A Day in the Life of Chess Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana
After a 46-year drought, the United States finally has a player to rival Bobby Fischer
By Mickey Rapkin
July 25, 2018 9:53 a.m. ET
THE BEST CHESS player in America is a 26-year-old wunderkind from Brooklyn who loves Game of Thrones and David Lynch movies. In November, Fabiano Caruana will travel to London to face off against his archrival, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, for the title of World Chess Champion; he is the first American to advance to the championship since Bobby Fischer in 1972. Chess may not dominate the nation’s gossip columns, but this matchup is pure drama. Rabid fans online have already dubbed his clash with the blond Norwegian as “Captain America vs. Thor,” and there’s more than $1 million in prize money at stake. While Caruana may not have Captain America’s shield to protect him, he’s got his own armor, courtesy of Thom Browne (whose PR sent him an Instagram DM with an informal offer to dress him). This is how it goes in chess. Whenever a young American player makes waves on the international stage, the press is quick to call him the next Bobby Fischer. But in this case, the comparison may hold. “It would be huge [to win],” Caruana says. “And probably a huge relief after the match is over—just to be done with the pressure.”
Caruana’s entire life has been building to this moment. Born in Miami, he was discovered at age 5 at an after-school chess program in Park Slope, Brooklyn. By 10, he had beaten his first grandmaster (a title bestowed on the best players by chess’s governing body). At his father’s urging, the family relocated to Europe two years later so he could train in earnest. “I didn’t go to school after seventh grade,” Caruana says. “I just worked on chess.” In 2015, Caruana returned to the States and in 2016 settled in St. Louis—home to the U.S. Championship tournament—where his training regimen includes weightlifting and core work. And yes, players are tested for doping.
“Fabi” (as his friends call him) earned the right to challenge Carlsen, 27, after winning the Candidates tournament in Berlin in March; this fall, he will begin preparations for London’s 12-game match. When asked about his chances, Caruana says plainly, “I feel optimistic.” The two players have faced off numerous times before, with Carlsen deft at the long game and Caruana more aggressive. Caruana’s not just studying the Norwegian’s moves on the board, it seems; he’s also paying attention to his business savvy. Carlsen has been exceptionally adept at branding himself. He’s modeled for G-Star Raw and even played himself on an episode of The Simpsons. To up his own profile, Caruana recently brought in a management team. There’s no bad blood between the two players, per se, but only one man can wear the crown. When pressed, Caruana will only admit: “We’re definitely not buddies.” Your move, Thor.
Caruana by the Numbers
46 years: Time since an American has competed in the World Chess Championship.
€95,000: The prize money Caruana won at the Candidates tournament in 2018; it’s the largest amount he’s ever taken home.
12 tournaments: The average number he competes in annually.
35+ moves: The number of moves Stockfish, the computer chess simulation program Caruana trains with, anticipates.
450 minutes: The longest single chess match he’s played.
€1,000,000: Prize money at stake in November’s World Championship match (winner takes 60 percent; runner-up snags the rest).
14 years old: Age at which Caruana became a grandmaster, then the youngest in U.S. history.
4–7 hours: His chess practice time each day. “If you’re hunched over for weeks at a time, you can get shoulder pain and tightness,” he says.
$12,953.85: Price of Caruana’s high-speed desktop, Titan X499, which is used to run complicated chess software.