2014 Sinquefield Cup Player Bios
Since we saw him last in Saint Louis -- winning the inaugural Sinquefield Cup in September 2013 -- Norwegian Grandmaster Sven Magnus Carlsen has been hard at work confirming his status as the most recognizable chess figure on earth.
Carlsen is now the reigning World Champion of chess -- three times over -- first taking the title in classical time control from GM Viswanathan Anand just a month after last year’s visit to the U.S. He beefed up that moniker this past June by winning the global title in both FIDE Rapid and Blitz time controls, making him the first-ever triple-crown World Champion of chess.
Despite just 23 years of age, not much of Carlsen’s current resume comes as a shock -- he has been on the chess world’s radar for more than a decade. Carlsen obtained his first IM norm in January 2003 and officially earned the title in August, still 12 years old. He earned his first GM norm by winning the Corus Chess Tournament in January 2004 and was eventually awarded the GM title that April, making him the third youngest in history at 13 years, 4 months and 27 days. Later that year, he became the youngest-ever to appear in a Candidates Tournament, his first of four appearances in the event.
In early 2008, Carlsen made his first break into the world’s top-5 -- where he has remained since -- and in November 2009, he became only the fifth and the youngest-ever to pass the 2800 rating barrier. FIDE named Carlsen the world’s No. 1 for the first time in January 2010, making him the youngest to ever hold the rank at 19 years and 32 days. Last year, he passed former World Champion Garry Kasparov’s rating record of 2856 -- a bar Carlsen raised to 2889 this past April. He now sits at 2877, more than 70 points clear of the world No. 2 Levon Aronian.
Famous Washington Post columnist Lubomir Kavalek dubbed Carlsen the “Mozart of Chess” when he was just 14, a moniker that has since become entrenched by a recent CBS 60 Minutes interview. He is known for an endgame prowess amongst the greatest in history, as well as an unusually wide range of openings, which frustrates his opponents in their preparation against him.
Grandmaster Levon Aronian is a walking celebrity and the pride of chess-strong Armenia, having been declared Sportsman of the Year twice, Honored Master of Sport in 2009 and the 2012 Person of the Year by a leading national magazine. The 32-year-old is just the sixth player in history to cross the elite 2800 threshold, and reached a career-best 2835 earlier this year. Ironically, Aronian’s arrival to the Showdown in Saint Louis -- currently ranked No. 4 in the world and rated 2797 -- comes as part of a slump by his own exceptional standards: It is the first time Aronian has been out of the world’s top-3 since November 2010.
Taught to move the pieces at 9 years old, Aronian was quick to appear on the world stage, winning the 1994 World Youth Chess Championship U12. In 2002, at 20, he won the Armenian Championship and later the World Junior Championship in India. But his mainstay in the world’s elite was marked in 2005 when he won the World Cup in Russia and cracked the world’s top-10 for the first time. Since then, Aronian has collected a staggering amount of elite titles.
He played the first board on three gold-medalist Armenian Chess Olympiad teams (2006, 2008 and 2012), also grabbing the individual gold in 2012. He has won the FIDE Grand Prix twice, the prestigious Tal Memorial three times, and the Corus/Tata Steel Chess Tournament four times, including the 75th anniversary of the event earlier this year where he beat out the rest of the field by 1.5 points.
Not just confined to classical chess, Aronian was the 2009 World Rapid Champion as well as the 2010 World Blitz Champion, though both titles have since been claimed by the now triple-crown World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Aronian is also a talented chess variant player, becoming the Chess960 World Champion in 2006. He successfully defended the title to Viswanathan Anand in 2007, though lost it in 2009 to Hikaru Nakamura.
Fabiano Caruana is an American-born, yet purely Italian, Grandmaster whose rapid advance into the elite ranks of chess has earned him the reputation as the next rival to Magnus Carlsen for the world championship. He is currently No. 3 in the world with a rating of 2801, only the eighth player in history to pass the 2800 barrier.
The 22-year-old was born in Miami, Florida and introduced to chess through an afterschool program as a five-year-old in Brooklyn, NY -- living in the same neighborhood where Bobby Fischer was raised. He played in his first tournament the same year at the Susan Polgar Chess Center in Queens, NY, eventually landing his first coach in NM Bruce Pandolfini at 6.
At 10, Caruana became the youngest American to defeat a GM in a sanctioned event and, by 12 years old, was a FIDE master and winner of several national scholastic championships, as well as two gold medals in Pan-American Youth Championships. From there, chess was his future, and his family moved to Europe to see it through.
He officially switched federations to Italy in October 2005, though he still shares dual citizenship with the U.S. and remains a good-standing Life Member of the USCF to this day. He found homes in Madrid and Budapest, as well as coaches in IM Boris Zlotnik and GM Alexander Chernin and, at 14 years, 11 months and 20 days, became the youngest GM in the history of both Italy and the United States, beating out the record set by Hikaru Nakamura.
Today, Caruana is a four-time Italian national champion and one of the hottest players on the global scene, having currently pushed himself up as one of only three players above the 2800 rating barrier. He crossed the super-elite threshold just last month after winning the 42nd Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany, where he clinched the tournament win in the penultimate round without losing a game.
Caruana is also FIDE’s No. 1 ranked Rapid player, with a rating of 2857, though he finished in second place behind Carlsen in the 2014 World Rapid Championship this past June.
Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura is the United States’ No. 1 chess player and the leading hopeful to bring America its first World Championship since Bobby Fischer. Ranked ninth on the planet with a FIDE rating of 2767, Nakamura enters the Showdown in Saint Louis on a hot streak, having lost just one of his last 22 games during the 2014-15 FIDE Grand Prix. Now halfway through the cycle, Nakamura’s recent play has the 26-year-old ranked second in the Grand Prix standings, in great position for his first-ever appearance in a Candidates Tournament.
A child prodigy in every sense of the word, Nakamura made a fast impact on United States chess by knocking down nearly every age record on his way to the top. Nakamura was at one time the youngest-ever American master in history (10 years, 79 days), the youngest American international master (13 years, 2 months) and eventually the youngest American Grandmaster (15 years, 79 days) – breaking Fischer’s record by three months.
Nakamura has collected numerous titles and championships over the past decade-plus, first splashing onto the scene as the 2001 U.S. Junior Champion at 13 years old. He quickly confirmed his place as one of chess’ great elites, shocking the world with a sweet sixteen appearance in the 2004 FIDE World Cup, and then grabbing his first of three U.S. Championships the following year.
Nakamura is a recipient of the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship (2005), the 2007 National Open champion and a three-time North American Open champion. He was an individual bronze medalist in the 2006 and 2008 World Olympiad, as well as the gold-medalist on the first board of the 2010 World Team Championship, where the United States placed second.
Nakamura only gets better as he gets faster, gracing the top of the world in Blitz chess when FIDE began publishing its list earlier this year. He did, however, miss his chance to grab the title at the FIDE World Blitz Championship this past June, claimed instead by Carlsen. Nakamura finished with bronze in the event, and currently sits second on FIDE’s Blitz rating. He is also a talented variant player, winning the 2009 Chess960 World Championship – a title he took from Levon Aronian.