"I know the general idea is that I can be an arrogant [*******]," Nakamura says. "But that's not all I can be."
Nakamura's level of hubris is the kind that comes with youth, talent and the pressure of being both the symbol and the future of one the country's most dedicated microcosms. He uses this to his advantage: No one reinforces that pressure more than he does, and he channels arrogance to turn the hope that he can win into the knowledge that he, in fact, will. Nakamura never enters a game thinking he is the underdog, an aggressive philosophy that usually guarantees he is not. It also leads to dramatic changes in mood and behavior. "Bobby was crazy," says Rich, making that ubiquitous Fischer comparison. "Hikaru's just arrogant."
Particularly in his teenage years, Nakamura established a reputation of misbehavior, of emotional reactions and rude exchanges with other players. It has been hard for him to leave this behind.
"When I play chess, it's a competition," Nakamura says. He pauses. "I'm trying to think of how I want to put this: When I was a bit younger, I was a bit of a bad boy. I didn't exactly have the greatest manners, which has improved greatly, but a lot of people still remember when I was a jerk." The result is that today, people don't know what to expect from him. "I rather enjoy that."
Although he is always confident, he is not the same person away from the board as he is at it — or thinking about it. If he is angry, disappointed or depressed — as he can be often, depending upon his performance in a tournament — that fact is pronounced.
"When you're competing at such a high level, you have to wear a mask to some extent," says Sunil Weeramantry. His stepson, he says, isn't as aware of how he comes across as he should be: "He pretty much wears his feelings on his sleeves. He can be moody, and in the next instant, he can be absolutely charming."