After his victory at the 2018 Candidates Tournament, Fabiano Caruana, then 26-years-old, finally qualified to challenge reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen for the World Championship title this November in London.
If he beats Magnus Carlsen in their match, Fabiano Caruana will become the first American to win the chess crown since Bobby Fischer’s convincing victory over Boris Spassky in the epic Match of the Century in 1972.
The Amazing Career Of An Epic Chess Talent Of The 21st Century
But what do we really know about Fabiano Caruana? Nowadays, most chess players are in the shadow of Magnus Carlsen. Carlsen simply seems to dominate them all.
Plenty of chess books, articles, and videos have been published on how Magnus Carlsen outplays his opponents. With a current rating of 2822 Elo, however, Fabiano Caruana is less than 20 rating points behind Carlsen. Therefore, it’s time to reveal the secrets of Fabiano Caruana’s success.
In this article, we’re going to retrace Fabiano Caruana’s glorious chess career from an early age to the year 2018. How did the little chess prodigy from Miami manage to reach the very top? What are his strengths and weaknesses? You’ll learn why Fabiano Caruana is considered one of the best chess players of today.
Play Like Caruana – Test Positions
To start with, however, you get the chance to become active and solve 4 puzzles from Fabiano Caruana’s games. Put yourself in Caruana’s shoes: (You’ll find all the solutions at the end of the article.)
Fabiano Caruana’s First Grandmaster Scalp, Aged 10 (2002)
“When I was a kid, I didn’t imagine that I would play chess professionally. I mean I always loved chess, but when I was a kid, it was just a hobby.” – Fabiano Caruana
The 21st century started with Kasparov, Kramnik, and Anand dominating the chess world. Kramnik beat Kasparov in their World Championship Match in 2000.
Kasparov retired from professional chess in 2005. After defending his title against Leko and Topalov, Kramnik finally lost it to Anand in 2007.
He defended his title successfully against Vladimir Kramnik in 2008, in 2010 against Veselin Topalov and again in 2012 against Boris Gelfand.
But then things changed. Vishy lost his title to a player from a new generation – Magnus Carlsen. Since then, a lot of young players like Ding Liren (25), Anish Giri (24), Wesley So (24), Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (27), Sergey Karjakin (28) and Fabiano Caruana (26) have managed to push forward into the world’s elite.
Fabiano Caruana is one of these young chess giants from a new generation. Aged 10, Caruana already made the headlines in the chess world by beating his first grandmaster.
Let’s Compare: Magnus Carlsen took his first grandmaster scalp at the age of 12, winning against the famous author GM Chris Ward (2531) from England.
Caruana, Fabiano – Wojtkiewicz, Aleksander, New York 2002
In the same year, Fabiano Caruana also became a FIDE Master by crossing the 2300 barrier in Elo rating.
Fabiano Becomes A Grandmaster At The Age of 14 (2007)
In 2004, at the age of 12, Fabiano and his family left the U.S and moved to Europe.
Caruana explains: “The idea was to pursue chess professionally, and that’s what I did. I started working pretty much all day, working with coaches in Spain and Hungary and Switzerland. We traveled Europe for about 10 years, and I, pretty much, played chess non-stop. I would play 100 games a year or something, for 10 years. And I went from a decent, talented kid level, to pretty much a strong Grandmaster level by the time I came back.”
In 2005, only one year after he came to Europe, Fabiano became an International Master. Two years later, at 14 years, 11 months and 20 days, Fabiano Caruana became the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the United States and Italy at the time.
At that time, Fabiano was a feared attacking player. One of his games from the First Saturday tournament in Budapest, where Fabiano made his second GM norm, is a good illustration of his attacking skills:
Caruana, Fabiano (2523) – Bui, Vinh (2483), Budapest 2007
Fabiano’s First Games Against Magnus Carlsen (2011)
“I’ve worked with a lot of grandmasters over the years which has been very helpful because every player has a different way of viewing the game and working on chess.” – Fabiano Caruana
Since Fabiano Caruana attained the grandmaster title, his rating has continued to climb. At the end of the year 2007, Fabiano, with a rating of 2594, was already close to breaking the 2600 barrier.
Only one year later, in October 2008, he managed to enter the top 100 with a rating of 2640. From there, his rating continuously grew (see the chart below):
While his rating increased, Caruana had the chance to participate in stronger tournaments and to play against the world’s best players.
After he won the Corus B tournament in Wijk aan Zee in 2009, he qualified to play against the world’s best players in the Corus A in Wijk aan Zee – the Wimbledon of chess.
In this tournament, he played his first classical game against Magnus Carlsen. The game was not without a fight and Fabiano even had a clearly better endgame.
Unfortunately, he did not manage to convert his advantages and ultimately the game ended in a draw.
One year later, we saw the first decisive game between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana at the Biel Chess Festival.
