Breaking: Fabiano Caruana To Play For USA (Updated)

Breaking: Fabiano Caruana To Play For USA (Updated)

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
May 12, 2015, 12:00 AM |
160 | Chess Event Coverage

[See two updates below the article.]

GM Fabiano Caruana will switch federations from Italy to the USA. This was announced by the USCF and later confirmed by Caruana on Twitter.

Half a year after GM Wesley So changed federations to the USA, its chess federation welcomes yet another super grandmaster: GM Fabiano Caruana.

In a press release on its website the United States Chess Federation (USCF) has announced that Caruana “has initiated the application process to change chess federations, which, when approved, will allow him to play for the United States.”

“I'm absolutely thrilled to be representing the United States again and working with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis,” Caruana is quoted in the press release. I'd like to thank everybody who has made this possible, and I look forward to this exciting new partnership.”

Caruana was born in Miami, Florida but is of Italian ancestry. With dual citizenship he could choose which federation to play for, and for the last decade he's been representing Italy.

“I want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation and gratitude for the support given to me over the past ten years by the Italian Chess Federation. I wish them all the best for the future,” finished Caruana in the press release. At the time of writing he wasn't yet available for further comment.

The transfer will take time, but if it were completed today the USCF would be the only federation with three top-10 players: Fabiano Caruana (#3), Hikaru Nakamura (#4) and Wesley So (#7). The team will definitely be one of the favorites at the next Olympiad, in Baku in 2016.

“Over the past several years, we have made tremendous strides to increase the awareness of, and appreciation for, the great game of chess in the United States,” said Jean Hoffman, executive director of the USCF. “The return of Fabiano to the USCF is another large step toward achieving our goals.”

When the news came out, GM Jon Ludvig Hammer tweeted about it and received a quick reaction from GM Magnus Carlsen:

Carlsen was of course referring to Jon Stewart's recent item on The Daily Show:

With Caruana specifically mentioning the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, it is likely that Rex Sinquefield, the billionaire who has meant so much for chess in St Louis in recent years, is behind Caruana's transfer.

Tony Rich, Director of the CCSCSL, denied that any money changed hands between the chess club and the USCF: “Not a single red cent. The only part we (the club) played was to encourage him to change federations.”

At the Sinquefield Cup last year Rich had joked to Caruana: “You should come back to the U.S.,” and he recalled him saying “I should be giving that some thought.”

“It was all just a casual conversation,” said Rich, who expects Caruana to take part in the 2016 U.S. championship. 

The transfer application has been submitted to FIDE on Tuesday morning. Since there's 90-day window, Caruana's first event under the U.S. flag will probably be in the USA, at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis.

For that, Caruana needs to provide a transfer fee of $50,000, in case the Italian Chess Federation demands so. Without a fee, a player is able to represent his new federation in a FIDE event only after two years from the date of transfer. 

“In the past, America has had the very best player in the world and a lot of amateur players, but there hasn't been a lot of depth,” said Rich. “Now we're really filling in those tiers of professional players.”

Caruana started playing chess at the age of five at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, New York where his parents had moved. He joined several clubs, and among his early trainers were NM Bruce Pandolfini, GM Miron Sher, GM Pal Benko and GM Gregory Kaidanov.

In November 2004 his family moved to Madrid, Spain, where it was easier to play in the European tournament circuit and work with his new trainer IM Boris Zlotnik. In October 2005 he changed federations from USA to Italy.

In 2007 his family moved to Budapest, Hungary when Caruana started working with GM Alexander Chernin. In July 2008 he became the youngest U.S. (and Italian!) grandmaster ever, beating Nakamura's record.

In September 2014 Caruana scored his career's best performance, winning the Sinquefield Cup in St. Louis with 8.5/10.


Update: We've received comments from IM John Donaldson, team captain of the U.S. National Team:

What does the news mean for the team?

This is huge! Having Fabiano join Hikaru and Wesley gives the United States three players in the top ten in the world - something it hasn't had since the 1930s (Reshevsky, Fine and Kashdan).

Will it be difficult to decide who plays board one, or perhaps even board two, in Baku?

The U.S. team captain has been chosen by a vote of the players since 1986. I wouldn't expect this practice to be changing in the near future so the question is premature until the players make their selection. Past practice has been to have the players placed in rating order with changes made only if both parties agree.

Is this the strongest U.S. team ever and do you expect they'll be ranked number one in Baku?

Certainly this is the highest rated US team ever, but it would not be the top seed in Baku if the Olympiad were played today. Russia averaged 2760 FIDE for its top four at the recent World Team Championship and with a reserve player at 2740. Keep in mind they did not have Kramnik.

The U.S. would likely be around 2755 for its first four with a reserve presently around 2660-2670. China and Ukraine have deep benches and can field teams with all five players over 2700. There are several other teams including Armenia that are known to consistently over perform. All in all Baku is shaping up to be the toughest Olympiad yet.

The fight to make the last two spots on the U.S. team will be very hard fought. Ray Robson is currently the U.S. number four at 2680 but right behind him are Gata Kamsky (who retired from playing for the U.S. after the Tromsø Olympiad but is still playing well and rated 2670), Alex Onischuk (the fittest forty-year-old grandmaster in the world and rated 2662) and Sam Shankland (2656).

The latter followed up his gold medal performance in Tromsø as best reserve player by holding his own on board one at the World Team Championship. Alex Lenderman (gold medal as best 2nd board in the 2015 World Team) and Daniel Naroditsky (4/7 with a win over Jakovenko in his debut for the U.S. in the World Team) are also candidates.


Update 14 May, 2015: at a press conference in Khanty-Mansiysk, Caruana said: 

“In St. Louis last year I had the idea, and a lot of other people also seemed very interested in me joining the USCF. So yeah, it's something I'm very excited about. I'm looking forward to competing in team events for the U.S. and playing for the United States.

“I don't know which will be my last event [under the Italian flag] because I still have a contract with the Italian Chess Federation. For sure next year I'll be playing under the American flag.

“It was great, I played ten years for Italy, I had a lot of support from the chess federation and from chess fans in Italy. It helped me grow as a player. I went there [when] I was 13 years old and a FM, so... yeah, it's been a long journey.”

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