Meet the Chess Player: Fabiano Caruana

Fabiano Caruana

How This Globetrotting Chess Master Has Taken the World by Storm

Fabiano Caruana

Meet the Chess Player: Fabiano Caruana

Childhood and Chess Training

Italian-American chess master Fabiano Luigi Caruana was born on July 30, 1992 in Miami, Florida. He didn’t grow up in the Sunshine State, however; his parents moved to New York and he spent his childhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

At the age of five, Fabiano Caruana learned chess in an after-school chess program. His parents had enrolled him because he was experiencing some disciplinary problems and they hoped the program would help. Unbeknownst to his parents, the boy was a chess prodigy who set himself apart from the other kids. They were there simply to have fun. Caruana was there to win.

Young Fabiano Caruana

The Kids at the after-school chess program were there simply to have fun. Caruana was there to win

Everyone was amazed by his extraordinary talent and dedication. He started out playing casually, spending time after school at the Marshall Chess Club, before kicking off his career full-time. As a child, he was coached by a lineup of stellar chess masters all around the world. From age six until he was eight, he trained with National Master Bruce Pandolfini before being trained by grandmaster Miron Sher.

When Caruana was 12, his family moved to Madrid so that he could pursue playing professional chess. There, he was coached by International Master Boris Ziotnik. He trained with grandmaster Alexander Chernin in Budapest and when his family relocated to Switzerland, Caruana found himself under the tutelage of grandmaster Vladimir Chuchelov.

Early Achievements

A dual citizen of both the United States and Italy, Fabiano Caruana played chess for the United States until 2005 when he began playing for Italy. (He transferred back to play for the United States in 2015.) He earned his grandmaster title in 2007 when he was 14 years, 11 months, and 20 days old. At the time, he was the youngest person ever to earn the title in the United States (breaking the record previously set by US champion Bobby Fischer), as well as in Italy.

He’s had a stunning career, dazzling audiences around the world with his superior chess skills. In 2007, he first won the Italian Chess Championship (repeating his wins in 2008, 2010, and 2011). He also won the Dortman Sparkassen Chess meeting in 2012, as well as in 2014 and 2015. Caruana dominated at the Sinquefield Cup tournament in 2014 with a 3103 rating, pushing his Elo rating up to 2811 – the third-highest rating in chess history.

Fabiano Caruana at the 2014's Sinquefield Cup

Caruana dominated at the Sinquefield Cup tournament in 2014

Return to the U.S.

In 2015, after playing for Italy for a number of years, Caruana switched chess federations and started playing for the United States once more. The move rocked fans in the American chess world who had long awaited Caruana’s return.

“Over the past several years, we have made tremendous strides to increase the awareness of, and appreciation for, the great game of chess in the United States,” said Jean Hoffman, the Executive Director of the USCF. The return of Fabiano to the USCF is another large step toward achieving our goals.”

Caruna moving back to compete for the United States placed him on the same team as America’s two other top grandmasters: Hiraku Nakamura and Wesley So. His move was fraught with controversy as rumors swirled that the United States was working to buy all of the world’s top players via multimillionaire and chess patron Rex Sinquefield. Caruana disagrees with these claims, however, insisting that he always wanted to move back to the States to be closer to family and friends.

The controversy did nothing to dampen Caruana’s spirits or derail his game. He won the U.S. Championship in 2016 and played with Nakamura and So in that year’s Chess Olympiad where they brought home gold.

Caruana, Nakamura and So in the 2016's Chess Olympiad where they brought home gold

Caruana, Nakamura and So in the 2016’s Chess Olympiad

In 2018, Caruana won the Candidates Tournament in Berlin and became the first American challenger for the undisputed World Chess Championship since Fischer beat Boris Spassky back in 1972. When the championship takes place in London in November 2018, Caruana hopes to unseat reigning champion Magnus Carlsen from his throne. Caruana – like Carlsen – is among an emerging wave of young chess masters who have sparked a renewed interest in the game among those who don’t usually follow it, and the world is eager to see the two battle it out.

Training and Playing Style

When Caruana first kicked off his career, he was known as an aggressive player who had no problem sacrificing pieces in order to set up a potential win. As time went on, he found that he needed to become universal, playing both tactical and strategic positions, and focusing on opening preparation as well as an excellent endgame.

Before he plays, Caruana spends time carefully centering each piece on its square. Many elite chess players do this, and when asked about it, Caruana explained that for him, it’s like putting his workspace in order before starting a day’s work. Having his chess pieces neatly organized helps him keep his mind and game organized.

Fabiano Caruana

Having his chess pieces neatly organized helps him keep his mind and game organized

Although he plays hundreds of games each year, he sees each one as important and takes his training very seriously (as evidenced by the long list of world-class coaches he’s worked with over the years). In January 2018, Caruana talked to Deadspin about his day-to-day training, as well as his schedule on the day of a tournament.

Usually, he practices chess for a few hours each day, playing alone or with colleagues and friends. He finds it important to work out every day in order to keep up the physical stamina required to engage in an hours-long game of chess. He also spends time going to the movies or meeting up with friends for drinks.

On tournament days, however, it’s all chess for Caruana.

“During a tournament it’s just purely chess, from morning to night. It starts usually with breakfast and a brisk walk, and then preparing for the opponent pretty much up until the game,” he says. “Usually it’s for a few hours before the game that I’ll prepare, look at their openings, try to figure out what I want to do, what they might do, try to predict what they’re doing.”

Chuchelov, Fabiano Caruana’s coach, has talked about the need for balance in the time leading up to a tournament. Training needn’t take up an excessive amount of time, he says, as long as it’s efficient and focused in the right direction. It should be balanced and ensure that the player has enough energy left to play well in the competition. After a tournament round, in the evening, he and Caruana will typically do something to relax (such as go for a walk) while they talk about the game and what should happen next.

Fabiano Caruana and Vladimir Chuchelov

After a tournament round, Chuchelov and Caruana will typically do something to relax while they talk about the game and what should happen next

Personal Life

Besides poker, Caruana isn’t big on watching sports. He’s said that if he does watch a sports game while he’s in St. Louis, he’ll sometimes catch a baseball game, but he doesn’t follow any particular sport very closely. Although he’s not interested in being a spectator, he does enjoy swimming, jogging, and playing soccer to keep fit as part of his chess training routine.

Caruana is an avid reader and tries to read at least one book a month. He loves Lord of the Rings and sometimes appears in online forums under the username Evermore (as homage to the Battle of Evermore in the book series, as well as the Led Zeppelin song). The chess board isn’t the only place he gets his “game” on; Caruana is also a huge Game of Thrones fan.

Looking Forward

Fabiano Caruana isn’t sure where his career will take him once he’s through playing chess professionally – whenever that day may come. Whatever he does, he’s sure it will somehow involve chess. With all he’s achieved so far, how could it not? Wherever his journey veers, the rest of the world will watch – whether it’s to see him battle for the World Chess Champion crown or move off in some new and unexplored direction.

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