesn’t like being attacked.
Maybe that’s the one thing.
He likes king safety and he doesn’t like being attacked,
but that’s not something that you can easily do.
Whereas say, if someone’s very tactical
and they’re not as strong positionally,
that is something you can def,
that will happen quite frequently in games.
You can steer games a certain way,
doesn’t mean you’ll always get there,
but that is something tangible.
Whereas king safety, that’s not something tangible at all.
It’s very, very hard to attack someone based on,
unless they play certain style of openings.
Do you think Garry Kasparov reflecting
in your comment would agree?
Like, what is it about his relationship with Kramnik
that was so challenging?
I mean, I think it’s because Kramnik understood him.
Actually, one thing that’s funny speaking of Kasparov
is that I think it got under his skin.
Like when I worked with him,
Kramnik actually played a certain style,
very like, very aggressive,
very sort of risky opening play
during the time when I was working with Garry.
And I know that it annoyed Garry because he’s like,
why couldn’t Kramnik play like this against me?
Because I think Garry felt if Kramnik did that against him,
he would have just blown him off the board
and had many great victories.
So I think it’s Kramnik understood Garry.
They had worked together, I think, during the late 90s.
I think Garry actually was very useful or very helpful
in terms of Kramnik getting a spot
on one of the Russian Chess Olympiad teams in the mid 90s.
So I think it’s just Kramnik understood him very well
and Garry just could not, he couldn’t figure it out.
And I think also another thing,
coming back to the psychological part,
is that Kramnik actually beat Kasparov in many games
in the King’s Indian Defense.
Kasparov played the King’s Indian Defense for many years
and then he started losing like four or five games
in a row in it to Kramnik,
very similar to what I mentioned
about the Sicilian Night Orphan Fabiano.
And Garry gave it up.
He started switching to playing the Grunfeld Defense.
And so I think that also instilled
some psychological fear as well,
because Garry was, he was the boss.
In openings, no one could compare to him.
What makes you so good?
What’s the breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses
of Fikaro Nakamura?
So that’s, I think probably my biggest strength
is that I’m a universal player.
I can play pretty much any opening strategy.
It doesn’t really matter.
Beyond that, I think it’s mainly
that I don’t really make many blunders.
I don’t make blunders unless I’m under
a lot of pressure generally.
So that, I mean, I know I’m oversimplifying.
It’s not as simple as that.
Does this apply to Blitz as well?
I think it’s much more applicable to Blitz in particular
because my intuition is very good.
So when I’m making less blunders
with limited time on the clock,
my opponents actually make a lot more blunders.
That’s why I think it’s much more pronounced
in Blitz than it is in classical chess,
because in Blitz, when you’re down to like 10 seconds
in the game, both players have 10 seconds,
my intuition is just better than theirs.
I mean, Magnus, maybe not so clear,
but if you look at other players,
say Fabiano Caruana, a very strong player,
when he gets down to 10 seconds or in these situations,
he almost always makes a blunder, almost always.
So I’m just more precise.
I make less blunders.
And that really, the effect is much more dramatic in Blitz.
What do you think that intuition is?
Like, sorry for the kind of almost philosophical question.
What is that?
Is that calculation?
Or is it some kind of weird memory recall?
What is that?
Like being able to do that short line prediction.
I think that’s just playing so many games online
and there’s some kind of subconscious feel that I have.
Because when you’re that low on time, you can’t calculate.
It’s just, you have to look,
you just have to figure out what’s the move
you want to play as, no calculation, and just go with it.
And I think just playing so many games probably,
I mean, I’m guessing I’ve played over 300,000 games online.
And I think just playing all those games, it’s a feel.
There’s no tangible way that I can’t put that
really into words, it’s just a feel.
What do you, and we should say that you’re,
I think, currently the number one ranked Blitz player
in the world.
You have been for a while, you’re unquestionably
one of the great, so classical, rapid, and Blitz,
you’re one of the best people for many years in the world.
Okay, but you’re currently number one in Blitz.
So I’d love to kind of, for you to dig in
to the secret to your success in Blitz.
Is it, as you’re saying, that intuition,
being able to, when the time is short,
to not make blunders, and then to make
a close to optimal move?
I think it’s generally that I’m able to keep the games going
no matter what, until we’re low on time.
I’m always able to do that.
Like if we play a game with three minutes,
like there are games I will just win very quickly,
but a lot of games between top players,
players have to think, you have to use time,
and in those final critical stages, I just don’t blunder.
I just don’t blunder, really, at the end of the day.
That’s really the only difference,
because everybody’s very, very strong,
but it’s sort of like, who is the better brain,
who is the better CPU, for lack of a better way
of putting it?
It’s like, who makes the split-second decisions the best?
And I do think that I’m extremely good at that
in a way that almost nobody else is.
That really is the only difference,
is that the split-second decisions,
because you can get a worse position,
but again, if you keep the game going,
players have to use the time when you get down
to those final 10, 15 seconds.
I almost always end up winning in those situations.
What are you visualizing, like in those,
when you’re doing the fast, fast calculations,
what is it?
It’s basically, you look at a move and you see,
like when it’s like five seconds or 10 seconds,
you play a move and you just make sure
that it’s not a blunder.
You just look, make sure it’s not a blunder,
and you just go with it.
And the first part, though, is the feel.
So it’s like, I see this move and it looks right.
I don’t know why it’s right, I can’t put that into words,
but it looks like the right move,
and then I look for like a split second,
see as long as it’s not some kind of blunder,
and you just play that move.
Is there a bit of a tunnel vision?
Are you able to understand the positions
of all the other pieces on the board,
or are you just focusing it
on a very specific interaction?
It’s just feel.
It’s really just feel.
It’s like, this move feels right, and so I play it.
When you’re at that stage of the game,
it’s like, as long as it’s not a blunder,
and it’s just that feel.
There is no way for me to put that into words.
And that feel, like empirically,
does result in low probability of blunder for you.
It’s like, you don’t blunder.
Even though there could be,
like, you don’t forget a random piece that was,
like, very, very, I mean, it does happen, of course,
but very rarely, and I mean,
I’ve done it on stream many times.
Like, it’s just, you go with the move
that for whatever reason, like, it just,
intuitively, whether it’s from playing
hundreds of thousands of games on the internet,
or just that experience, like,
you just intuitively can feel like the move is right, and.
So over those 300,000 games played over the board,
online, all kinds of variations,
what’s a game that stands out to you
as particularly one you’re proud of,
or maybe what’s the Hikaru Immortal game,
or a strong candidate for that?
Yeah, so there are two games.
There’s a game that I won against Boris Gelfand in 2010,
where I offered a queen sack,
I think, on five consecutive moves.
Sack is sacrifice.
Sacrifice the queen, yeah, so.
Coming through with the lingo.
You can’t take me to that game?
It’s just, there’s one sequence in the late middle game
where, it’s funny, because I actually,
I think I, because I remember,
I tried to show this game to Peter, actually, Peter Thiel,
and I confused the move order in the late middle game,
so I don’t want to do that again.
Yeah, 2010, it was, yeah.
What kind of opening is this?
It’s the King’s Indian Defense.
So, the knights are out.
What’s with the bringing the knight back?
Who’s black and white?
I have the black pieces, and you want to push the pawn.
The, make room for the pawn.
Yeah, normally in the King’s Indian,
you try to, it’s sort of like storming with the pawns
on the king side where the white king is.
So you see now, I push,
and I start pushing all my pawns forward.
Are you happy with this position,
with all the pawns in diagonal like this,
with the knights behind it?
This looks pretty.
This is, this is, this is,
nowadays, this is very well-known.
But at the time, I, the reason that I was aware of this
is because I had played a tournament, I think, in Montreal.
I think it was Montreal, like the year, the summer before,
and one of my friends had actually played this variation
with the black pieces, so I was aware of it,
and it seemed very dangerous, but I,
From the black perspective.
Yeah, I feel like it’s, it’s very hard for white to play.
Yeah, very hard for white to play.
It felt, feels like you’re getting attacked.
You’re king, you see the black pawns
are coming down towards the king,
and it’s very hard for white to play.
So, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s very hard for white to play.
The black pawns are coming down towards the king,
and it’s very hard to defend.
And also, a lot of players don’t like being attacked.
Generally, you try to avoid positions
where your king is under fire,
which comes back to what I said about Magnus, as well.
Like, he doesn’t like it when his king is under fire,
and so, therefore, you can’t always get that.
But you see, white had to play along
to get to this point, as well.
If white didn’t want something this,
this double-edged and this complicated,
he could have avoided it.
So is the, is the black bishop also a threat?
Are you, like,
yes, the light-square bishop in the king’s Indian
is vital to any attacking possibilities.
So you’re always, like,
you don’t want to lose that bishop if you can help it.
Got it, and so, the, he’s bringing out the knights.
Is there a particular moment that’s interesting to you here?
Oh, so keep going?
Yeah, there’s, so I play rook F7.
This is all, all standard.
The rooks come out.
So I take, take.
Now, this is actually, this is an exception to the rule.
Normally, the king’s Indian,
you don’t want to break this pawn chain from the,
these are the four pawns in a row,
the connect four.
Why’d you break it?
Because it’s an exception where you can do that.
There almost are no variations
in the king’s Indian where you do that.
You almost always retreat the bishop
to guard the pawn, the bishop to F8.
