Fabiano Caruana is the No. 2–ranked chess player in the world. Fourteen years ago, he became the youngest American grandmaster, at age 14, beating a record set by chess legend Bobby Fischer. Still, the St. Louis– based Caruana—who trails Norway’s Magnus Carlsen by just 41 points—insists that he’s a pretty normal guy. “I like movies and sports, and I’m not a genius . . . plenty of people have the same skill level or ability as me,” he says. He credits his success to a strict training regimen and a strong work ethic. Here’s how he keeps his mental tools sharp enough to stay one of the best in the royal game.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Caruana’s parents signed him up for a chess club in Park Slope, Brooklyn, when he was 5 years old. “I was having some disciplinary problems at school, and they thought this could help,” he says. After his coach noticed his potential, he began taking private lessons and competing in tournaments at the Marshall Chess Club, in Manhattan. Now, beginners can train on their own. “There’s really great open-source software, so practicing at a high level is very accessible to people,” he says, adding that “the next few generations will be stronger than my generation because of that.” As chess players gain a following on Twitch, he hopes that more kids will pick up the game (see sidebar). However, he says, “there are some practical skills that you get from years of playing in tournaments, like learning how to play in front of people and assess your opponent sitting in front of you, that you can’t get in front of a screen.” For Caruana, embracing the game involved some personal sacrifices, including being homeschooled after age 12 in order to devote more time to tournaments.
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