Hikaru Vs Carlsen: Who Is The Better Player Right Now?

The two most popular figures of modern chess are, without a doubt, Hikaru Nakumura and Magnus Carlsen and they are both titans of the game. However, it’s also fair to say that there’s quite a lot of debate over who is the best of these two players? We took a look at the data that matters, and this is what we concluded.

So who is the better player right now, Hikaru or Carlsen? Magnus Carlsen is the best player in the world right now. He is the current World Blitz Champion, the World Rapid Chess Champion, the World Chess Champion and has a higher ELO rating than Hikaru. Carlsen also has a better record head-to-head though Hikaru has won more rapid games as black than Carlsen has.

Let’s take a look at these formidable players and see how they measure up.

Hikaru vs. Carlsen: Who's the best player right now? - ChessPulse.com
Hikaru vs. Carlsen: Who’s the best player right now? – ChessPulse.com

Who Is Hikaru Nakamura And How Good Is He?

Hikaru Nakamura may have been born in Japan but he’s now an American citizen and an American chess player. He is the youngest American ever to become a grandmaster picking the title up just 79 days after his 15th birthday.

He’s been the champion of the United States 6 times and that’s the same number of times that he’s represented the US in the Olympics too. His highest ever FIDE rating is 2816 and at the point he was ranked fourth in the world still some way behind Magnus Carlsen. Though his current rating is just 2736 and he has slipped down the ratings table.

He has been the world’s number one for Blitz and Rapid chess and when Magnus Carlsen finally entered these events there was a period of time when he was the world number two for fast chess.

He Started Winning When He Was Young

His chess playing career started with a bang. He was just 10 when he became the youngest American player to claim the scalp of an International Master (Jay Bonin) and he was the youngest American ever to achieve master’s rank that same year.

In 2004, he would reach the fourth round of the FIDE World Chess Championship in Tripoli, Libya. Michael Adams, the English grandmaster, finally sent him packing. In 2005, he picked up his first ever US championship crown. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that Hikaru entered the world’s top 10 players.

In 2013, after a bit of a dodgy beginning Hikaru achieved the highest ever rating for Blitz chess and was the world number one. He also tied for first place in the Norwegian Chess tournament and shared victory with Carlsen.

He Peaked In 2015

In 2015, he reached his highest ever rating on the FIDE scale, but this would only propel him to the 4th in the world.

In 2020, he began the year as the best blitz player in the world but then surrendered his title to Magnus Carlsen. He came second to Carlsen in the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour, and second in the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge too.

However, he didn’t show up to defend his USA title and that was won by Wesley So, instead.

Here’s What Hikaru Says About Himself

There’s no doubt that Hikaru is one of the greatest chess players on the planet today. He is a real master of fast chess and his slow chess is very good, though he often seems impatient at the board. This might have something to do with his passion for speed chess.

He doesn’t make any claims to be the world’s greatest though and has described himself as the 2nd best speed chess player in history.

Who Is Magnus Carlsen And How Good Is He?

If there’s a player that needs no introduction, then it’s Magnus Carlsen the current world number one is one of the most famous and well-recognized chess players in history. There’s a certain rock star appeal to Carlsen that hasn’t been present in many chess playing greats before him.

His highest ever FIDE rating of 2882 is the highest ever recorded by anyone in history. While there are strong arguments as to whether Kasparov or Bobby Fischer might have been better than him had they peaked at the same time, it’s fair to say that the argument for Hikaru Nakamura is much weaker.

Carlsen was just 13 when he became a grandmaster, that’s two years earlier than Hikaru had managed and he won his national tournament at 15, and then smashed past the 2800 rating barrier when he was just 18.

World Number 1 At 19

By 19, Magnus Carlsen was the best ranked player in the world and by 22 he was the world champion. Today, he is the world number one for Rapid Chess, Blitz Chess and Slow (Regular) Chess. He holds all three world championship titles too.

The events of 2020 have prevented Carlsen from, so far, defending his main title for a third time, though he is expected to do so next year but for now, he has been the world’s top player for 7 years and while his speed chess record is a bit spottier he has held all three world championship titles twice, now and back in 2014.

Carlsen is an aggressive player who has mellowed with age. When you watch Carlsen and Hikaru at the board, it becomes clear very quickly that Carlsen has an endless well of patience when required and he easily adapts to slow chess after playing faster variants. Something that, to date, Hikaru has proved rather less likely to do.

He is also a midgame specialist and enjoys working through complex variations on the board of the king that are likely to frustrate Hikaru when they meet over the board and, for the moment at least, this is exactly what has happened in the past.

Is Hikaru Better Than Carlsen?

No and we don’t think that Hikaru would claim to be better than Carlsen, either. We do think that there’s a possibility that Hikaru will overhaul Carlsen in the world speed chess rankings and ratings again at some point in the near future – his game is so entertaining in that respect that it’s hard to envision Hikaru not regaining that title but Magnus Carlsen is a machine and dethroning him won’t be easy.

At slow chess, though? Not yet and possibly not ever. Hikaru needs to slow down and develop more patience, Carlsen’s adaptive style is simply more capable of eking out the wins than Hikaru’s explosive approach to the board. It’s easy to understand why so many people prefer to watch Hikaru’s play but it’s also easy to see why Carlsen is ahead.

Their Results Speak For Themselves

Speaking of being ahead – unlike many of our other “who’s the best player?” pairings these two have met head to head on the board and the statistics support our case.Of the 67 times they’ve battled it out – Carlsen has won 20 times (15 times with white, 5 times with black) and lost just 3 games (twice with black, once with white) and they’ve drawn 44 of their tally.

In addition, the only time that Carlsen is behind Hikaru in rapid, slow, or blitz chess is with the black pieces in rapid chess. In all other forms of the game, Carlsen has the advantage. Some argue that Hikaru has a “phobia” of Carlsen because of past results and they may be right but until Hikaru can overcome this – Magnus Carlsen will remain the better player.


Hikaru Vs Carlsen: Who is the better player right now? Carlsen. It’s not that Hikaru lacks potential, far from it but for now Carlsen is the fully rounded finished article that dominates modern chess. He is the world number one in all forms of the game and though Hikaru can claim to be nearly as good when it comes to speed chess – in slow chess, there’s just no contest at all.

We hope to see much more of these two players over the next few years, they’re both still relatively young and there’s the potential for great change in either of them. But for now, Carlsen is the better player and we can’t see it changing.

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