You break the pawn chain
because it’s an exception to the rule
because you’re not actually worried about the,
about white being able to push the pawn to D6 here.
It was probably the best game I ever played.
So it keeps going.
Now, now, now the diagonal’s there again.
That, that’s, that looks threatening.
Right, like white basically is trying to guard the king.
He’s going to retreat this bishop from C5 to G1,
as you’ll see in a second.
Actually, not quite yet.
Yeah, he goes, now he goes here.
And so he’s trying to guard his king
with the bishop on G1,
but I’m able to keep attacking here in the next.
Is there any case to be made for you to take the pawn here?
No, that would actually be a mistake.
I mean, it’s very high level,
but it’s a mistake
because white will actually not recapture the pawn.
And, and I, yeah, this is very high level.
Oh, so the pawn is.
The pawn like ends up in front of the king.
Yeah, it stops white from being,
the white king from being attacked basically.
So your pawn is stopping their king from being attacked.
So yeah, so it’s.
So the pressure continues from you.
Right, and then I sack.
Is that, is that, wait, wait.
What’s the sack?
Knight takes pawn, yeah.
Is this, what are the strengths and weaknesses
of you throwing the knight into the abyss?
Well, basically I’m gonna,
I’m destroying the protection in front of the white king,
the white pawn’s there.
And willing to take risks by placing.
I basically want to open up the king and try to checkmate.
If I don’t checkmate,
I’m probably gonna lose the game here
in the center of the board.
So yeah, and now there’s some very nice moves
after pawn takes pawn.
I take this because now white takes the queen.
I push the pawn forward and it’s checkmate.
So give me a second.
So your knight is taking,
you’re losing pieces left and right.
And you’re pushing the pawn forward, check.
He takes the pawn.
The rook, check.
So just check, check nonstop.
Yeah, now same thing though.
I keep going for this checkmate with a pawn or a bishop pawn
on the square in front of the king.
You see the queen is still hanging.
In fact, I actually sacked the queen again.
He never took the queen.
He couldn’t take the queen
because it would be checkmate.
So constantly, and that’s what you mean by sacrifice.
He didn’t actually, but it was.
Yeah, he couldn’t take it.
He would have gotten checkmated.
But anyway, the smoke clears and I’m up material here
and I win this game.
So this is the game that I would say is my favorite game.
Why did it stand out?
I mean, it’s beautiful, but just the fact that.
It’s mainly that I was able to offer the queen sacrifice
so many moves in a row,
you almost never have that opportunity.
And actually, normally the games you’re going to consider
your best involve sacrifices.
And if you can sacrifice the queen,
that makes it very memorable.
It’s just this constant theme of this one checkmate idea.
How often do you play with the sacrifice of a major piece?
Like how often do you find yourself in that position?
Pretty rare because players tend to avoid
these sorts of situations.
Players don’t like games that can go either way.
Like both players have to sort of cooperate.
You have to want that kind of game
in order for that situation to arise.
And a lot of games at the top,
neither player wants to go into that situation
for the most part.
So you don’t really have those opportunities.
Nevertheless, Stockfish loves those opportunities.
Well, that’s one thing also
that we’re starting to learn more and more
is that Stockfish and the other programs,
they don’t care about pawns.
You can sacrifice one pawn, two pawns, three pawns
in a lot of cases,
if the rest of your pieces are very active.
And that’s something that we kind of knew on a basic level
about the initiative is what we call it in chess,
where like you’ll give up material,
but your pieces are very well placed.
But we didn’t realize just how important that is.
And computers will do that all the time now.
All the time.
And even actually like they’re in this variant Fisher Random
is another variant where you arrange a piece
on the back row.
They will gladly sack rooks for bishops or for knights
all the time, all the time.
What do you take from that?
Material imbalance or the material you give up
doesn’t matter as much as having this attack
or having this piece on certain squares.
Well, as long as you can hold on to the attack.
Right, and computers can.
But it’s also very tricky
because when we as humans sometimes,
you’ll look at an opening variation
and you’ll see something like this
and you want to do it in a game.
But the problem is we don’t know
how we’re supposed to follow it up afterwards.
And so if you do that
and you don’t know how to follow up afterwards,
very oftentimes we’ll make mistakes.
We’ll try to look at it in a human way.
And then of course, you end up losing in the longterm
because you’ve given up too much material.
So it’s a very double-edged sword.
But that’s why it’s dramatic
and why people love those kinds of sacrifices
because you’re putting it all on the line.
What’s the other game?
It was a game also with a queen sacrifice.
It was a game against this Polish player,
It was played in Barcelona in 2007, I believe it was.
I also, I sacrificed a queen for one pawn
to just bring the king out into the middle of the board.
You actually sacrificed it?
Yes, I did sacrifice.
I took a pawn.
Do you want to go through that game?
Sure, yeah, absolutely.
And you’re again black.
Yeah, this game you can just skip forward
to about like the 20th move roughly.
What’s the opening?
This is, I think it’s like a Catalan.
It says Neo-Catalan.
So yeah, it’s basically a Catalan opening,
generally very slow.
Yeah, and now here I sack the queen for the pawn.
Or no, sorry, I take the knight first.
Sorry, knight c6, keep going.
So, by the way, the pawn structure here is a mess,
or is missing.
Yeah, so I take the knight.
You take the knight with a rook.
What’s the discovery?
My queen’s under attack now.
So when he takes the knight,
the rook on b1 is attacking my queen.
Got it, so they just got it?
You throw your queen into the middle, check the king.
Wait a minute, that’s not right.
Yeah, it’s one pawn.
It’s a queen for a pawn.
For a pawn.
And the king takes your queen.
What was the thinking here?
You crazy madman.
King has to go up the board,
and the king is very vulnerable.
In this position, see,
but you’re gonna have to keep checking here then.
Bishop checks, king, rook checks, knight checks.
Did you see all of this ahead of time?
Yeah, I mean, not all of it,
but I figured there had to be some way
to win here with the king.
Too many attacking pieces on your end that could duel.
Well, it’s just basically the king,
the only piece that can sort of guard the king
is the queen on d1.
That’s the only piece.
If I can just keep checking,
I’m gonna be able to win here.
So it goes there, and now I think I played,
yeah, I played this move.
Ooh, no check.
Because I’m threatening to move the rook over one square
and make a checkmate.
And then the rook, what was that?
The rook takes your knight,
and then you take it right back with a check.
Now I still want to scoot the rook over
to check on the h6 square, the dark square.
I think, did he resign here or did he make a move?
Oh, he resigned, yeah.
Yeah, he did resign here.
Yeah, because I just moved the rook over
to that dark square in front of the pawn,
and that would be checkmate.
Dark square in front of the pawn over here.
It’s h6, yeah.
Because now the bishop covers the light square.
Is there something he can do to mess with it?
I don’t think there’s any way to stop a checkmate.
Nothing with the queen.
I guess he’s gonna lose the queen.
Yeah, I think it’s just actually a forced checkmate
here on a couple of moves.
I don’t think there’s any way to stop it.
Even if he loses his queens.
Yeah, it’s a forced checkmate.
And so like that, you can’t purely calculate,
but you can have some intuition.
Also, I think what it is is in such situations,
you know that there is at least a draw.
I could always just check him with my rook
if I wanted to, to make a draw.
So that also gives me some margin where if I calculate,
after I play the move and I calculate,
it doesn’t work out, I can still make the draw.
Are you, I mean, for fun,
do you do the sacrifices of this sort?
When it’s not the serious competitive online events
or over the board?
I do actually do this quite frequently
and I wish there were more opportunities,
but top level chess, it’s become harder and harder
because due to computers,
everybody’s very, very well prepared in the opening.
They know the first like 15 to 20 move sequences
in no matter what you do.
So it’s very, the room for creativity is less and less,
which makes it, which means you have less,
less of those types of games.
I think you played Levy Gotham Chess without a queen.
Without a queen?
Was that a thing?
I think that was a bullet game.
Yeah, the one minute game.
I think so, yeah.
Is that an actual thing that you can pull off?
Like would you be like Levy or?
Yeah, I guess I’ll be like Levy.
In bullet, maybe I can win like 50%.
It’ll probably be 50%.
What’s the timing?
One minute for the whole game.
One minute for the whole game.
Okay, what about, I mean, how much do you miss the queen
if it’s gone against the international master?
You know, in a bullet game, like I said,
maybe in bullet, I can maybe score 50%
in a blitz game or anything slower, maybe 10%.
Maybe one out of 10, I can win maybe.
One out of 10.
On the topic of Goat, let me ask about Paul Morphy.
How good was he?
Reddit asked me to ask you about this
and why is he a tragic figure in chess?
Yeah, so Paul Morphy was the best player in the world
by a bigger margin probably than anyone else
in recent modern history.
He was, I would say roughly, using today’s rating,
he was around like 2,400 in my opinion.
And the other best players were maybe around 2000
or 2,100 at best.
So he’s the best player by a bigger margin.
Fisher, for example, I think he was about 170-ish points
better than Boris Spassky,
but Morphy was 300 plus at least.
Now by modern standards,
he would probably be a very strong IM,
which isn’t saying a whole lot,
but at the time no one was even close.
So I don’t think you can put him in that category
of like best ever simply
because he was not the best player
for a long enough period of time.
As far as why it’s tragic,
it’s very tragic because he essentially quit chess.
There was no competition for him.
If you think about like Magnus
talking about the world championship
and feeling like it’s not competitive enough,
for Morphy there was no one who could even beat him
probably in individual games.
