Hikaru Nakamura has been able to call himself a chess grandmaster since the age of 15. He has won the US chess championships five times. He is number one in the blitz chess ranking. And he’s been a professional gamer since the summer. In August he signed a contract with Team Solomid (TSM), a kind of FC Bayern of the Internet.

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The club has made a name for itself primarily through its successful “League of Legends” team, in competitions in which young people in jerseys cover their screens with colorful explosions. But now there is a new gaming trend: chess.

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If you go looking for where it comes from, you end up with the corona pandemic again. On the streaming platform Twitch, which is popular with gamers, the number of people watching chess games rose rapidly from March onwards. An amateur chess tournament in June was the most watched stream on the platform for a short time. Other games also benefited from the additional time spent at home in front of the computer, but much less. It is true that one thinks intuitively why so many people suddenly looked at decelerated castling on black and white squares in those confusing times, but there is probably another, solid reason: Hikaru Nakamura.

The grandmaster now has more than half a million followers on Twitch, before the start of the pandemic it was less than 100,000, but since then he has done nothing else than before: playing chess online and filming himself as he, chatting lively, dissected his opponent. It should have helped that he had a high-reach student at this time, the Canadian gaming streamer Félix Lengyel, known on the internet as “xQc”. Hakamura explained the game to him and thus also his 3.3 million followers without any airs. There was enough time to learn the intricacies of a new, demanding game due to the exit restrictions. Again and again Nakamura patiently assured his student, yeah, that wasn’t a bad move after all. The two joked and laughed together. The grandmaster loves foolishness and freely admits during a game, for example, that he’s a damn nerd who’s spent his life playing a crazy board game.

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Computers are now playing chess moves, the ingenuity of which man stands in front of a smooth, vertical rock face

xQc and a few other well-known Twitch streamers suddenly played chess on their channels in addition to classic computer games, mostly blitz chess, got excited about unsuccessful moves, cheered, knocked slogans, just as gamers do in streams. As a result, in chess the player came to the fore as a person instead of solidifying into a mute calculating monolith in front of the game board.

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Nakamura plays self-ironically with this staging of the chess player as a world-detached superbrain. Occasionally he destroys his opponents blindfolded, only announcing the fields on which he moves his figures as if he were pure intellect and as such a force of nature that nothing can stop. But at the same time he sips coffee and giggles. In some moments he seems to have the inkling that the era of the human being, who towers over the playing field as ingenious calculating machines, is over. Recently he told the news magazine The mirror, “that the romantic side, the deep strategy, is already dead”. Computers would have completely changed the game. In the meantime they are playing moves, in front of whose ingenuity a person stands as if in front of a smooth, vertical rock face.

Perhaps Nakamura is one of the bearers of a torch that goes out, a kind of Prometheus on the way home. The Grand Master of Creation has lost control of the game. Finally he can make his moves, freed and without hours of brooding, a little bit of the plaster. Or as gamers say: gamble.

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