NY Times: Your Move, Grandmaster

by Albert Silver
3/11/2015 – That was the title of an article that appeared on the front page of the Sports section of the New York Times. Written by former chess columnist Dylan Loeb McClain, it describes the ongoing efforts currently underway behind the scenes to bolster the US team for international events. Though fairly common in other sports such as football, it is less so in chess. An interesting read.

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By Dylan Loeb McClain (New York Times)

The United States team that will compete in the World Team Chess Championship next month in Armenia stands no real chance of winning. It is not sending its three best players, and even if it were, it would not have enough talent to compete with the stacked teams from Russia and China.

But one does not have to be born in a country to represent it in international competition, and so an official program and a clandestine effort are underway to recruit top players from other countries to switch their allegiance to the United States.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering to bolster the US team for international success
made the front page of the Sports section of the New York Times

Such transfers have happened in the past, but never in an organized manner. If the new efforts are successful, the American team may be radically altered by the time the Chess Olympiad, the most prestigious team competition in chess, is held next year in Azerbaijan. By then, the United States could even be the favorite to win the gold medal, something it has not done in decades.

The most important contribution to remaking the team may be an endeavor that has the whiff of a Cold War-era plot: a private overture to a top foreign grandmaster, tens of thousands of dollars in payments to secure his eligibility, and a rich American benefactor intent on overtaking the Russians and the Chinese in the game he loves. Similar campaigns to obtain the national allegiance of top prospects are not uncommon in the Olympic movement and international soccer, but they are virtually unprecedented in the more cerebral world of top-level chess.

The secret effort currently underway involves trying to persuade Fabiano Caruana, the No. 2 player in the world, to switch to playing for the United States from Italy. Last September, while playing in an elite tournament in St. Louis, Mr. Caruana said he was approached and offered a large sum to switch federations. Mr. Caruana, who was born in Miami and has dual American and Italian citizenship, said he had turned down the offer, for now.

The obvious source is renowned US chess benefactor Rex Sinquefield, though it is fairly
common practice in other sports

Mr. Caruana would not say who approached him, but the offer came after he won the Sinquefield Cup, obliterating an impressive field that included the world champion, Magnus Carlsen of Norway. The tournament is named for Rex Sinquefield, a retired financier active in Missouri politics who has become the primary benefactor of chess in the United States. Mr. Sinquefield provided the $315,000 prize fund for the event, as he also does for the United States Championship, which for seven consecutive years has been held at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, which he financed and built.

In an interview, Mr. Sinquefield said, “I can’t add anything” to Mr. Caruana’s statement that he had been recruited.

Mr. Sinquefield is uncomfortable talking about the role he has played supporting chess financially, though he acknowledged that his investments had benefited the chess community in St. Louis and across the country. But, he said, it was not part of some grand scheme.

“I am the admiring beneficiary of what is happening,” he said.

If it would help the United States team, Mr. Sinquefield said, he would not be opposed to recruiting foreign players, mentioning as an example that if he overheard Mr. Carlsen say that he wanted to switch federations he would not hesitate to try to persuade him to pick the United States.

“It’s funny how these things happen,” he said.

Switching federations, particularly for an elite player, is not simple. A grandmaster, for example, and the federation he would like to play for must apply to the World Chess Federation, the game’s governing body, for permission, then pay a fee of up to 5,000 euros (about $5,400) if the player is to be allowed to represent his new country immediately. If the player has not been a resident of his new country for two years, an additional compensation fee to the player’s old federation is required — as much as €50,000 for a player of Mr. Caruana’s caliber.

Consequently, transfers of elite players are rare. In the last 15 years, there have been only two involving players ranked in the world’s top 20: Sergey Karjakin, a Ukraine-born player ranked No. 12 who now plays for Russia, and Wesley So, No. 8 in the world, who switched last year to the United States...

Click to read the complete New York Times article

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications, and the content creator of the YouTube channel, Chess & Tech.


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