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American President Mr.Obama played golf 104 times since becoming president

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As Election Day approaches, President Obama is sharing a few important things about himself. He has mentioned more than once in recent weeks that he cooks “a really mean chili.” He has impressive musical pitch, he told an Iowa audience. He is “a surprisingly good pool player,” he informed an interviewer — not to mention (though he does) a doodler of unusual skill.

All in all, he joked at a recent New York fund-raiser with several famous basketball players in attendance, “it is very rare that I come to an event where I’m like the fifth or sixth most interesting person.”

Four years ago, Barack Obama seemed as if he might be a deliberate professor of a leader, maybe with a touch of Hawaiian mellowness. He has also turned out to be a voraciously competitive perfectionist. Aides and friends say so in interviews, but Mr. Obama’s own words of praise and derision say it best: he is a perpetually aspiring overachiever, often grading himself and others with report-card terms like “outstanding” or “remedial course” (as in: Republicans need one).

As he faces off with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, Mr. Obama’s will to win — and fear of losing — is in overdrive. He is cramming for debates against an opponent he has called “ineffective,” raising money at a frantic pace to narrow the gap with Mr. Romney and embracing the do-anything-it-takes tactics of an increasingly contentious campaign.

Even by the standards of the political world, Mr. Obama’s obsession with virtuosity and proving himself the best are remarkable, those close to him say. (Critics call it arrogance.) More than a tic, friends and aides say, it is a core part of his worldview, formed as an outsider child who grew up to defy others’ views of the limits of his abilities. When he speaks to students, he almost always emphasizes living up to their potential.

“He has a general philosophy that whatever he does, he’s going to do the very best he can do,” Marty Nesbitt, a close friend, said in an interview.

Mr. Obama’s aides point to the seriousness he brings to the tasks of the presidency — how he virtually never shows up for a meeting unprepared, say, or how he quickly synthesizes complicated material. When Mr. Obama was derided as an insufferable overachiever in an early political race, some of his friends were infuriated; to them, he was revising negative preconceptions of what a black man could achieve.

But even those loyal to Mr. Obama say that his quest for excellence can bleed into cockiness and that he tends to overestimate his capabilities. The cloistered nature of the White House amplifies those tendencies, said Matthew Dowd, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, adding that the same thing happened to his former boss. “There’s a reinforcing quality,” he said, a tendency for presidents to think, I’m the best at this.

And though Mr. Obama craves high grades from the electorate and from history, he is in a virtual dead heat with Mr. Romney in national polls, the political equivalent of school progress reports.

For someone dealing with the world’s weightiest matters, Mr. Obama spends surprising energy perfecting even less consequential pursuits. He has played golf 104 times since becoming president, according to Mark Knoller of CBS News, who monitors his outings, and he asks superior players for tips that have helped lower his scores. He decompresses with card games on Air Force One, but players who do not concentrate risk a reprimand (“You’re not playing, you’re just gambling,” he once told Arun Chaudhary, his former videographer).

His idea of birthday relaxation is competing in an Olympic-style athletic tournament with friends, keeping close score. The 2009 version ended with a bowling event. Guess who won, despite his history of embarrassingly low scores? The president, it turned out, had been practicing in the White House alley.

When he reads a book to children at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, Mr. Obama seems incapable of just flipping open a volume and reading. In 2010, he began by announcing that he would perform “the best rendition ever” of “Green Eggs and Ham,” ripping into his Sam-I-Ams with unusual conviction. Two years later at the same event, he read “Where the Wild Things Are” with even more animation, roooooaring his terrible roar and gnaaaaashing his terrible teeth. By the time he got to the wild rumpus, he was howling so loudly that Bo, the first dog, joined in.