- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Fabiano Caruana, the U.S.-born Italian chess grandmaster now ranked third in the world, is coming home.

The U.S. Chess Federation announced Tuesday that the 22-year-old Mr. Caruana has applied to change chess federations in order to play for the United States. The Miami-born chess star has dual citizenship and had been playing under the Italian flag for the past decade.

Intense efforts to woo Mr. Caruana to play for the Stars and Stripes, including the grandmaster’s own admission that he was offered a “large sum” of money from an unnamed source to play for the Stars and Stripes, were the subject of a front-page New York Times article in March.

Mr. Caruana’s switch comes in the wake of a similar shift by Philippine-born chess star Wesley So, who announced in October that he would now play for the U.S. in international events such as the biennial Chess Olympiad, a global team event that the Americans have not won since 1976. Under the game’s international rating system, the 21-year-old Mr. So is the ninth strongest player in the world.

Mr. Caruana was wooed heavily by U.S. chess officials and is considered perhaps the top rival to world chess champion Magnus Carlsen of Norway. No American has held the world crown since Bobby Fischer forfeited the title in 1975.

With a lineup that includes Mr. Caruna, Mr. So and St. Louis-based grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, the world’s No. 4 ranked player, the U.S. becomes an instant favorite in top team events such as the Olympiad, alongside such traditional powerhouses as Russia, Ukraine and Armenia.

Jean Hoffman, executive director of the U.S. Chess Federation, called Mr. Caruana’s allegiance shift “historic.”

“For the first time in history, the United States will have three of the top ten players in the world,” she said in a statement. “Over the past several years, we have made tremendous strides to increase the awareness of, and appreciation for, the great game of chess in the United States. The return of Fabiano to the USCF is another large step toward achieving our goals.”

Switching flags is not unheard of, but relatively rare for the game’s very top players. FIDE, the international chess federation, requires grandmasters who want to switch countries to play a fee of up to $5,400 for the right, and pay as much as ten times that to the player’s previous federation if, as with Mr. Caruana, the player has not been living in the country of his new federation.

Mr. Caruana made no mention of any compensation or payments he was offered in agreeing to play for the U.S.

“I’d like to thank everybody who has made this possible, and I look forward to this exciting new partnership,” he said.

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