Young Fabiano's Weekly Regimen

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Before he moved to Italy and made a run up to the #3 ranking in the world (currently a close 6th), GM Fabiano Caruana grew up in New York City. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, he was always the top rated player for his age in the US.

Among his travels were frequent stops 90 miles down the road here in the Philadelphia area. After all, we had the World Open (now in a three-year "loaner" stint in Arlington, VA) and other monster Continental Chess Association events like the National Chess Congress and the Liberty Bell. So these were staple events on "the chess tour" for any aspiring young Eastern-US player, and fellow world Top-10 Hikaru Nakamura, who also grew up in New York, was another frequent visitor.

During these visits I got to talk a bit with Fabiano's father, Lou Caruana, who was very friendly and approachable. Although I didn't know Lou as I well as I did Josh Waitzkin's father Fred a generation before, I did at least have a chance to have a small insight into Fabiano's approach to mastering the game.

In particular, one day I asked Lou "What is Fabiano's week like? I assume chess is his main hobby."

Lou's answer exceeded my expectation of how intense Fabiano's approached the game. Even though Fabiano was only about 12 at the time, Lou said Fabiano...(I paraphrase, since I can't remember verbatim):

"...plays in about three tournaments each week, including the Marshall Master's event on Tuesday night and a bigger event each weekend. In between, he takes three hourly lessons from three different grandmasters, one for the opening, one for the endgame, and a third to cover general middlegame and planning." (!)

The US Chess Federation has a database of national (and many international) events played, so you can see Fabiano's early chess career results, and most later results, at this link.

Although not all GM's young careers are this intense, this should give the reader some insight into the amount of work that even a very talented youngster needs to make to achieve world class status. Fabiano's career continued to soar when his parents made the bold move of leaving New York and relocating to Europe, where Fabiano was able to represent Italy and have access to invitations to the consistently strong events that eventually led him to become a super-GM.

I would also like to point out that any good study program needs to contain what I called The Improvement Feedback Loop, which is based on the triangle of play/practice - study - and get feedback. Many aspiring players know about the play and study parts, but without the feedback you likely end up making certain mistakes repeatedly. In Fabiano's case the feedback was provided not only by his three strong instructors, but also by his (eventually) very strong opponents, who were undoubtedly willing to review their game afterwards to the benefit of the youngster.

Over the years, when Fabiano has a particularly good result (not unexpected now), I occasionally dropped Lou a short "congratulations" email. Now that Fabiano has become an adult, I guess that's no longer necessary, but it's still nice to keep in touch even though it's been many years since I last saw Lou...