With Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura being of a similar age and rating, the Hikaru Nakamura vs Magnus Carlsen clash has happened a lot of times… with a very one-sided result. 12 classical wins for Magnus Carlsen vs Hikaru Nakamura’s 1 win. Why does such a strong player as Nakamura find it so difficult to beat with Carlsen? This Queen’s Gambit game from 2011 provides some clues.
Although a couple of years off becoming World Chess Champion when this game was played, Magnus Carlsen was already considered the strongest player in the world. While Hikaru Nakamura is known for his incredible blitz play and tactical style, Magnus Carlsen is more often associated with slow positional games.
However, Carlsen is an incredible calculator and was a very aggressive, tactical player when younger. As he rose in the chess ranks and locked horns with the very best, his games became more positional for 2 reasons: 1) his opponents steered away from sharp positions fearing Carlsen’s tactical ability, and 2) Magnus was happy to rely on his deep positional understanding to fight for tiny edges and convert them with his near flawless chess endgame technique. All the while ready to take advantage of any tactical errors by his rivals.
In other words, Hikaru Nakamura prioritizes tactical considerations over positional and Magnus Carlsen vice versa, with Carlsen matching Nakamura’s chess tactics and having superior positional chess understanding.
Carlsen opens with 1. d4 and Nakamura responds with the Slav Defense. Carlsen plays an early exchange on d5 and play steers towards the Charousek Variation of the Queen’s Gambit. I was not very impressed with Nakamura’s choice of opening with black as Carlsen was able to gain a rapid lead in development with a very solid position and, finally, mobile pawns in the center.
Carlsen skillfully exploited a superior position by embarking on a surprisingly fast kingside attack, leading to an overwhelming position and Nakamura’s resignation in 38 moves.
Carlsen vs Nakamura