Monday, March 13, 2006

Nakamura in Salon

Today's issue of Salon features this profile of U.S. Chess phenom Hikaru Nakamura. He is undoubtedly the most talented American chessplayer on the scene today, and with a little more experience could probably compete at the highest level. He won the U.S. Chess Championship in 2005, though he failed to defend that title in the recently completed 2006 version of the event.

Sadly, Nakamura will probably have to give up competitive chess because it is virtually impossible to make a living at it.

Nakamura's potent brew of balls and brains has earned him the obvious comparison: Bobby Fischer. But for Nakamura, Fischer, the wunderkind who became a wild-eyed, long-bearded paranoid, who vanished mysteriously during his prime, serves also as a cautionary tale. “He played too much chess and went crazy,” says Nakamura. “I'm not a mad genius.”

But his experience serves as a sort of modern parable about the game. Nakamura rode the fuel of new technologies to become a powerhouse player. But his hard, fast rise has left him feeling burned out and, unlike his coddled peers in Europe, ready to pull the plug. “When it's this hard to make a living,” he says, “you're not going to keep the talent in the game. Eventually, they have to go into other things.”

Actually, concerning Fischer, it has been wisely said that it wasn't that chess drove him crazy, it was that he was always crazy and chess was the only thing keeping him sane.

The whole article is worht reading for its comments about the scene at the thighest levels of competitive chess. Experienced chess players will role their eyes a bit at some of the comments the author makes, but it is mostly an accurate and engaging read. Here's one more excerpt:

But America is another story. The cost of living is high, the respect is nil, and the sponsorships nonexistent. Nakamura explodes when he talks about the other players' sponsors because, despite being the U.S. champion, he has none. “Any other young person who devotes his life to becoming the best in the world at something is making millions of dollars!” he fumes. He's exaggerating, but the point is well taken. He's the best, and for this he has given up plenty. Before he goes onstage, he likes to slip on his iPod and crank up his theme song. “It's by Green Day,” he says. “'Boulevard of Broken Dreams.'”


At 6:28 AM, Blogger Ginger Yellow said...

It's weird. You'd think the likes of IBM, AI researchers or even the chess software manufacturers, would be pouring money into the game to promote their skills.

At 2:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always been super-tough to make a living at chess in the States. Unless you want to scrape by by teaching, giving paid simuls, writing, and the occasional money win from a tourney or match. Even Fischer in the early days would occasionally get some cash from his mom.

Nakamura might be high up in US circles, but on the world stage he's only #65, way down the food chain. His presentation also leaves a lot to be desired.

There is always the European club circuit.

IBM has already got their man when Deep Blue knocked off Kasparov. Been there, done that. Kaspy played just awful, but IBM dismantled Deep Blue before they could be compelled to play a re-match. The commercial software guys (Fritz, Shredder, Junior) already have a rich pool of European GM's to draw from.

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