So he ended up quitting chess.
I think he was sort of like a lawyer kind of,
but he spent probably the last 15,
I think last 15, 20 years of his life just doing nothing.
Now I have actually seen his grave in New Orleans.
I have been to where he lived.
I think it’s now Brennan’s if I’m not mistaken
or something like that.
So it’s very tragic that there was no one
who was competitive with him at the time.
As far as best ever,
I don’t think you can say he’s the GOAT,
but I still think he’s in the top 10
if we’re using a criteria of players
who are better than their peers by a big, big margin.
So what do you think about the world championship
and what do you think about Magnus stepping down?
Do you still see it as the height of chess?
I still think that there is merit
in having the world championship the way it is.
At the same time, the game is always evolving.
And one of the things that has changed a lot in recent times
is you now have a lot more blitz tournaments
and also rapid tournaments.
In the past, classical chess was the golden standard.
That was the only thing that mattered.
But in the last probably 10 years,
slowly but surely there probably are as many rapid
slash blitz tournaments as there are
classical tournaments now.
Maybe it’s not quite 50-50,
but at the top level at least,
it feels like it’s getting very close to 50-50.
And in terms of the world championship,
I feel that the biggest issue is you have too many draws.
The games can be exciting,
but the games inevitably end in a draw.
And the single biggest reason is because players have
about six months or more to prepare for the match.
So for example, the Canada’s tournament,
which I just played, it was in June and July.
It ended, I think, around July 5th.
The world championship match will probably be
in February of March.
So that’s, you know, nine months.
And when players have that much time to prepare,
they are not going to have any weaknesses
in the opening phase of the game.
And so both players are likely going to be very solid.
You’ll have a lot of draws.
And in many cases, it might come down to tie breaks.
Magnus, in fact, in two of the matches,
both against Karjakin and against Karuana,
he had to win in rapid tie breaks.
So I think for Magnus,
he just doesn’t feel like the format is right.
I think he feels that there’s just,
it’s too long, too many draws.
He doesn’t get to play creative or exciting chess.
And that’s why I think he pushed so hard
for a change in the format.
I don’t know what the right change would be,
but I do think that the format
is becoming a little bit antiquated
with all these classical games.
If you don’t want to change the format,
the one suggestion that I’ve mentioned before,
and I think is probably still valid,
is that the match should be held
maybe one month after the Canada’s tournament
to determine the challenger.
It’s held one month after that event.
That’s probably the only way to keep the format as it is,
where I think both players have time to prepare,
but it’s not something crazy.
Because when you compare the candidates
to other classical tournaments,
let’s just say, let’s just say St. Louis.
I played there recently.
There was the, I played the Rapideon Blitz,
but there was the Sinkfield Cup.
This was, I think, like September 10th,
something like that.
Point is, players probably came in
and had a week or two to prepare for that tournament.
Now there’s the US Championship.
Players have a little bit of time to prepare.
You play the event.
Normally, players don’t have these long breaks
where they can prepare for very long periods of time.
So they are very well prepared,
but you still have a lot of exciting games
because that window of preparation is so much smaller.
But you had, you’re pretty close,
given how things rolled out,
to having the opportunity to compete
for the World Championship.
Hence the Copia meme,
which I still don’t quite understand.
Are you and Magnus friends, enemies, frenemies?
What’s the status of the relationship?
Yeah, I think with all the rivalries in chess,
everybody tries to hype it up
like everyone hates each other.
But the thing is, at the end of the day,
yes, we’re very competitive.
We want to beat each other,
whether it’s myself or Magnus or other top players.
But we also realize that it’s a very small world.
Like a lot of us are able to make a living
playing the game as professionals.
And as I alluded to earlier,
the top 20 to 30 players can make a living.
So even though we’re competitive against each other,
we want to beat each other.
There is a certain level of respect that we have,
and there is a sort of brotherhood, I would say.
So all of us are, I would say, frenemies.
I think that’s the simplest way of putting it.
What do you love most about Magnus Carlsen
as a human being?
As a human being?
I think it’s very similar, actually,
to use a comparison to tennis and Roger Federer,
in that it feels like with Magnus,
everything comes very easily.
For example, we’ve seen the situation with Hans Niemann.
Somehow it’s rolled right off his back,
and he’s playing amazing chess in his latest event.
So it’s really how easy he seems to make it look.
And I know, because tennis is a sport that I’ve played a lot,
I’ve followed it very closely.
I remember hearing Andy Roddick say this about Federer,
where it’s like, somehow he handles it all.
There’s no pressure, he makes it look easy,
and how does he do all of that?
And I feel the same way about Magnus,
where it seems too easy.
Because I know for myself, when I’m playing these games,
there’s stress, the pressure.
And for Magnus, you don’t ever see that.
Now, I’m sure it’s probably there, but we don’t witness it.
So that’s what I would say, is just how easy it is.
It was sad to see Federer retire.
I don’t know why.
You know, when Lionel Messi will retire, it’ll also be sad.
Because there’s certain people that are just singular
in the history of a sport.
I don’t know if there’s gonna be another Messi.
I don’t know if there’s gonna be another Federer.
Yeah, not for a long time, probably.
Is he greatest ever, would you say?
Is he up there?
He’s definitely up there.
I mean, I grew up as more of an Nadal fan,
just because actually, I felt like Nadal,
it never looked easy.
It was the exact opposite.
Like for Nadal, it feels like he’s always,
he’s running after every ball, he’s exerting himself.
It looked really, really hard.
And for me, since nothing really came easily
for me in chess, I can relate to that more.
But at the same time, especially when Federer
started losing more and he seems more human,
I started really liking him more as well.
But I think Federer, he changed the game.
I don’t know if you’d say he’s the greatest ever,
but the game changed forever because of him.
Yeah, there’s certain people,
just a lasting impact, Sampras, Agassi, everybody.
Okay, who wins in a chess boxing match
between you and Magnus?
Probably Magnus, just because he’s taller than me,
Oh, so reach?
He’s taller, he has more reach, yeah.
But I think he would win.
Question from Reddit, in what sport do you think
you can beat Magnus 10 out of 10 times?
I think I could beat Magnus 10 out of 10 times in tennis.
I mean, I took lessons for eight years.
I try to go out and hit two or three times every week.
I think I could beat him in tennis, 10 out of 10.
Backhand, forehand, what’s your style of tennis play?
I wish I was taller,
because I really like trying to come into the net.
I like volleying a lot.
But I am no Rob Laver.
Rob Laver was very short, but he was able to make it work
like 50, 60 years ago.
I really like volleying, but I’m a little bit too short.
So I kind of have to stay back.
And I mean, I normally hit, I try to hit hard forehands,
and I try to slice or two-hand backhand.
You mentioned Magnus and Kariakin.
And I just wonder if you have ideas or thoughts
about the fact that he was originally a qualifier
for the Candidates Tournament and was disqualified
by FIDE for breaching his code of ethics
related to his support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Oh, does that ever seep into the games
that you play over the board, the geopolitics,
the actual military conflict of it all?
Do you feel the pressure of that?
Because there’s battles between nations.
Nepal is Russian, there’s America, there’s, I mean,
every nation is in some profound way
represented on the chessboard.
Right, I’ve never really felt that.
I think actually for me, it’s very eye-opening
to realize how difficult it is
for a lot of the Russian chess players right now
to play because of the situation,
even Nepo for that matter.
I remember when we were in St. Louis,
he essentially has to bring cash
because obviously Russia’s cut off from SWIFT,
no credit cards work.
So if these Russians don’t have cash, they can’t play.
And I know a lot of them have fled the country
just to try and keep their chess career going.
So it’s a very, very, very tough situation for them,
obviously for the Ukrainians who are suffering.
It’s really, really bad.
Do you know if Nepo, has he talked,
I haven’t seen, has he talked about the politics,
the geopolitics of it all?
I don’t think he really has.
I mean, I feel like most players
try to avoid talking about it.
I think it’s very difficult.
I remember when I was in St. Louis,
there was another Russian player, Peter Savidler,
and I basically asked him, he was like,
don’t get me started because I can’t,
I just can’t talk about it.
So I think most of them are probably
on the other side of the spectrum.
I don’t think they’re probably supportive
of what is going on right now.
So it’s a very, very, very difficult situation.
But I don’t really feel like that manifests itself
in actual tensions when I play against the Russian players.
I mean, maybe when I was younger playing certain events,
the one country that I felt like maybe it actually,
I felt some tension, I really wanted to go out of my way
to win against was against the Chinese, perhaps.
That is maybe the one time I felt something
along those lines.
But generally, I feel like we treat the players
as individuals, it’s not about the country they represent.
Let’s go back to the philosophical of chess.
What do you find most beautiful about the game of chess?
Looking back over your whole career.
I think looking back, it’s really,
it’s both over the board and also just like the memories
that I’ve created.
I think for me, the fact that I’ve been able to travel
because of chess to meet so many people
who are playing this great game
from all different nationalities,
all different backgrounds is probably the thing
that I really like the most.
Chess is one of the, maybe the only thing I can think
of where you can have people, different backgrounds,
Honestly, you can have someone who’s a billionaire
talking to someone who’s like a nine-year-old kid
from the inner city.
And when they’re talking about the game of chess,
they’re on the same level.
And I don’t think that is really applicable
to anything else in this world.
You don’t have that level of respect
that is communicated through a game.
