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Moment that mattered: Fabiano Caruana completes an unprecedented winning streak


When he moved his queen to d5 and won the game against French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, Fabiano Caruana made history.

His win was the culmination of a seven-game winning streak at the second Sinquefield Cup, an annual chess tournament played in St Louis, Missouri. This year’s event was the strongest-rated tournament in history, featuring six of the top ten players in the world. For Caruana to win seven games in a row at a single event is a unique result, unprecedented in the sport. It was thrilling to watch. People all over the world were checking in to see him compete online and getting passionate about chess.

It’s very rare for a grandmaster to win so many consecutive games. Usually they will win about a third of the time, their opponent will win about a third of the time, and the other third it’s a draw, so winning seven in row is highly unusual. I think that in 50 years’ time people will still be talking about it, especially if Caruana ends up being world champion. It’s up there with Bobby Fischer’s undefeated streak in the US Championship in 1963-64. Everybody was talking about Fischer when they watched Caruana, but for me this was an even bigger achievement than the games won by Fischer because Caruana was competing against such amazing players. If I had to guess whether anybody would achieve something similar in the next ten years I’d say it’s very unlikely.

Caruana can really blow opponents off the chessboard, like he did against Bulgarian grandmaster and former world champion Veselin Topalov. Topalov couldn’t get a handle on Caruana’s meticulous preparation. Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian world champion and world number one, on the other hand, can make something out of nothing. When you think things will end in a draw he turns it around move by move. Carlsen drives people into this false sense of security and then crushes them whereas Caruana just blows people off the board before they even get the chance to breathe. It will be great to see these two philosophies pitched against each other at future World Chess Championships.

“For Caruana to win seven games in a row at a single event is a unique
result, unprecedented in the sport. It was thrilling to watch”

Caruana has played a couple of tournaments after St Louis but he hasn’t been able to replicate his Sinquefield performance. People say there is no luck in chess and what they mean is that you are responsible for making a good or a bad move. But in reality there is lots of luck, specifically in terms of what your opponent brings at you, such as what opening move they choose. If it’s something you were studying the night before then you can easily kick them out of the game.

I’m really happy about Caruana’s win because he is a great kid. He is so modest and polite. He doesn’t have a big ego, which is rare in chess, and he’s always interested to hear other people’s opinions. To take chess to the next level you need a couple of guys who can add a level of intrigue, and now we have it with Caruana and Magnus Carlsen. Both are heroes to kids who are thinking of taking up chess. This sport is about to get a lot more popular.

Jennifer Shahade is a two-time American women’s chess champion, editor at and author of ‘Chess Bitch: Women in the Ultimate Intellectual Sport’.

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