The Unknown Fabiano Caruana
Caruana after winning the Candidates' Tournament. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/

The Unknown Fabiano Caruana

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The tournament of the year is over and we have a deserved winner. The quality of Fabiano Caruana's games was higher than anyone else's in the Candidates' Tournament and he kept his cool throughout the whole competition.

Now we all are waiting for a very exciting world championship match where Magnus Carlsen will meet his biggest challenge. It is the first time that he has to defend his title against a younger challenger. As far as I remember, never in the history of chess has an older challenger won the title.

Of course, I don't take into account the revenge matches where ex-world champions beat their younger rivals, like Botvinnik vs. Tal in 1961. Therefore, when Carlsen played Anand and Karjakin, he had an advantage from the historical point of view.

Not anymore!

Even if Caruana doesn't win the coming world championship match, his name is already permanently written into the chess annals among other challengers like Tarrasch, Korchnoi, etc. Since Fabiano is a part of chess history now, his games will be analyzed for years to come and the chess researchers will study every little detail of his biography.

fabiano caruana american flag

Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Now imagine for a second that a chess historian finds a completely unknown game of a legendary chess player. Yes, an unknown game by Fischer is not going to fetch as much money as an unknown painting of Van Gogh, but for a true chess aficionado such a game would be priceless!

So, in order to celebrate Fabiano's win in the Candidates' Tournament, I present the unknown game of Caruana. I don't think you'll be able to find this game in any database since it was played long before he became famous. 

This game was played when Caruana was just 11 years old. You might be wondering how I got this game. Well, I have many students and there is a good chance that some of them at some point play the future world champions.

After I saw this game, I told my student: "Jason, don't be upset, you have lost to a future super-grandmaster!" How did I know that? Well, look at the game. It started as a quiet variation of the French Defense and then my student played a natural-looking move, which in reality was a big mistake.

How would you punish Black for his last move?

Caruana converted his advantage very precicely. Can you find his finishing moves?

I was very impressed by the play of the little kid who wasn't even 12 years old yet. It reminded me of some iconic games, like this one:

Did you find similarities between the two games? In both of them White completely controlled the center, provoked the weakening f7-f5 move by paying Qh3! and finished the game by a direct kingside attack! When he played his game, the Cuban genius was already a seasoned tournament player, but Caruana was just 11 years old when he produced his little gem!

There is one more parallel between these two great players. When Capablanca played his first published game he was only four years old and his experienced opponent gave him queen odds:

According to the classic book by Vassily Panov about Capablanca, in this game the young Cuban "flawlessly converted his advantage," the phrase which later became a journalistic cliche about Capablanca's games. 

In my old article where I analyzed a brilliant win of Caruana over GM Aronian I said: "He practically makes no mistakes and severely punishes his opponents for the slightest inaccuracy. In a sense, he is playing like a human computer!"

I think I could use the exactly same phrase describing the game of the 11-year old Fabiano! It is not a secret that if a chess player is enormously talented you can see it even when he is very young. What is really interesting is that you can see the elements of the style of the future chess star as well. 

Look at the very recent game from the first round of the Candidates' Tournament. Isn't it the same trademark control of the center that provokes weaknesses on the kingside followed by a swift and deadly mating attack that we saw in the game by the 11-year-old Caruana?

Caruana's classical style combined with tactics based on a solid positional foundation is a tough nut to crack for any player. I cannot wait to see how King Magnus is going to counter it!

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