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On Chess: World No. 3 Fabiano Caruana returning to U.S. Chess Federation

Fabiano Caruana
St. Louis Chess Club

Fabiano Caruana is coming home.

The world’s No. 3 Grandmaster has declared intentions to once again play under the American flag, applying for transfer to the U.S. Chess Federation on Tuesday. Assuming the paperwork process goes smoothly, the 22-year-old will reunite with the U.S. right here in the Central West End, at the 2015 Sinquefield Cup this August.

Chess fans are hoping he shows up dressed like Apollo Creed.

Caruana is a true American citizen, born in Miami and raised in the states through the age of 12, though he has enjoyed dual citizenship with Italy for the past 10 years. His chess talent was an American discovery, as well: A Brooklyn after-school program produced the 5 year old, who quickly flourished in the chess-strong city. By 14, he was on the radar as the youngest American GM in history -- though, by then Caruana had already left for the European scene, his title achievement also noted as the youngest in Italian history.

Not many will argue his decision to seek a greener chess board. With Europe’s superior access to elite coaching and competition, Caruana soared into super-elite status under the Italian Chess Federation. He earned the first of four national championships just as soon as he arrived in 2007, and has now developed into one of the sleekest favorites to unsettle World Champion Magnus Carlsen on his global throne.

But not many will argue his decision to return home, either. The USCF is revived and mobilizing, positioning its pieces for a worldwide takeover. U.S. Chess Champion Hikaru Nakamura, ranked just behind Caruana at No. 4 in the world, is on a title mission of his own and playing at an extended pinnacle of his career. And newcomer Wesley So, who trained at Webster University and transferred to the USCF just as soon as he hit the world top 10, is looking steady and comfortable through his first year amid top-tier competition.

A salivating 2016 U.S. Championship fight aside, Caruana’s return is the first-time the American flag has waved over three World top-10 players. This triple-threat of top-tenners sets up the U.S. team as a favorite in international competition, including next year’s Chess Olympiad, an event we have not won since 1976. The four-board team format opens several tantalizing options for U.S. team captain John Donaldson: Discussions on what up-and-comer might sit at Board 4, including Webster’s Ray Robson or 2014 Olympiad gold-medalist Sam Shankland, are almost as intriguing as deciding on which superstar will sit at Board 1.

Caruana’s homecoming will be St. Louis for the 2015 Sinquefield Cup on Aug. 21, and it will be nice to see how nostalgia sets in. His visit for the Central West End super-tournament last fall -- his first-ever view of the new U.S. chess capital -- was both a new look at American chess’ fresh digs and a true moment of arrival for his career. Once offered as a potential threat to Carlsen, all was confirmed when Caruana dunked the World Champion in part of a monumental 7-0 winning streak, now celebrated as the greatest tournament performance in chess history.

Brian Jerauld is a chess instructor to area students, including his own children, and a student of the game himself through the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis. He is also a Mizzou journalist with a decade of experience writing about boats, sports and other odds and ends. This column is a weekly look around St. Louis, the U.S. Capital of Chess.