So for me, that’s probably the single most beautiful thing
about sort of chess and the chess world itself
is that you have that.
In terms of the game itself, the creativity,
the possibility of different positions,
learning something new even after I’ve played the game
for 30 years, it’s very inspiring to me
knowing that I’ve spent all this time,
there still are new things that I can learn.
Those are probably two biggest, biggest things
that I would refer to.
Are there memories, big or small,
like weird, surprising anecdotes from all those years
of going to all the different places that stand out to you?
Some of the darker times, weirder times,
like weird places you’ve played, weird people you played,
weird people you hung out with,
anything that jumps to memory?
No, I think this is probably a little bit
more like political,
but I think one of the things that’s great
is whenever you go and play these tournaments,
you have a certain impression of what a country is like
or what the people are like.
Probably the best example for me was in 2004,
or actually, no, sorry, it was 2003, I think it was.
I played in the FIDE World Cup,
and it was held in Tripoli, the capital of Libya
at the time when Gaddafi was still running the country.
You hear a lot of these things,
but then when you go there
and you see the people are so friendly,
it’s very eye-opening.
You look at it without just believing things.
You go to these places, you see how things truly are,
and generally, I find that it’s very different
than how the media will portray it.
One of my great regrets is, as someone who loves history,
not going to see Magnus Lepto,
which were the greatest ruins,
I think greatest ruins in Africa from the Roman times,
and of course, no longer exists,
so I really do regret that.
I think another thing that’s very unique about chess
is that all of us, even when we compete as children,
there are a lot of people like Nepo and others
who I’ve known for a very, very long time.
There are a lot of people
who no longer play chess competitively,
but inevitably, you end up talking to these people
many years down the road,
and so you never truly lose touch with the game
or the people that you grew up playing it with,
and there’s so many of these people
that I connected with in the last couple of years
who I knew when I was a kid,
and then they went off, did something else,
but you still end up talking to them
and being able to share these old memories.
So you said you’re a bit of a student,
a fan of history, even ancient history.
Are there cultures, periods of time,
people from human history that you draw wisdom from
about human nature that you’re particularly drawn to?
A lot, I mean, I probably study,
mostly it would be ancient Roman history
or pre-Roman empire, and of course, ancient Persia
is another subject that I’ve studied a lot on.
If you ask me, I would say, I mean,
it depends, you’re talking military generals,
you’re talking philosophers, I mean, there’s everything.
So yeah, so both, right?
So philosophers is how people thought about the world.
Of course, military has to do with
how people sort of conquered lands.
Both are interesting because, in part,
it seems so far away from what we are today,
and it’s cool to see that people were kind of the same
in their ability to invent amazing things,
and maybe the same and different
in their willingness to go to war.
So I think, I mean, one of my favorite books
that I’ve read in the last couple of years
is The Histories by Herodotus.
I mean, basically considered the father of history.
And I mean, I really love reading about these things
like Thermopylae or Marathon, these great ancient battles.
I don’t know if there’s like a specific quote
or wording or something like that that I can come up with,
but that is one of my favorite,
favorite books on history by far.
So those books were written a long time ago.
Yeah, it’s like 400, I think it was like 400 BC
was when that was written.
So what’s that like?
What’s that like reading that?
Does it seem ancient?
It does seem ancient.
Like, it’s sort of, I feel like for myself,
one of the things I really like doing
is getting away from technology
when I have the opportunity,
trying to disconnect these sorts of things.
And so when I read books like that,
besides just having a general interest,
it sort of reminds me, like, there is really a life
without all this stuff, or there was at least at some point.
And so it’s something that I can kind of relate to.
Like, humanity flourishes without all the stuff we take,
we think is fundamental to our current culture.
Like, all that we find beautiful about humanity
can still exist without any of the technology.
That’s a really good reminder,
given the contrast, of course, is beautiful,
because you’re in the midst of the technology with streaming.
Like, to me, streaming somehow feels,
because of how many,
how large of a percentage of young people
are interested, like, consumes streams,
it feels to represent, like, the future.
Because so many people kind of develop their mind
by watching Twitch and YouTube.
Right, I mean, that’s definitely true.
For, like, for myself,
I remember when I was a little bit younger,
I was like 17, 18 around then,
I would actually try one day a week on the weekend
to try not to look at, like, my computer or my phone.
Now, phones weren’t where they are today, obviously,
but I was able to do that pretty easily.
Now, it’s very hard.
Like, when I try to go one day,
recently I tried to do that,
like, I actually just pulled some books out of my garage
and I started reading,
and it was a very foreign concept.
So, I do read a lot, but it’s always on an iPad, so.
Or a Kindle, yeah, both of those, actually.
So, it’s very, very weird.
But I do try, when I can, to get away from it all.
I mean, another thing, like I said,
I really like going out into nature
when I have the opportunity.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Colorado, for example,
hiking some of the 14ers,
that is one of those life goals that I have,
to go and get to the top of every single one of them.
So, I try to disconnect when I can,
but of course, it’s very hard.
So, whether it’s disconnecting or not,
can you take me through a perfect day
in the life of Fikar and Nakamura
on a day of a big chess match?
Well, actually, multiple days, right?
We’ll take one where it’s a big chess match
and one that’s just like your representative average day.
A perfect chess day, although I cannot do this,
it would start like the night before.
I would get like nine hours of sleep,
like a consistent nine hours,
like say 12 a.m. to 9 a.m., for example.
Let’s just say the round starts at like two o’clock,
and then nine to, say, 12 o’clock, I do preparation,
and then 12 to one, I go eat lunch,
and at one to two, I just nap, or I walk,
or I do something completely unrelated to it.
That would be the perfect day.
When you’re doing everything except the preparation,
are you thinking about chess at all,
or are you trying not to think about chess?
Trying not to think about chess, definitely not.
And what do you do?
Is there any tricks to that?
Well, I find that if I go outside,
I just try to hear the birds, or I try to listen.
It’s one of those meditation kind of things.
They always say when you meditate,
you try to hear yourself breathing.
It’s like when you close your eyes,
try to hear yourself breathing, just focus on that.
So I do try to do things like that
from time to time as well.
So in terms of getting nine hours of sleep,
does that come difficult to you?
That almost never happens.
I mean, there have been a couple times
where it has happened, like in Norway specifically,
but generally, it just,
I don’t sleep well during chess tournaments.
I wish I did, but.
So we’re talking about a perfect day.
So sleep is really important.
What about diet and stuff like that?
Yeah, I think for a lot of people,
they try to keep it light before the round.
Actually, I remember hearing this story
from Peter Savidler some years back, a Russian GM,
and he said that Kasparov would go and eat
like a big steak right before the game
and he would be completely fine.
But I think for most players, it’s the exact opposite.
You try to eat some snacks, maybe some nuts,
a few bars, things of this nature,
or maybe just maybe fish,
something very light for lunch before the game,
and then you probably eat a lot after the game.
That’s generally what you try to do.
But I don’t think there’s any specific diet
that makes a huge difference,
but everyone is different, of course.
So when you’re actually at the board
on that perfect day, how do you maintain focus
for so many hours of classical chess?
Like, you know what, like minute to minute,
second to second, how are you able to maintain focus?
Is there tricks to that?
How difficult is that?
I think it really depends on the type of the game
that you’re playing.
I think if it’s a game that’s very, very calm
and very slow where not a lot happens at the start,
it’s a lot easier because you’re not having
to be super focused.
Like, your mind can drift and whatnot,
and then at the critical moment,
you have to sort of zone in.
So those are the easiest ones.
I think generally when games are very complicated
from the start, what you’re doing is you’re just,
you’re trying to not let your mind wander at all.
Because when games are complicated like that,
one of the things that I’ve never been very good at
is my mind does wander, and you’re always,
like, I’m always worrying about the next move.
It’s like, is this a blunder?
What’s going on?
What am I going to do?
So you’re trying, I think, very much to block out the noise.
I think that’s actually the hardest thing,
is also because I can say this,
when I played Magnus before,
there have been times when I’ve gotten winning positions
against him, and in that moment
when I had the winning position,
very oftentimes my mind wanders.
Like, okay, you’re about to win this game,
and you’re like, okay, what happens after the game?
You win this game, gain the rating points,
all these different things,
but you haven’t actually won the game yet.
And I think for a lot of players,
that’s the hardest thing is when you get
a winning position, your mind does drift.
It drifts to what happens after you’ve won the game,
or what the outcome is.
So drifting into the future,
and you should stay in the moment.
You really should hold on.
And also, what is it?
Yeah, probably getting excited about the win.
What is it about that that makes you worse at playing?
Well, I think it’s like, it’s nervous,
but it’s like, you’re too excited, I think.
It’s like, you’re waiting for it to end.
You expect it to end.
And then your opponent keeps defending,
and you can make mistakes.
What about the flip side of that,
where you start getting frustrated?
Like, how do you try to recover from that kind of thing?
It’s very difficult.
I think for myself, I just try.
I try to basically focus on it every single move.
I just try, again, you try to block out the noise,
no matter which direction it’s going in.
So I try as best I can.
I mean, sometimes I’m very poor at it.
Like, I just don’t do a good job
blocking out the noise at all.
But I think generally I try to think,
okay, just make this next move.
Make your opponent have to find the best moves.
And just keep the game going no matter what.
Just keep it going.
By the way, what’s a long day of classical chess?
What’s that look like?
