Fabiano Caruana competes at the Saint Louis Chess Club.

(Saint Louis Chess Club)

St. Louis' Fabiano Caruana Is Returning The U.S. To A Chess 'Powerhouse'

April 18, 2018 - 3:34 pm

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - The bigger the stage, the less fun chess becomes for 25-year-old grandmaster Fabiano Caruana. He has seven months to prepare for the biggest stage he, or anyone else, has ever been on – the World Championship. 

Last month, Caruana won the Candidates Tournament in Berlin, which earned him the right to face 4-time world champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway. The 12-round, one-on-one match is set for this November 9-28, and Caruana expects the preperation to be unlike anything he has had to prepare for.

"A lot of very specific preparation for my opponent because Magnus, the world champion is a huge and very specific challenge," Caruana says. "A lot of it is just thinking about him as a very specific opponent and trying to get myself in the best shape possible." 

Unlike the usual tournament-style competitions that Caruana is used to, where he plays a new opponent each day, this will be just he versus Carlsen, day after day.

Caruana, the No. 3 ranked chess player in the world, will be the first U.S.-born player to challenge for the undisputed World Chess Championship since 1972, when Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. The three-week match against Carlsen will be watched by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world – and enjoyed by likely everyone execpt Caruana.

"Tournaments are usually not fun. Playing chess is enjoyable but there is so much stress," Caruana says. "Especially when the stakes are so high, you’re more trying to deal with the stress and trying to find ways to get away from chess." 

So why does he continue to compete? Like anyone who loves their job, he says, the fun comes from perfecting the tiny details.

"You want to give the best product or the best result possible and there is still going to be a lot of tension and mental strain," Caruana says. "But when you're a professional chess player you also have to learn to deal with that." 

This week, Caruana will compete at the U.S. Chess Championship, host by the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. Twenty-four of the strongest men's and women's chess players in the country are competing for their respective U.S. titles – and nearly $300,000 in prize money. Caruana won the title in 2016 and finished top-three last year. 

St. Louis has hosted the event for the last 10 years, as the city has been officially recoginized as "the chess capital" of the U.S. That's part of the reason why Caruana now calls St. Louis home. 

"I really enjoy living in the city," Caruana says. "But the main reason why chess players have been so attracted to St. Louis and why it’s become such a major hub for chess is because of the Chess Club."

St. Louis has a greater population of grandmasters than anywhere else in the country, touts the Chess Club. When Caruana moved here in 2014 he was a top-five chess player in the world, the No. 1 player in the world at that time was already here too. And at any given time, about a dozen grand masters reside in St. Louis, as members of the Webster University Chess Team.

After the U.S. Championship, Caruana will enter a competition in Norway, this summer, then lead a U.S. team in the 150-nation Olympiad – which he helped the Americans win last year for the first time since the 1976. 

"The United State is starting to become a huge powerhouse in chess again," Caruana says. "And it all really starts here and I think it will permeate throughout the entire United States. 

"We have a great chess history, a lot of great chess players of the past. And now we are again maybe the strongest chess country in the world."