Nakamura commented on his loss to his fans, more than 4,000 of whom follow him on Twitter, with the bleak message, "Continuing to play like garbage these days," followed the next day by a grim, "Starting to wonder when I will remember how to play chess!" The next week, those sentiments were absent, replaced with a firm focus on the future, his next tournament, a trip to Dortmund, Germany, that begins this week.

If he does not meet the standards he's set for himself, he temporarily capsizes. His heightened public temperament constantly fluctuates somewhere between fervent and histrionic.

"If you don't really take the time to get to know him, he comes off..." his mother tapers off. It takes her more than ten minutes to describe her son's personality, a feat that's as much a testament to the dynamism of his character as to the difficulty of reading it. "That's who Hikaru has to be in order to succeed, and I think it's really hard. Some people probably think he doesn't care about anything."

Earlier this month, SportsIllustrated.com named Nakamura's Twitter handle (@GMHikaru) one of the top 100 sports accounts to follow.
Betsy Dynako
Earlier this month, SportsIllustrated.com named Nakamura's Twitter handle (@GMHikaru) one of the top 100 sports accounts to follow.
Hikaru Nakamura (right) takes on Russian grandmaster Peter Svidler in a November 2009 match in Norway.
AFP Photo / Scanpix / Erlend Aas
Hikaru Nakamura (right) takes on Russian grandmaster Peter Svidler in a November 2009 match in Norway.

Chess is a psychological game, one in which players struggle not only to make strong moves but to force their opponents to make weak ones. Nakamura's personality can be a benefit in that regard — even as it's made him a wild card.

"Some people asked me recently if I was worried about him coming to the club because of the way he behaves, and I said, 'No, he's the best,'" Finegold says. "Two years ago, I wouldn't have agreed, but he's going to be world champion. And that behavior is going away."


When it comes to Nakamura's future, the name that continues to appear is that of Bobby Fischer. Fischer won the world championship at age 29, which gives Nakamura roughly six years to do the same. Chess observers expect Nakamura to hit that mark, and depending on what day you speak to him, he usually expects himself to do so as well.

Here, he's helped by his overconfidence and hindered by his unpredictability. Within the next two years, the American chess community expects big results from its top player, and in the meantime, it expects guarantees.

"There are very few people out there who have the ability to, I don't want to say change the world, but make a very big impact, and with chess I feel like I really have that chance," Nakamura says. He admits he receives the most pressure from himself —though he also says he sleeps fine. "There are so many people out there who want to be in my situation."

Despite those words, Nakamura disparages the viability of chess as a profession, saying it's been dying for the past five years. He also insists it's less of a passion than a way to support his side endeavors, a mix that includes both gambling and business plans. (Even as he says this, his schedule for the next two years, already finite, revolves around a stacked succession of international tournaments.)

Although Nakamura has considered leaving chess at different points in his career, he acted on it only once. In 2006 Nakamura ostensibly quit the game to be a student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

He lasted one semester.

"I quit chess, essentially, for six months," Nakamura says. In the end, he wasn't thrilled with college in general. "With chess, it doesn't matter what background you are, what age you are — everyone is equal. With college, I couldn't quite get used to the fact that, to paraphrase Animal Farm, it feels like some people are more equal than others."

With the decision that he would not escape chess, Nakamura tied himself to the game for his foreseeable future and the latest Fischer comparison for the next six years. It's a decision that continues to make relationships hard, one that finds him away from home a little more than half the year. And while his parents would not have wished it for him, it's one they support.

"Whatever he's doing, I'd like him to be really happy," Carolyn Weeramantry says. "I don't think he'll be playing chess forever. I also don't think he'll ever just quit chess."

For as long as anyone can remember, U.S. chess players have consistently focused on the person in the No. 1 spot, the next Fischer, the next world champion, the next great American chess player. If Nakamura definitively secures those titles, his status could revolutionize American chess. It could be officially and irrevocably cool for the second time in 40 years. But if the confidence that supports him gives way, that future is significantly less clear.

Is Nakamura the next Bobby Fischer? Most say yes. Few say no. Nakamura waivers.

"For the sake of Hikaru, I won't make that comparison," Kasparov says. "It's a lot of pressure. Let's hope we have more to discuss in two years. I will not do that to him — yet — but I can see that he has clearly chosen that path for himself.

"I wish him the best."

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9 comments
Guest
Guest

As a former high school expert-level player who largely put away chess after entering college almost a decade ago, I really appreciated this in-depth profile of Hikaru and the state of US chess. Thanks.

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Xraylibra Crew
Xraylibra Crew

Great article! For me it is fascinating to read about the Chess Community and I cannot believe they are local #STL. @GMHikaru is the best!

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Sthinelk7
Sthinelk7

Sorry for the typos... 'Naka" (Smallville to those of us on ICC) and 'elite".

Sthinelk7
Sthinelk7

Naku is elit for sure, def top 10, and I don't mind his abrasive atitude because he plays such exciting chess. However, Magnus is the present and future of chess. My children are huge football (US) and MMA fans, but they know who Magnus Carlsen is and follow his games on their own like their favorite player/fighter. Again, Hikaru is awesome, a rare talent... but like he notes, in chess everyone should be considered equal. And that means nationality as well. With that in mind, please recognize that Magnus is the best player and the best hope for chess. Just watch his current games in Biel 2011.

 
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