It’s pretty brutal.
I mean, it would be something like,
okay, so the game starts at two o’clock.
So you’ve done all this other stuff.
The game probably goes from like two to seven, for example,
or maybe two to eight, five, six hours.
Probably you eat dinner for an hour or so.
Like, I’ll go clear my head for 30 minutes.
And then immediately it’s right back to studying
for a couple of hours.
Are you reviewing previous games or are you already?
Generally, you’re just moving on to the next game.
That’s what you’re doing.
And trying to, no matter what happened,
put that behind you.
Win or lose or draw.
That’s also why there’s another question
a lot of people wonder,
which is why don’t I play more of these classical tournaments?
And sort of, it gets back to the, you know,
the literally don’t care sort of stuff.
But when I’m going to play in tournaments,
I want to be able to give it my best shot.
And if I don’t feel that I can, I’m not going to play.
Which is why, like, I play here and there,
but I do balance my schedule very carefully
because I’m not just going to go and play a tournament
If I don’t feel that I can put in the work,
it’s not the right thing to do.
Also because I’m taking away a spot from somebody else
who probably will be putting in the work,
who will want to compete in that event.
And so when I look at the candidates,
or a lot of people say, well, why is he playing?
They’re like, okay, qualified,
but he’s not going to take it seriously.
But I did give it everything I had in that tournament.
And I always will as much as I can.
If I can’t do that, then I’m just not going to play.
So what about a perfect day in the life of a car
when you’re not doing it?
Oh, a perfect day.
A perfect day would be something along the lines of,
I get up very early, like three, four o’clock in the morning,
drive an hour away and go climb mountains.
That’s the perfect day.
Out of the mountains.
Oh, do you mean a normal non?
Yeah, a perfectly productive normal day.
Oh, perfectly productive.
Okay, so perfectly productive would be along the lines
of I wake up at like 7.30, eight o’clock.
Probably I watch either Bloomberg or CNBC
for 30 minutes to an hour.
And then watch the markets for maybe an hour or two,
look at certain things that are going on.
Do you really care about investing?
I do follow it quite closely, yeah.
I follow the markets very closely,
closer than I should, but yes.
For personal reasons, do you comment on it?
Like for personal investing reasons
or for like philosophical understanding
what’s going on in the world?
It’s sort of everything.
I think, first of all, obviously I’m interested in investing.
I have been for many, many years.
I’ve done investing trading for at least a decade now.
So like I am very interested on that level.
I’m also quite interested as well,
because when you see the policy that’s being dictated,
like you look in the last six months specifically,
you see the Fed policy around things like interest rates,
unemployment, things of this nature.
It is something that interests me also,
because I do invest in real estate
aside from the stock market.
So therefore I’m always keeping an eye
on these sorts of things and always looking.
And as a better example, like I’m looking for trends.
So if we go back to, I think it was 20,
I could have the year wrong.
It was 2015 or 2016.
There was a pattern that I found that on the Fed minutes
that came out, you know, I believe two to 15,
I think it’s on the Wednesday of every,
third Wednesday of every month,
that gold would actually, the gold ETFs and ETNs
would actually go up every single Wednesday of the month
that the minutes came out.
So I would follow things like that.
Now, of course I wasn’t like trading huge volume,
but I found a trend there.
Of course it stopped working at a certain point,
but those are the sorts of things that,
they just interest me.
Even if it’s not something that I’m doing to make a living,
trying to spot those trends,
it’s always been something that has fascinated me.
One Reddit said that you shorted Tesla some time ago.
Do you regret doing so?
Well, when I did those plays,
that was only those small amounts of money.
And that was only via puts.
That was where I would buy puts or put spreads on it.
So it wasn’t something where I straight shorting.
I would never actually do that because it’s just,
it’s not worth the risk.
And I don’t want to ever be in a situation
where I have to think about those sorts of things.
And I think a better example is,
there was a period in 2016 actually,
shortly before the candidates,
when I actually was in oil.
I had a long position in oil.
And this is when oil completely crashed.
It went very, I don’t think it went below,
did it go below 30 even?
It went very low.
And of course the Saudis were not cutting,
they were not, I think they were,
were they cutting or not cutting production?
But anyway, there was a period in 2016
where I had a big long position in one of the 3X oil ETFs.
And it kept going down day after day after day.
And then of course, right near the bottom,
I finally couldn’t take it anymore.
I took a loss.
And that really sort of,
it was very difficult dealing with that,
the stress, everyday looking, seeing those losses.
And after that, I kind of decided
I would never put myself in such a situation again.
And so that’s why I don’t do shorting.
And then separately, I think I posted a reply
to this comment, but in 2021, as Tesla started going up,
I actually started selling puts.
And I did quite well off of that.
So it’s sort of play both sides,
never become hard set with your conviction.
Like where you refuse, like this is just like,
it has to go down or like it has to go up.
Just you have to be willing to adapt.
Do you think shorting should be legal?
Do you think it’s ethical?
Like to me, I’m not, I don’t know much about investing,
but I feel like it feels wrong.
Now I know if something is overinflated,
it’s good for there to be an opposing force
to like balance it or something like that.
But it just feels like
in our current modern internet world,
I think Tesla, I vaguely saw somewhere
that’s like the most shorted stock like ever.
And so that incentivizes a lot of the publication
of misinformation about it.
It just feels like the incentives are wrong,
not when we look at the markets,
but at the future of human civilization perspective.
It just feels like shorting is somehow wrong,
but maybe I’m misunderstanding
the broader picture of markets.
Well, I actually try not to do that.
Like I almost only take long positions specifically
because I feel like you’re betting
like on the world collapsing.
I just, I feel like morally, I don’t want to be in that,
that I don’t want to have that viewpoint.
I think, you know, that sort of is another thing
that I’ve noticed.
Like I’ve been very lucky.
I’ve traveled a lot.
I’ve met a lot of famous people.
And the one thing that I’ve noticed is like
a lot of the people who are the most successful,
they’re the ones who are very optimistic.
No matter what is happening day to day,
they remain very optimistic
about the future of where things are going.
So I try not to end up in that situation.
I think as far as like shorting specifically,
the real danger to me is that anybody can now invest.
And I feel like actually some of these apps like Robinhood,
they go out of their way to try and make it seem
like it’s this fun game.
Like I’ve seen people where you place a trade
and it like, it gives you like these stickers
or these pop-ups like of confetti.
And it’s like, wait a second, what’s going on here
with the whole game?
Like people are sort of,
they’re going after the wrong thing.
So I don’t think shorting like will be banned,
but I think it’s very dangerous that everybody has access
to being able to do things like that.
So according to Reddit on the topic of Tesla,
you have trouble admitting when you make a mistake.
Is that true?
No, that’s generally not true.
Actually, I think that-
Wait, Reddit is not 100% accurate and truthful
in its representation of a character?
No, I think the thing that I’ve learned is
I’m obviously very good at chess,
but that doesn’t automatically mean
that I’m a genius in everything else.
And I feel like that’s another thing actually
that I really, really admire about Magnus
is that he is the world champion, he’s the best player,
but he does not automatically believe
that that translates to every area of life.
I feel like with some other world champions,
they think that they’re great no matter what they do.
And that’s not like intentionally trying to be like rude,
but I do feel like there’s certain people who feel like that
like anything they say is right and they are the authority.
When in reality, like we are the authorities
when it comes to chess,
like we know chess the best, we are the experts,
but that doesn’t automatically mean
we’re geniuses in everything else.
That said, I think you said somewhere,
could have been on the C Squared podcast,
that I forget if it’s chess or streaming
that taught you to generalize to various,
like you feel like you’re able to do other things now.
Was that streaming?
I don’t know if that’s specifically streaming,
but I think streaming has taught me a lot
about sort of life and also how to run a business honestly.
Like I have read a lot of business books
and one of the things with streaming
is that when you start out, it’s like this very small thing.
It’s just you, maybe you have a couple of people
who help you along the way,
but as it becomes bigger and bigger, if there’s a boom,
you suddenly start having to hire employees,
you’re basically running this business.
And like for me, I’ve learned a lot about that
because there was this book that I read some years back,
I think it was by Mary Buffett, it was on Warren Buffett
and how like he tries to be hands-off,
like when he buys these companies, it’s hands-off,
management stays the same, you don’t do anything.
I actually, I try to do things kind of the same way
where like I try to be hands-off,
there are a couple of people around me,
I leave a lot of the general day-to-day decisions
up to them and then like things that are really important,
obviously I’m involved in, but I try to do things like that.
So streaming is, you learn a lot along the way
and I think now having done that,
there probably are several other potential careers
that I could have if I really wanted to.
Almost about that generalizing terms
is what it takes to build a business from the ground up.
From the process of becoming a successful streamer,
you have learned what it takes to start from the ground up
with a single person and to build a business
as multiple people and a successful.
What do you attribute your success as a streamer to?
I mean, many things.
I think being a very strong chess player
and having had a following was incredibly important
at the start.
I think anybody, whether it’s chess or whatever field,
if you have that following to begin with from your career
or whatever activity or video game you do,
that’s already a big step up
if you have that to begin with.
So that definitely played a big role.
I think more than that though, for me, it’s about the fans.
It’s about hearing from people how they feel.
I mean, there are trolls obviously,
but the positive messages you hear
when you hear about people who are struggling in life,
whether it’s say, I’ve heard people talk
about having cancer,
you hear about someone going through a divorce
or they’re just trying to make it through day to day.
