Caruana vs Carlsen in St. Louis?

3/31/2018 – Fabiano Caruana’s victory in the Candidates series in Berlin has sparked rumours that November’s world title contest may switch from London to the United States and offer a larger financial prize to the winner. Billionaire Rex Sinquefield, who has made St Louis a renowned global chess centre, and who has supported Caruana's chess career, might bid to host the match against Magnus Carlsen in the US. Leonard Barden, chess correspondent of The Guardian, shares his view.

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By winning this week’s candidates tournament in Berlin, the 25-year-old American Fabiano Caruana has qualified for a 12-game world title series against Norway’s Magnus Carlsen in November. It was going to be in London with a € 1m prize fund, but now there are rumours of a much higher bid, a venue switch to St Louis and tricky negotiations.

The first American-born challenger since Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in 1972 lives in St Louis, which has become a renowned global chess centre hosting inter alia the US championship and an annual elite event in which both Carlsen and Caruana compete. The billionaire Rex Sinquefield bankrolls it all and was financially responsible for Caruana, who has dual nationality, electing to represent the US rather than Italy from 2015.

Caruana was born to Italian-American parents in Miami, was home schooled, learned his chess skills in Brooklyn, and at 14 broke Fischer’s age record as the youngest US grandmaster. He moved to Europe in search of the best tournaments and coaching, living in Madrid, Budapest and Lugano and representing Italy. As an American again, he led the US team in 2016 to their first ever gold medals at the biennial 150-nation Olympiad.

Sinquefield is a long-time Fischer fan, who once met his idol on a plane trip, and a few years ago bought up Bobby’s personal library. Four-time US champion Yasser Seirawan, a Sinquefield confidant, said that a St Louis bid would be “significantly higher” than the € 1m in London, which may be in some doubt anyway, since it was raised from primarily Russian sponsors before the Berlin result was known.

For the embattled and financially stretched global chess body FIDE, St Louis could prove a lifeline. Its president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, has been sanctioned by the US Treasury for allegedly aiding the Syrian government, and Fide’s Swiss bank will shortly close its account. A successful high profile partnership with Sinquefield, who contributed to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, could restore credibility for FIDE in Washington. However, FIDE’s commercial partner Agon, based in Moscow but probably planning a move to London, holds the rights to the match and is sure to fight its corner.

FIDE will also remember how in 1993 its then president awarded the world championship to Manchester without consulting the players. Garry Kasparov and Nigel Short took their match outside FIDE, and the resulting schism lasted thirteen years. Carlsen has played several times in St Louis, captured his crown against Vishy Anand in India in 2013, and beat his Russian challenger, Sergey Karjakin, in New York in 2016, so he will be relaxed about playing away again if the prize money jumps.



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