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On Chess: Super GM Caruana Comes Home

Lennart Ootes | CCSCSL

Make no mistake, we want him back.

In for his first visit to the U.S. Capital of Chess is Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, one of only three players in the world with a chess rating that has surpassed the 2800 watermark. He’s here to pick a fight with the other two, Armenian GM Levon Aronian and World Champion GM Magnus Carlsen, as part of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup -- billed as the strongest chess tournament ever, for obvious reasons.

Caruana, thanks to his maternal bloodline, plays chess for the Italian Federation, though we in St. Louis are doing our damndest to put a shine on the place for his first impression. The other half of the 22 year old is American -- born in Miami and essentially stolen from us when he was young.

He was discovered as chess talent at the age of 5 and quickly streamlined into the best coaching the U.S. could offer, finding warmth in the (former) chess epicenter of the U.S., New York City. But by the time he was 12, Caruana was showing talent that had easily outgrown our nation’s under-developed chess offerings, and he was whisked away to Europe with all its chess access and glories to begin a professional career.

Now with a rapidly growing reputation as the next challenger to Carlsen, it’s hard to argue with his decision -- though it’s certainly not difficult to beg him back.

As you may have heard, much has happened in U.S. chess in the short decade Caruana has been gone, causing those who have watched his rise into super-duper-elite status to lament him stepping out just a moment too soon. But lucky for us, he has been paying attention.

“The Sinquefield Cup is an event which every chess enthusiast will follow closely,” Caruana said a month ago, just after accepting his seat in the St. Louis super tournament. “It is one of the highlights of the chess calendar, and hopefully it will mark the beginning of a new chess boom in the United States. Such initiatives are invaluable and St. Louis fully deserves to be named the ‘chess capital’ of the United States.”

Welcome home, Mr. Caruana.

He was the first player to arrive by several days, spotted often around the Central West End, playing blitz with members and entertaining children with fancy moves. He is casual and relaxed, and looks extremely comfortable walking around the new U.S. chess headquarters -- he has become an instant hit.

And these fancy new surroundings seem to be soaking right in to his play, taking an early lead in the strongest tournament in history by knocking off Bulgarian GM Veselin Topalov in Wednesday’s opening round. Topalov, a former world champion who arrived in St. Louis on fire from his gold-medalling effort at the 2014 Chess Olympiad earlier this month, found all momentum crashed upon Caruana’s rock.

His first time in St. Louis has brought him to new territory all around. Wednesday’s win -- the lone victory in the six player, top-10 field -- pumped up his rating to 2805, his best-ever peak, and for the moment leapfrogged Aronian for the World No. 2 spot.

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