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Stealing the show

26 May 2020

Hikaru Nakamura reigned supreme during the preliminary rounds of the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge while Magnus Carlsen barely escaped elimination. The American Grandmaster also angered the world champion and the hosting platform chess24 by allowing their competitor Chess.com to broadcast the event on his popular GMHikaru channel on Twitch. Carlsen complained via Twitter, but the gamer community stands behind Nakamura, ahead of their likely clash in the semifinals from Thursday on, reports Stefan Löffler.

Hikaru Nakamura fan art by [Dr Assenov][1]


  [1]: https://twitter.com/drassenov
Hikaru Nakamura fan art by Dr Assenov

What a week for Hikaru Nakamura. It began with his GMHikaru channel being the most watched English language stream on Twitch last Sunday. It was a first for chess, which has grown from a tiny niche on the streaming channel to being one of the most watched games. On Tuesday Nakamura streamed – and won for the umpteenth time – the Titled Tuesday blitz tournament on Chess.com.

Carlsen tweet
Carlsen tweet

That was only a few hours after he successfully started at the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, the first event of the new Magnus Carlsen Tour. He was going to finish the preliminary round-robin of twelve players on the first place, while Carlsen faced elimination if he had lost his last black game against Alireza Firouzja. But it was not the sporting performance that made Carlsen so furious that he complained on Twitter about his American rival.

Nakamura had allowed Chess.com to stream the event on GMHikaru free for all, where at times it drew twelve times as many Twitch spectators as the official transmission. Chess.com is of course the rival of chess24, which belongs to the Play Magnus Group and is the host of the one-million-dollar Magnus Carlsen Tour. The companies had clashed recently over Carlsen’s non-participation in the Nations Online Cup hosted by Chess.com. This time they locked horns over the Lindores Abbey tournament. According to chess24, no participant was allowed to stream. Nakamura didn’t stream himself, but let Chess.com use his channel. He had told chess24 in advance that he would do so. chess24 and especially Magnus Carlsen strongly disliked that Chess.com via Nakamura’s drew a multiple of the viewers that their own stream reached.

A selection of previous live shows that Hikaru's subscribers can watch later in the video archive.
A selection of previous live shows that Hikaru's subscribers can watch later in the video archive.

After Carlsen’s tweet many pointed to the poor sound quality of the chess24 transmission and suggested the world champion’s team should do a better job instead of complaining. And it didn’t get better. Penguinz0, a prominent youtuber, voiced that chess24’s commentary team around Peter Svidler and Jan Gustafsson catered only to advanced players, while Nakamura made chess accessible to everyone.

Nakamura has now 257,000 followers on Twitch. More than 7000 subscribers pay five dollars per month or more on premium to watch him play blitz, answer questions, analyze games or give chess lessons to prominent gamers. In fact, his cooperation with Twitch personalities like xQc has made Nakamura so successful that from Twitch subscriptions, donations, sponsorships and merchandise sales he makes a hefty six-figure-income, that is higher than the also significant prize monies he is collecting. It is no secret that Nakamura nowadays shuns the extensive opening preparation required to compete well in top tournaments. He recently declared on air that he will probably limit his over the board play in the future and become a professional streamer.

PogChamps
PogChamps

Nakamura’s next streaming job is being a presenter and coach during the “PogChamps” knockout tournament that Chess.com and Twitch have just announced. Sixteen of Twitch’s most followed streamers will compete for their share of $50,000 over two weeks. The final of this chess tournament will be part of their esports series “Twitch Rivals”.

Meanwhile at the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge, Nakamura is already through to the semifinal and can concentrate in the next days on the parallel Clutch Chess event (where Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez, Fabiano Caruana and him compete for $100,000). If Carlsen wins another mini-match against Wesley So, he and Nakamura meet in the semifinal and can take their heated up rivalry to where it belongs in the eyes of chess fans, to the board.

PS: Meanwhile Carlsen returned to Chess.com after a long break, created a new account, attempted to push it to leading the Chess.com rating list and then deleted it, while declaring that he will never come back to this site. Pogchess captured this moment on video: