Fabiano Caruana, the No. 3 chess player in the world, who has represented Italy for the last 10 years, is switching federations to play for the United States. The United States Chess Federation announced Caruana’s move Tuesday in a statement on its website.
Caruana, who was born in the United States and has dual American and Italian citizenship, gives an instant boost to the United States team, which also includes Hikaru Nakamura, the No. 4 player in the world, and seventh-ranked Wesley So. So is another recent transfer; he played for the Philippines.
Both moves are part of a concerted effort by American chess officials to strengthen the United States team, in part through recruiting and cash payments that allow players to switch countries.
The addition of Caruana makes the United States the favorite to win the pre-eminent team competition in chess: the biennial Chess Olympiad, which will be held next year in Azerbaijan. The last time the United States won was in 1976, when the Soviet Union boycotted the event in Haifa, Israel. The last time the United States won an Olympiad that was not boycotted was 1937.
Transfers of elite players are not common, partly because of the fees that must be paid. In Caruana’s case, the fees will total 55,000 euros (about $61,000): 50,000 euros to the Italian federation and 5,000 euros to the World Chess Federation, the game’s governing body.
The announcement on the United States federation’s website did not say who was paying the fees, but the efforts to recruit Caruana began in September after he won the Sinquefield Cup, an elite tournament in St. Louis sponsored by and named for Rex Sinquefield, a retired financieractive in Missouri politics who has become the primary benefactor of chess in the United States.
In an interview in March, Caruana said that he had been approached about switching federations by someone he would not name after winning the Sinquefield Cup. At the time, Caruana said he had no plans to switch but that “negotiations were continuing.” In March, Sinquefield said that he would recruit players if it would help the United States.
In Tuesday’s announcement, Caruana, who was born in Miami, said that he would be working with the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, a club built and financed by Sinquefield.
In a statement, Sinquefield said, “We are thrilled with Fabiano’s decision to come back home to the United States and welcome him with open arms.”
The remaking of the United States team may not be over. The United States Chess Federation recently created a player opportunity committee to raise money to pay the transfer fees of other players interested in moving to the United States.
Teams for most major international competitions are composed of at least five players (four regulars and an alternate). While the United States now has some solid homegrown talent, notably Samuel Shankland, who played top board for the United States when it finished fifth in the world team championships in Armenia in April, Shankland is ranked No. 91 in the world. Top teams, like the one from China that won the world team championships, can field teams consisting entirely of players in the top 35.