When you hear about things like that,
I think it really puts it all into perspective
about what it all means at the end of the day.
And so for me, it really is the fans
that they give me that motivation.
They are the reason I do it.
And when I meet some of these fans in person,
like I have at a couple of events,
like just talking to them, hearing their story,
just knowing that I can bring them some joy is,
again, at the end of the day, it’s why are you doing it?
That’s what it’s about.
If I can bring people joy,
you know, if it’s someone working in a factory all day,
if I bring them joy through my chest, that means a lot.
You know, if it’s a kid, for example,
if I can inspire them to take up chess in a more serious way
or even honestly, if they just learn from chess,
certain skills like critical thinking,
and that leads to them becoming like a great scientist
or something down the road,
that is what I’m ultimately hoping.
That’s what I hope will come out of it.
I mean, what gave you strength to have to turn on?
I mean, I don’t know how much you stream, but it’s a lot.
So day after day after day,
to be able to put that content out there,
is there some, can you comment on the challenge of that
and maybe the low points,
how you’re able to overcome that?
I actually don’t feel the lows.
And I think the main reason I don’t feel the lows
is because at the end of the day, I’ve been very fortunate,
even as a chess player, very, very fortunate,
travel the world, meet people.
I’ve lived a great life.
So for me to see myself as a streamer doing so well
and bringing joy to people,
I don’t feel like I’m in a position,
maybe this is wrong to say this,
because mental health is very important.
But for myself, I feel like I’m very lucky.
I don’t really have any right to complain.
So I don’t really feel those lows in the same way.
There are times when there are certain things like Reddit
or otherwise that will get on my nerves a little bit,
but I’m able to realize that I’m so fortunate.
And so I don’t generally struggle with the lows that much.
Speaking of Reddit and trolls,
Reddit asked me to ask you to tell me the story of Chess Bay,
the Reddit moderator who pitted you against Eric Hansen,
also known as Chess Bro.
I’m just saying things I don’t know.
I don’t know much about Eric Hansen.
I guess Eric is another grandmaster.
You guys had some drama and tension between each other.
So we’ll also ask you to tell me what you like best
about Eric Hansen as a human being.
Here’s what I would say.
The whole streamers and the whole boom of chess,
there are certain people, certain entities
that are very, very important to what happened.
There are a lot of people
in the right place at the right time.
Myself, Botez, the Chess Bros, Levy as well.
We were all kind of in the right place at the right time.
But just having the personalities alone is not enough.
You need people who push things.
And there are a lot of things
that have been said about Chess Bay, about what she did.
At the end of the day,
the way that I view it is pretty straightforward.
You don’t have to agree with what she did,
the manner in which she did things,
but it pushed the directory
and chess on Twitch forward in a way
that would not have been possible
with anybody else at the time.
Chess.com, for example, they were not directly pushing it.
So you needed someone who was pushing it.
And that, so to me, when I look at the whole boom,
actually, of what happened on Twitch,
in many ways, I think she’s just as responsible as I was,
Levy was, Botez was, and the Bros were.
All of us were extremely fortunate
because if you didn’t have someone pushing it forward,
and Chess.com was not really that involved at the time,
it never would have gotten to where it was.
So you can sort of look at it and say,
okay, you don’t agree with what happened,
but you needed someone like that
who was gonna push, push really hard
to get Chess to where it is today.
Can you comment on what happened
for people who have no clue what you were talking about?
Is that not useful?
I don’t think it’s specifically useful to get into it.
I think there are a lot of layers.
People felt there were things like abuses of power,
things of that nature.
There were a lot of things that were said.
You know, I don’t wanna be super negative
about what happened specifically,
but one thing people will note
is that prior to what did happen in April of 20,
I think that was 2021 now,
there were a lot more collaborations.
The chess world was much more together as a whole.
A lot of streamers did things together.
After what happened in April,
there was a big sort of separation.
A lot of streamers went off in their own directions
because of what happened.
So that is, I mean, that’s not the whole story.
There’s a lot more to it, of course,
but I think it’s fair to say that.
If I can just comment on the few times
I’ve tuned into the streaming world,
I do hate to see the silos that were created.
One of the reasons I’ve been a fan
and now a good friend of Joe Rogan,
you call it collaborations,
but it’s basically everybody’s supporting each other,
gets excited for each other, promotes each other,
and there’s not that competitive feeling.
With streamers, sometimes I’ve just noticed
that there’s a natural siloing effect.
I don’t know why that is exactly.
Maybe because drama is somehow good
for views and clicks and that kind of stuff.
I don’t know what that is, but I hate to see it
because I love seeing kind of friendship
and collaboration and that kind of stuff.
I think this also goes, again,
try not to be super negative,
but this also goes to the chess world as a whole.
One of the things that I’ve been in this chess world
for a very long time, not talking about online,
but just the chess world itself,
and I’ve been very fortunate
because I’ve seen a couple of booms and busts.
Actually, it wasn’t late 90s, it was in the mid 90s.
There was a period of time when Intel and IBM
and all these tech companies were very big on chess.
There was this PCA Grand Prix World Championship
held in New York.
I think there was the Deep Blue stuff later on
in the late 90s with Garry Kasparov,
and you had a lot of interest at the time,
and then it sort of went up in flames
for a couple different reasons.
Also in the late 2000s or maybe mid 2000s,
there was a group in Seattle that was very big on chess.
They hosted the US Championship, all these different things.
There’ve been a lot of booms and busts.
Of course, if you go way back,
there was the Fisher boom as well,
but inevitably what leads to these busts?
And the thing that leads to it is at the end of the day,
people in the chess world have this natural tendency
to want to not work together.
You wanna hang on to whatever piece
of the chess world you have,
as opposed to thinking about it from the standpoint
of what’s good for one is good for all.
So it’s one of those things
that now that I’m in this situation,
having seen these booms and busts,
I remember when I was younger,
I would very oftentimes think,
why is it that chess isn’t bigger?
Why do we struggle so much to grow the game?
And I think we see the reason.
So now when I’m in this position,
it’s also very tough,
because I know what’s happened.
You try to learn from the past,
but it still feels very hard to break out from that.
It feels very tough.
And it’s also difficult,
because another thing that people kind of misunderstand
is from time to time, I’ll talk about myself.
I’ll actually talk about Levy and incomes
or how well we’re doing.
And the main reason I talk about this
is that I want it to inspire FIDE,
the governing bodies,
and others feel like, wow,
these people, they’re having such success.
Surely we can do something different.
We can change things.
And somehow it has not happened,
which is in a way very, very disheartening to me,
because I wanna see more interest in chess.
So you wanna see more sponsors,
more of the general public getting excited by the game.
So it is one of those things that’s very, very difficult.
Yeah, so you wanna see innovation
on the parts of everybody,
but also the organizations like FIDE and chess.com,
how to inspire a large number of people,
which is what streamers are doing.
They’re constantly innovating, I guess,
of how to reach a very large audience.
Before we forget, just to put a little love out there.
Oh, you wanted me to ask about Eric?
It was about Eric.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, a little love out there.
What do you like best about Eric Hansen as a human being?
I think it’s mainly he’s just, he’s very charismatic.
He’s very charismatic.
He knows the brand that he has,
and he doesn’t pretend to fake it.
He knows what his brand is, and he owns it.
So he’s, just for people who don’t know,
and I don’t know, he’s a grandmaster.
He’s a very strong grandmaster.
Yeah, he’s a strong grandmaster,
but he’s also a creator.
Yeah, one of the earliest major
chess content creators on Twitch.
Like educational stuff, too?
A mix of educational, a mix of high level,
a mix of everything, yeah.
What historical chess figure do you think
would have the best streams?
Historical chess figure.
I would say probably Mikhail Tal.
He was the former world champion.
Now he lived a very, very exciting life,
let’s put it that.
He was somebody who drank.
He’s from Latvia.
He’s called the Magician from Riga.
So he drank a lot, he smoked a lot,
a lot of other stuff as well.
Oh, like sex, drugs, and rock and roll?
Kind of, yeah.
I think if you look at, actually,
not even just top grandmasters,
or not even world champions, but top grandmasters,
he probably had the most interesting life by far, by far.
And even as an example of how much he loved chess
and what a character he was,
I think when he was dying in like 19,
I think it was 1989 or maybe it was 91,
when he was dying, he actually left the hospital
to go play a Blitz tournament in Moscow,
and he actually beat Garry Kasparov
in that Blitz tournament in one of the games.
At what age?
Probably like late 50s, mid 50s, late 50s.
I mean, he drank too much, so he died young.
But yeah, he left the hospital in Moscow
and went to play a Blitz tournament, he beat Kasparov.
Well, first of all, just to push back,
I think we all die too young,
and some of the most impactful people,
like Churchill, did quite a bit of drinking and smoking,
all that kind of stuff.
So you can still do brilliant things,
even if you partake in the old whisking, drugs,
and rock and roll and women.
Just about streaming though,
there’s this quote that I love,
which is the Steve Jobs quote,
which is you can never connect the dots looking forward,
you can only connect them looking backwards.
And when I look at how I got into streaming,
there were all these things that happened along the way
that were so beneficial.
So first thing would be that when I was young,
I was growing up, I played a lot of Blitz chess
on the Internet Chess Club.
It was one of the predecessors to chess.com.
And there was no cameras or audio or these things,
but one thing that people did was you could commit,
you would write comments about your games
and things of this nature.
