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Who Would Be The Better Streamer, Fischer Or Nakamura?
Photos: YouTube and Chess.com.

Who Would Be The Better Streamer, Fischer Or Nakamura?

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Who would be the better streamer, former world champion GM Bobby Fischer or GM Hikaru Nakamura?

The question is not superfluous because the answer really is more complex than you might imagine. To seriously answer that question, we need to understand how the chess culture of the United States influenced the development of both players.

Fischer or Nakamura?

First, don’t guess incorrectly that Fischer wouldn’t be engaging, informative, and entertaining. Just check out his interview with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in 1972 after Fischer had defeated GM Boris Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Watch the full interview above.

Next, if Fischer were still alive and had become a streamer, don’t guess that Nakamura would have more followers, even though he does have more than 1 million followers on Twitch and over 900,000 on YouTube. His laid-back streaming style does create unrivaled enthusiasm for chess as well as surprising amounts of donations for charity—for example, by mid-March, he had raised more than $1 million for the humanitarian agency CARE. But would he be a better streamer than Fischer?

Early U.S. Chess Development

Although Fischer grew up and thrived in a vibrant U.S. chess culture, he lived obviously before the era of chess streamers who are now influencing a new generation of players. However, he gained mentoring, guidance, encouragement, and inspiration from American players who had preceded him. Surprisingly, they date to before the country was founded and include Benjamin Franklin, one of the U.S. “founding fathers.”

Benjamin Franklin playing chess
Franklin studies the chessboard during a game vs. the sister of British Rear Admiral Viscount Howe in 1774. The game was arranged as a pretext for involving Franklin in diplomatic negotiations with the British. Source: Artist Unknown, New York Public Library.

In 1999, Franklin was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Why? He helped to make chess popular in the country that became America. In fact, he is the earliest chess player who can be identified by name in the American colonies. By 1733, as he writes in his autobiography, he was winning chess games and forcing his favorite opponent to learn grammar as a penalty for losing. Tough penalty.

In his essay “The Morals of Chess,” published later in 1786, Franklin expresses his love of the game this way: “The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits, ready on all occasions.”

The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement.
—Benjamin Franklin

Although others were playing chess in the colonies before 1733, historical records do not identify them. However, a U.S. chess champion has been crowned since 1845 when Charles Stanley defeated Eugene Rousseau in a match. Stanley’s successor was none other than Paul Morphy, who reigned as champion from 1857, when he won the first American Chess Congress, until 1871. Considered by many to be the unofficial world champion at that time, Morphy inspired American players by his advocacy of strategic development, piece sacrifices, and dominant victories as illustrated in this win via a queen sacrifice in 1874.

Thriving Chess Culture Shapes Fischer

As Morphy ruled over the chessboard, the chess culture in the U.S. continued to develop and thrive during the 1800s, particularly in leading cities such as New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Chess clubs were formed, chess magazines and books were published, and tournaments were held.

When six-year-old Fischer and his family moved to New York City in 1949, they were fortuitously arriving in the chess center of America. In 1955, he joined the Manhattan Chess Club, the second-oldest U.S. chess club that nurtured the development of his chess skills. It was this club, founded in 1877, that had already hosted two world championship matches before 1900 as well as the famous international tournaments of 1924 (won by Emanuel Lasker) and 1927 (won by Jose Capablanca).

Bobby Fischer in the early 1950s
Fischer (whose name is misspelled on the nameplate) in the early 1950s. Photo: New Yorker from Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty.

Its famous rival, the Marshall Chess Club, was organized nearby 38 years later in 1915 by a group of players led by Frank Marshall. It was at this club that Fischer, just 13 years old, played the “Game of the Century” against IM Donald Byrne.

Developing Nakamura and Today's Promising Players

Without a doubt, this thriving culture propelled Fischer to the forefront of the chess world and equipped him to master the game. Similarly, Nakamura has benefitted by his immersion into this competitive culture that has shaped him into one of the world’s top players for more than a decade.

Born in Japan, Nakamura moved with his family when he was just two years old to the United States, the only national banner he has known as a chess player. Interestingly it was at the Marshall Chess Club when, at age 10, he gained greater recognition by being the youngest American to beat an international master. In 2003 he was awarded the title of grandmaster and two years later was awarded a Samford Chess Fellowship.

The prestigious fellowship, which has awarded more than $2 million in the past three decades, has contributed significantly to U.S. chess culture since its inception in 1987 by identifying and promoting promising chess players in the United States.

IM Carissa Yip receives Samford Fellowship in 2020.
One of four to receive a Samford Fellowship in 2020, then-16-year-old IM Carissa Yip was rated number six in the world for girls under 21 at 2412 FIDE. Photo: IM Eric Rosen via Facebook.

Recipients of the fellowship have become strong grandmasters, members of U.S. Olympiad teams, and U.S. chess champions (all fellows are listed here). For example, four of the five members (Nakamura, GM Wesley So, GM Sam Shankland, and GM Ray Robson) of the 2016 and 2018 U.S. Olympiad teams that finished first and tied for first respectively have been Samford Fellows. Finishing first in 2016 with 170 teams participating is significant because it was the first time since 1976 that the United States won the gold medal.

U.S. wins Olympic gold in 2016
U.S. wins its first chess Olympic gold medal in 1976 after 40 years. Photo: Chess.com.

The U.S. chess culture of today (as well as that around the world) is also being influenced by streaming, which is popularizing the game across all age groups. Streaming has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic as chess has shifted to online play and Chess.com also has experienced phenomenal growth in new members. Even popular esports streamers have joined the world of chess by participating in events such as Pogchamps. Leading the way has been none other than Nakamura, the first professional chess player to sign with an esports organization, TSM.

Nakamura as he streams to raise money for charity
Chess streaming is helping to popularize the game and raise funds for charity. Photo: Chess.com.

With more than 1 million followers on Twitch and over 900,000 on YouTube, Nakamura clearly projects a different public persona than Fischer. His entertaining streaming, participation in events such as Pogchamps, and affiliation with esports organizations are now influencing the next generation of grandmasters—and streamers—and perhaps are even more influential than the game below in 2019 when he won his fifth U.S. Championship.

Now you’re ready to answer the initial question: Who would be the better streamer, Fischer or Nakamura? Both are exceptional players, and each one has achieved amazing success. Would Nakamura’s charming personality, contagious gift of gab, humous insights, and skills at all chess time controls be the deciding factors? Or would Fischer’s eccentric personality, amazing grasp of the game, competitive skills, and brilliant play attract more followers? You be the judge.

What we can confirm is that both have clearly been shaped by the U.S. chess culture as they have also influenced the next generation of players at home and abroad.