Unfortunately for Caruana, Magnus was in excellent shape and proved that the rating difference between them at the time was not without good reason:
Carlsen, Magnus (2821) – Caruana, Fabiano (2711) – Biel, 2011
Sinquefield Cup 2014 – A Sensational Success
“You work for a long period of time and the results don’t really show, but at some point, everything just comes together and you start to play better or get more confidence.” – Fabiano Caruana
By 2014, Fabiano had established himself among the world’s top 10 players. At the Sinquefield Cup 2014, a 6-player double round-robin tournament including Magnus Carlsen, Veselin Topalov, Maxime-Vachier Lagrave, Levon Aronian, Hikura Nakamura and Fabiano, Caruana’s performance exploded.
Caruana won the tournament after scoring seven straight wins. With 7/7, he drew his remaining 3 games and finished in clear first place with 8,5/10, 3 points ahead of Magnus Carlsen, who finished second.
A tournament performance of 3103 – likely the strongest tournament performance of all time.
His rating climbed t0 2844, which not only made him No. 2 in the world chess rankings but also the third highest-ranked chess player ever, behind Magnus Carlsen and Garry Kasparov.
On top of all this, he also won the prize for The Chess Novelty of the Year – a competition run by the Dutch publishing house New in Chess.
He was awarded for his new move in the Caro Kann Defence which helped him to knock out Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in round 2.
7 straight wins in one of the strongest chess tournaments in history – unbelievable! Let’s take a closer look at one of his brilliancies:
Caruana, Fabiano (2801) – Topalov, Veselin (2772), Saint Louis 2014
Candidates 2016: A Heartbreaking Loss In The Final Round
“I always felt like an American.” – Fabiano Caruana
In 2015, Fabiano returned to the US Chess Federation. One year later, he barely missed the qualification for a World Chess Championship Match against Magnus Carlsen at the Candidates Tournament 2016.
The tournament winner was decided in the last round between Sergey Karjakin and Fabiano Caruana. Both players had the same score (7,5/13), but Caruana had to win the game.
Sergey Karjakin would have won on the basis of having won more games. He won three games and lost one, where Caruana had won two games and drawn the rest. Caruana was forced to play for a win with Black in that game.
As we all know, it’s tough to be in a must-win situation with Black – especially at the Super GM level. If White is happy with a draw, Black has to take big risks. Let’s see how Magnus approached this game:
Karjakin, Sergey (2760) – Caruana, Fabiano (2794), Moscow 2016
Caruana definitely tried to do everything to make the game as complicated as possible, allowing him decent winning chances with Black. Finally, however, Black’s king in the center became a target and Fabiano’s strategy backfired after some inaccuracies.
Caruana had to resign and Karjakin became the challenger for the World Chess Championship 2016.
Although this defeat must have been extremely painful for Fabiano Caruana, the year could have ended worse. In September 2016, he participated in the Chess Olympiad with the Team USA.
Caruana represented the United States on the first board and the Americans took home the gold for the first time since 1976.
Candidates 2018: Caruana Scores A Bull’s-Eye
“I think I’ve grown very practical in my approach to chess over the years. In general, I think that I’m a well-rounded player. There aren’t huge weaknesses. There are some things I definitely have to work on, but nothing which makes me a huge target for another player.” – Fabiano Caruana
Fabiano had another chance to qualify for a World Championship Match against Magnus Carlsen at the Candidates Tournament 2018 in Berlin. Again, the tournament turned out to be a close struggle. This time, things looked even better for Caruana going into the last round.
Caruana was half a point ahead of Karjakin and Mamedyarov, and a full point ahead of Ding Liren who still had a mathematical chance to win the tournament.
However, Caruana had worse tiebreaks than Mamedyarov and Karjakin, so he had to finish ahead of both of them to win the tournament.
Caruana had to play Grischuk with the Black pieces. Let’s see what happened:
Grischuk, Alexander (2767) – Caruana, Fabiano (2784), Berlin 2018
His victory in that event, the 2018 Candidates Tournament, qualified Fabiano Caruana to play the current champion, Magnus Carlsen, in November 2018 for the World Chess Championship. Now, he is poised to do what no American has done since Bobby Fischer.
Fabiano Caruana In The Year 2018: A Playing Style To Beat Magnus Carlsen?
“He [Magnus Carlsen] will be very well prepared, and I’ll try to come equally well prepared or even better prepared than him. But I think we can do it. I have a lot of support behind me. And that will be what I need to put up a very good fight. I think my chances are decent in the match. It’s going to be a very tight one for sure.” – Fabiano Caruana
How to judge Fabiano Caruana’s chances against Magnus Carlsen? Of course, it’s tough to make a prediction on the outcome of the match. However, it can be safely said that Fabiano has a fair chance to emerge on top.
Over the years, his playing style has become very universal. In his youth, he was a feared attacking player. Today, he can handle all kinds of positions very well.