And so I was doing something very similar
where instead of talking, I was writing and chatting
during some of the games that I was playing.
So that was something that I was doing
that was very, very beneficial.
Without that, I don’t think that I would have been able
to have the success that I’ve had streaming.
I think it would have taken much longer to get used to it
and feel comfortable with it,
but I already had that built-in advantage.
Additionally, when I was younger, up until,
I think I was 10 or 11, I don’t remember exactly,
I did not actually have a TV.
Well, I had a TV, but I didn’t have cable.
So I did not watch TV growing up.
So I listened to the radio a lot.
I listened to a lot of baseball games
in New York Yankees specifically.
And so I think by listening to those games,
like I sort of, I’ve heard a lot of announcers.
I think that’s also, it’s one of those things
where you learn from what you see kind of
when you’re growing up, they’re examples.
And so I think that was very, very beneficial.
And then a third thing in terms of like having some flares,
when I was growing up and I was homeschooled,
probably about 14, 15, there was this great courses.
I think they still do some of these great courses.
And there was this, I don’t remember who the guy was,
but he was a professor.
And so I watched some of these DVDs of his lectures.
And he would always dress up as someone,
it was like middle ages.
So he would dress up and he was sort of like an orator
and he would explain like, you know,
what happened in the 13, 1400s in this sort of style.
And that’s also something that obviously
it’s not something that I can consciously like internalize,
but I think it’s something as well
that from having watched those courses
and seeing that style of oration really helped me a lot
as a streamer too.
So yeah, all those little experiences contribute to life.
That’s definitely something I think about
is I took a pretty nonlinear path to life.
And I think they somehow get integrated into the picture.
But I do connect to your idea that you being good at chess
was a part, was an important part of your success
I think like, that’s really good advice for people
to be good, like in order to be a creator
or a podcast or create videos,
all that kind of stuff or stream.
I feel like it enriches you if you pursue
with your whole heart, something else outside of that.
Like, you don’t have to be obviously
at your level of chess,
but just you have to be developed
in a passionate pursuit of something outside of that.
Yeah, you have to know what that passion kind of,
what it is, I think for sure.
I think if you’re only doing streaming,
there’s something, first of all,
I feel like that’s going to empty you over time.
For some reason, I’ve seen some of the lows
that people hit if they don’t have
this other passion pursuit outside of streaming.
But also, it’ll just make you a better creator,
which is interesting.
I think, again, with podcasting, this applies,
like with Rogan, I think it’s just would not,
the reason his podcast is very good
is because all of his passion is put into being a comedian
and being a fight commentator.
Like, the podcast is a side hobby.
That’s the way I feel about it, too.
So your main passion is outside of it.
I don’t know what that is.
I think it puts everything in its proper context.
And also, it allows you to mentally escape
into that place that you find deeply fulfilling.
You mentioned, like offline,
you told me that you’re interested,
you found it interesting that I said
that I’m renting this particular place,
and I always rent because of the sense of freedom it gives.
I mean, I tend to actually try to be a minimalist
for the most part when it comes to things like clothes
or owning cars, for example, or watches.
I don’t own a lot of these material things.
They don’t really interest me.
But at the end of the day, the one thing is,
and this might actually play a role
in a lot of the hiccups why I didn’t get
to maybe being closer to world champion,
is that one of the things from the time
that I was very young is I didn’t grow up
from a wealthy background.
I had a single mother for the first six years of my life.
She worked as an elementary teacher
to support my brother and myself.
So I saw a lot of these sort of lows in life early on.
Now, even once she remarried,
all the money that my stepfather made was,
not all of it, but a lot of it was directed
towards my mom and I traveling
to tournaments internationally or even in the US.
So seeing some of these struggles,
once I actually made it as a chess player,
and this goes back to investing as well,
is that it’s kind of like you want
to be secure at a certain point.
So I’ve always looked at that,
how do you get to that point at the end of the day?
And again, like I said, with my experiences,
seeing, actually even now, my stepfather,
he’s 72 years old, still teaches chess all the time,
probably works harder than I do, actually.
And so I see things like that,
and that really interested me,
how do you get from point A to point B?
And that’s in large part what led to it.
That being said, obviously, when you start owning things
like properties, houses, or condos and whatnot,
there are headaches that come along
with getting some of these bills in the mail,
or you see HOA about a tenant
not parking their car illegally,
$50 that you have to pay in fees, these sorts of things.
It is kind of a pain, but I try,
I mean, I try to reduce the number of things
that can really bother me in life,
and that’s really the only thing that I let,
not let, but it’s one of those things,
the only things that kind of ties me down in a way,
and I still feel pretty free, though,
for the most part, despite owning.
But you mentioned security,
so that meaning like security stability,
that kind of thing? Stability, yeah, sorry.
So that’s the thing you chase, you value.
When it comes to chess, as I said,
if you’re a pro player, you can do very well,
make a couple hundred thousand dollars a year.
Of course, I’m talking pre-tax,
but if you do poorly in one year, that income dries up,
and there is a chance you’ll never get back there.
So I feel like for much of my career,
that was always on my mind,
and maybe that held me back to some degree.
I don’t know those sort of thoughts about things like that
as opposed to purely being focused only on chess,
like worrying about the results,
worrying about the prizes, things like this.
It might’ve held me back,
but that was always something that was on my mind.
For me, I really worked hard to make sure
that I’m philosophically, intellectually, spiritually,
in every way, I’m okay with having nothing,
as close to nothing as you can get.
And the reason I want that is so that I have the freedom
to not crave stability, or rather have stability,
because my bar for stability is so low.
And that gives me the freedom to take big risks.
And I thought that for me,
I felt like the way I could really help the world
is by optimizing the positive I can do,
and for that, you have to take big risks.
And big risks really does mean
potentially losing everything.
So you’re saying like startups, you mean like that?
Yeah, startups in every aspect,
meaning pivoting career paths completely
when everybody else is telling you not to do that.
It’s interesting, because when I think about streaming,
it’s not like a startup,
because I’m not investing money
where I can lose everything if it’s not successful.
But it was also a big risk for me doing that,
because at the time,
I was a professional player doing very well.
When I started in October 2018,
I was still top 10 in the world doing very well.
2019 was actually a very bad year for me.
I started playing much worse.
And towards the end of 2019,
I intended to take a six-month break.
Last time I played was November 2019 in India.
And then I was going to take a break
until the US Championship in April of 2020.
So I did, in a sense, actually take a risk
because I was potentially risking my career
by spending this extra time that I had streaming.
So it’s not the risk where financially I can lose everything,
but it actually was a bit of a risk
now that I think about it in a sense.
Because if I lose my career as a player,
there’s no guarantee that streaming
is going to be anything substantial.
You didn’t think it was a risk at the time?
I think at the time, I just…
I don’t know, I thought it was just something fun
to spend my time on.
I didn’t somehow…
I don’t know, I wasn’t…
I figured that after a six-month break,
I would come back and play better chess, kind of.
But as far as streaming,
I never thought of it as being something
that would be a career or something viable.
I just thought it’s something fun to do.
Maybe it gives fans some access to me.
It broadens the platform.
More people hear about me.
And that was about it, really.
I did not ever expect it to become what it did.
You said growing up with a single mother
and just giving your whole life to chess at a certain point.
Has there been through that low points,
maybe times when you felt lonely,
isolated, maybe even depressed?
Chess is very difficult.
You’re on your own.
You can have friends,
people you compete against who are friends,
but at the end of the day,
it’s a very singular pursuit.
It’s just you.
And your results dictate everything.
So there have been many moments throughout my life
when I’ve struggled.
I think probably the biggest time when that happened
would have been about 2005 into 2006,
where I stopped playing chess and I went to college.
And that was mainly because I had gotten to a level
where I was top 100 in the world,
but I stagnated for that year, about 2005, 2006.
And so I decided to go to college
primarily because I had stagnated.
I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere.
And then also kind of being on your own,
just having a few friends here or there in the chess world,
you kind of, you wonder what it’s like.
And especially because I was homeschooled as well,
like that further added to kind of wanting
to be around other people.
It really played a very big role
in my decision to go to college.
But at the end of the day, as I realized,
college kind of was a big disappointment
because the strongest or the biggest strength
of playing chess is that you mingle with people
from all different backgrounds, all different ages.
And when I went to college, the whole notion
of basically people who are juniors and seniors
being more important or more equal than others
to do the animal farm line,
like when you’re in that situation,
it didn’t really jive with my childhood
and growing up in the world of chess.
And that is one of the biggest reasons
that I actually came back to chess
because it’s like this world of where certain people
are more important and things are different.
I just could not really relate to that.
And that was one of the biggest reasons.
It really was.
That wasn’t the only reason.
The other reason though,
was that towards the end of my first semester,
I played a tournament after not studying.
Actually, when I was in college,
when I wasn’t actually studying for class,
I was mainly on poker stars playing poker all night long.
So towards the end of that semester,
I actually went to play a tournament in Philadelphia
because I was going to college nearby.
And with very little preparation,
I won that tournament against other strong grandmasters.
And that kind of made me think,
well, okay, if I’m ever going to take a chance,
it has to be now.
If I stay in college for four years,
probably get a major in political science,
do something in the political arena.
And then I felt like I’m going to probably look back
like five, 10 years from now and wonder, what if?
What if I had played chess?
How far could I have gone?
