Fabiano Caruana reaches world No4 ranking and closes in on Vlad Kramnik
Fabiano Caruana, 21, jumped to No 4 in the world rankings this week as the young Italian's reputation continues to grow as a serious contender for the world crown. In July Caruana briefly hit the magic 2800 level, only the eighth player in chess history to do so, then dropped back.
But on Wednesday he scooped first prize at the elite Kings event in Romania, and is now only fractionally behind Vlad Kramnik, the established No 3, who dropped points in the Russian championship.
Caruana's rapid advance has sparked new backers for top chess in western Europe. As an Italian citizen with dual US nationality, living in Switzerland and with a Belgian coach, he is a natural marketing symbol for central Europe, as a likely future rival for Norway's world No1, Magnus Carlsen, whose fan base and sponsors are centered in Scandinavia.
Early next year Zurich will stage a super-elite tournament where Caruana will take on Carlsen, the world No2, Levon Aronian, the current world champion, Vishy Anand, and the US No1, Hikaru Nakamura, plus Israel's Boris Gelfand. Such a high-class field echoes the famous Avro 1938 event where all the players were world champions or candidates.
Caruana's personality contrasts with the laid back Carlsen, who placed fifth on Cosmopolitan's 2013 sexiest men list and who skis and plays footballand basketball. The introverted and bespectacled Caruana is dedicated to his chess career and has an ambitious and single-minded approach reminiscent of Mikhail Botvinnik, the first Soviet world champion. His geekish image is deceptive as he plays more events than any other top 10 grandmaster, which implies a high fitness level.
His style is more classical and geared to prepared openings than Carlsen, who thrives on messy unclear positions and marathon endgames.
Psychologically, he is vulnerable at the end of tournaments, twice tamely agreeing draws with tail-enders when the situation called for a bold approach. On Tuesday this week, poised for a 2800 rating, No2 or No3 in the rankings, and an unbeaten first prize in Romania, he blew a winning position in time pressure against China's Wang Hao. Still, at 21 such weaknesses can be cured.
Below, the game swung Caruana's way when 16…f5? (Bd6!) gave Black an isolated b6 pawn which soon fell. Black tried for an attack on the king but the cool 25 Bb2! prepared a decisive queen's side push and provoked an unsound rook sacrifice. Black could not escape by 29…Bxf3+ 30 Raxf3 Qxe2 31 Bxb8 with a piece ahead, while at the end White will meet Qxf2+ by 31 Qg2 and everything is guarded.