He is not only a dangerous attacking player but superb in quiet positional battles or maneuvering in the endgame. This flexibility and versatility might be his main trump card.
GM Daniel Gormally recently produced a fantastic chess DVD on the secrets of the middlegame for iChess.net in which he investigates Fabiano Caruana’s playing style a bit deeper.
He takes a look at the following position to illustrate the point that Fabiano Caruana plays extremely concrete chess – a slight plus which he might have over Magnus Carlsen:
Zherebukh, Yaroslav (2640) – Caruana, Fabiano (2804), Saint Louis 2018
The position at hand occurred in a recent game between Zherebukh and Caruana from the US Chess Championship 2018. Caruana, playing Black, went for the strong move 18…g5! here. At first glance, this move seems counterintuitive as it weakens Black’s king position.
However, Black stops White from playing Nc3 on the next move, occupying the d5-square with a knight. What’s more, Caruana has a very concrete tactical idea in mind. After 19.Nd5 Nxd5 20.cxd5 Bf6!, White already faces a difficult situation.
Of course, Caruana calculated the move 20…Bf6! before he went for 18…g5. Now, White has to find a way to deal with the threat 21…Nxd3 with a discovered attack against the rook on a1.
This example shows that Caruana does not play with vague ideas at the chessboard. He thinks concretely and calculates variations. There is often a cliché in chess literature that says you should never move a pawn in front of your castled king in middlegames because it is an unnecessary weakness. That’s a complete myth, however. It is all about judging the position if it is merited.
Caruana is not afraid to move pawns in front of their own king. The reason for this is that he is strongly influenced by strong chess engines.
Computers often suggest moving pawns in front of the king because computers aren’t afraid of ghosts. Computers only think in terms of concrete analysis. Of course, this is just one out of many examples.
However, it is exactly this concrete playing style which might not suit Magnus Carlsen that well.
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World Chess Championship Match 2018
Fabiano Caruana earned the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen by winning the 2018 Candidates Tournament. This 12-game match took place in London from November 9th to 28th, 2018.
For the first time in the World Chess Championship history, all 12 games ended in a draw. Because the title cannot be shared, rapid games were used to decide the champion.
Magnus won the tiebreak 3-0 to remain the World Chess Champion!
2020-2021 Candidates Chess Tournament
Unsurprisingly, considering the fight he put up against Magnus in 2018, Fabiano Caruana was a force in the next Candidates Chess Tournament.
Originally scheduled for 2020, the tournament got postponed after the COVID-19 outbreak caused Russia to shut down all flights. The first half of the tournament was complete, and under the tournament conditions, these results would stand.
At the halfway mark, Nepomniachtchi and Vachier-Lagrave were tied for the lead. Caruana, Giri, Grischuk, and Wang Hao was in second place, one point behind with 3 1/2 out of 7.
Caruana scored an impressive win over Alekseenko in the second round. Alekseenko chose to play the Nimzo-Indian Defense, which Caruana met with 4.f3.
Caruana, Fabiano – Alekseenko, Kirill 1-0, Candidates Tournament 2020, Round 2
Fabiano Caruana scored another impressive victory in the tournament when he beat second-place finisher Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. Caruana chose the Old Main Line (6.Bg5) against the Sicilian Najdorf.
This time Caruana was made to work hard for his victory. The game took 74 moves before Vachier-Lagrave resigned.
Caruana, Fabiano – Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime, 1-0, Candidates Tournament 2020, Round 8
In the 2020-2021 Candidates Tournament, Fabiano Caruana finished tied with Anish Giri in third place. One point behind the winner Ian Nepomniachtchi.
There can be no doubt that the strength of Caruana’s play today hasn’t dropped from the level that pushed Magnus Carlsen to a World Championship tie-break.
In this article, we chronicled the amazing chess career of Fabiano Caruana, the first American chess player having the chance to become World Champion since Bobby Fischer.
Among his countless tournament victories, Caruana’s legendary win in St Louis in 2014 stands out.
The 15-hour course touches upon the most vital yet often overlooked aspects of middlegame—aimed for club and intermediate players looking to start playing at the expert level. Get instant access to Secrets of the Middlegame with 50% off.
Solution To The Test Positions:
- Caruana – Khairullin, Moscow 2012: 1.Nc7+! Nxc7 2.Rxd6+ Rxd6 3.Rxd6#.
- Caruana – So, Saint Louis 2016: 1.Qh3+ Qh5 2.Qc8+ Ng8 3.Qxg8#.
- Lenic – Caruana, Tbilisi 2017: 1…Qd1+! 2.Kg2 (2.Ne1 Nd4-+) 2…Rd3-+.
- Caruana – Diaz, Madrid 2006: 1.Rxf7! Kxf7 2.Bf1! Qa4 3.Qxe6+ Kf8 4.Bc4!+-.
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