And if I had taken those four years,
there would have been no opportunity
for me to reach my full potential
or even see how far I go.
So therefore, that was also a big, big reason.
So another what if question,
if you didn’t play chess, you mentioned political,
what other possible successful trajectory might have you had?
That depends on what point, really,
if when you ask that question.
I think if we’re talking about the time of college,
probably I would have done something in political science,
maybe law, being a lobbyist or something terrible
like that, honestly.
If I was a little bit younger,
I really, I loved ancient history, archeology,
and also languages as well.
So probably something along those lines.
And if we talk more recently, something in finance.
I don’t know what exactly, but something in finance.
What do you think, when we talk again, 30 years,
what do you think you’re doing?
I honestly want to believe that I’m just sitting
in a beach house in Malibu, just relaxing.
So you and I are in a yacht for some reason.
Why we’re in a yacht?
You paid for it.
It’s your yacht.
I don’t ever want to own a yacht.
No, okay, all right, fine.
I mean, that’s like the amount of money you waste
on docking fees, the gas, no way, no way.
I guess I was trying to construct an example.
You’re being super rich for some reason.
It doesn’t have to be that.
Actually, no, I don’t think that.
That actually does not appeal to me at all.
I think another great thing about chess
is that within the chess world,
I’m very prominent and famous,
but I can go out to the supermarket
and nobody recognized me.
And so I am famous, but I’m not famous at the same time.
So I don’t actually want to be like,
I don’t want to be in a situation
where everyone recognizes me or I’m super famous.
That’s not, that to me sounds like a very miserable life.
I do not want TMZ chasing me down the street.
So you’re famous in a community you love
and so whenever you plug into that community,
it’s always like there’s a deep connection there.
You can always escape when you need a break.
What advice would you give to young people
about career, about life?
Maybe they’re in high school, maybe they’re in college.
Maybe they want to achieve the heights
that you have achieved in chess.
They want to do that for something they care about.
Yeah, so I think the main thing is follow your heart,
follow your passion.
One thing we didn’t touch on this,
like both my parents, my mom was a musician.
She was very good.
I think she was like maybe Allstate in California
when she was growing up on the violin.
But she still was nowhere near good enough
to get into Juilliard or the top music schools
and pursue that as a career.
And there are a lot of starving musicians
who never are able to quite make it.
So like when I see my mom and what happened
with her passion, the fact she wasn’t able to make it,
or then my stepfather, who we haven’t talked about.
My stepfather actually, he’s of Sri Lankan descent.
He comes from a family of lawyers.
His father was a lawyer, his uncle was a lawyer
for the International Court of Justice.
So it’s a family of lawyers.
And my stepfather, he went to England to study law.
He went to Southampton.
I think it was University of Southampton.
And at some point he was going and playing
these tournaments on the weekend,
playing at the school club, all these things.
And his parents actually, they took away his chess board.
They took away his chess books.
They took everything away and told him
he was going to become a lawyer.
He could not play chess.
So when I look at my upbringing,
I feel very lucky that my parents,
having had these experiences,
they were so supportive of everything I did.
And I think that at the end of the day,
you have to pursue your passion
to whatever end that might be.
You might pursue it, you might fail,
but I do think you have to pursue it.
It’s better to have tried and failed
than have not tried at all.
So I really do believe that’s the most important thing
is that you do that.
And where it takes you, who knows,
but the experiences I feel are much more important
than the what-ifs and possibly missing out on living life.
So even if it’s everybody around you
and your own judgment says that this is not going
to be financially viable long-term, still pursue.
I think, I mean, at some point
you have to make those tough decisions, but absolutely.
I feel like too many people follow the standard route.
It’s like, you’re supposed to go to college,
get that degree, be $200,000 in debt,
these sorts of things.
But then at the end of the day, are you really living?
Are you pursuing what you want to pursue?
It’s just because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
That’s what society tells us,
that the route you’re supposed to go.
So I think you just have to pursue it.
Of course, at a certain point, if you’re not making it,
you have to make hard decisions.
But I think that in life, the only thing really,
time and sort of experiences,
those are the only things
that you really can’t put a price on.
Yeah, and really pursue it.
Even like streaming, I’ll see people like,
or YouTube or that kind of stuff,
it’s a world in many ways foreign to me.
It’s like, there’s levels to this game
in that there’s a way to really pursue it
and there’s a way to half-ass it.
And I guess the point is not to half-ass it.
Like, don’t just keep it a hobby, make it a full-time.
If that’s your passion, go all out.
So sometimes people can think that these things they love
is just a hobby, like music or something like that.
But there’s a way to do it seriously, to go all out, yeah.
That’s probably my general advice,
is whatever it is, you pursue it.
Because even with chess, when I dropped out of college,
there was no guarantee that I was gonna make it
as a professional player.
There was no guarantee.
But I took that chance and very fortunately for me,
it worked out.
Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck
or a hundred duck-sized horses?
Probably a horse-sized duck.
Just one enemy is better than having to keep an eye
on a hundred.
Is this the stress or what, the anxiety?
You don’t, why don’t you like a hundred?
I mean, they’re tiny.
I don’t know.
Well, I don’t know if they’re gonna attack you or not,
but I feel like having one enemy seeing
the clear objective, I would always, I prefer that.
If you could be someone else for a day, alive or dead,
who would you be?
Who would I wanna be for a day?
If I had to pick someone, actually,
I would probably pick Elon.
How many years ago is now?
When the rockets were blowing up.
I’d be very interested to see those processes
of how they went through that
and they got out on the other side.
Because I feel like most of the time
when you hear about the startups,
like, okay, you look at Amazon.
You have the big investment to start.
Doesn’t feel like there were those super, super lows
for the Amazons of the world.
Maybe not when the three rockets blew up,
but maybe when that, was it the fourth or fifth one?
But somewhere in that timeframe.
Yeah, that is probably one of the lowest lows
that are publicly I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, that’s, yeah.
Those are the moments that make us.
If everyone on earth disappeared
through a horrible atrocity and it was just you left,
what would your days look like?
What would you do?
It’s just me.
Just dead bodies and more.
There’s a movie like this, right?
There’s many movies like this.
Honestly, if I could, I would probably just,
but you’re saying there’s like no life,
no plants, none of this stuff?
No, there’s life.
There’s life, just not in humans.
Not in human life.
There’s like goats and stuff.
Is it, what was the, I remember reading a,
I mean, it’s slightly different,
but there was a sci-fi book I read many years ago.
I think it was Rendezvous with Rama,
where I think there were people
that were just going all over the land in this cylinder.
And so I think for me, I would just explore.
I would just walk, bicycle, maybe plant some trees,
things of this nature.
I wonder how that would change your experience of nature,
knowing that it truly is,
because that’s one of the magical things with nature.
It’s humbling that it’s just you out there.
That’s why I love it.
That’s why I love going hiking,
because obviously you get the exercise,
but honestly, it’s a reminder of how small we really are.
And here you would realize,
I mean, it’s an extra humbling effect
of you really are alone out here.
Yeah, that’s, I don’t know.
I probably spent a lot of time just thinking about,
thinking about everything too.
Do you hate losing in chess, or do you love winning?
Do I hate losing, or do I love winning?
I think I love, I love winning.
I mean, maybe because I’m doing so many different things,
like losing doesn’t have the same effect on me
that it once did.
So I think now I definitely love winning more,
but I think when I was younger, I hated losing
much more than I liked winning.
What comforts you on bad days?
I think similar to what gives me the motivation
for streaming is the fact that at the end of the day,
no matter how bad things appear or seem,
I mean, we’ve never been at a better time in human history.
People have things much better off now than any other time.
So I find it hard to really have pity, or not have pity,
but like feel really bad.
I just use those sorts of things as like the way
to get over it, it’s just knowing how lucky I am.
What’s the role of love in the human condition?
Let me ask Hikaru about love.
Love is, I mean, I think it can be the greatest thing
in the world.
I think when things fall apart,
like I’ve been through this quite a few times, actually.
Some really real highs, some really real lows as well.
I think love is, it can inspire you to do things
that you never thought were possible.
And without it, though, I think life is very empty.
I think it’s probably the most important thing
to have in life in one way or another.
Which is extra sad if you were the last person
left on Earth.
Right, exactly, yeah.
I mean, I think, again, also in terms of chess,
I think that it can be, as far as chess goes,
like or any competition, it can be the greatest thing
in the world, it can also be the worst thing in the world
when you’re in love.
A lot of chess players, for many, it does not help them.
It actually makes them play much worse chess.
Because you kind of, you don’t have that energy
or that drive in the same kind of way.
So it’s very mixed for chess.
As far as me personally, though, I think, you know,
I would say what I’ve said before,
it’s better to have loved and lost
than to have never loved at all.
And I definitely have been through that.
I thought you don’t care.
I thought you don’t care.
It turns out you care sometimes, a little bit,
a tiny bit, a very, very, very tiny bit, Hikaru.
You’re an amazing person, I’m a huge fan.
It’s really an honor that you would talk with me today.
I can’t wait to see what you do next.
Thank you, it was good being here.
Thanks for listening to this conversation
with Hikaru Nakamura.
To support this podcast, please check out our sponsors
in the description.
And now, let me leave you with some words
from David Bronstein.
It is my style to take my opponent and myself
onto unknown grounds.
A game of chess is not an examination of knowledge.
It is a battle of nerves.
Thank you for listening, and hope to see you next time.