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Chess was front-page news during July and August of 1972 as Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky to become the first USA-born world chess champion.1 (Or the second, if you count Paul Morphy.) Fischer didn’t defend his title, and since then no one from the USA has made it to the world championship finals.

Until now. This November in London, Fabiano Caruana, born in Miami, faces off against the current champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Caruana, the third-highest-rated player2 in chess history behind Carlsen and and the now-retired Garry Kasparov, is having a terrific year. After winning the candidates’ tournament, he went on to win the GRENKE Chess Classic and Altibox Norway tournaments over strong competition. In the latter, he finished ahead of Carlsen, though he lost to the world champion in their match. (He did defeat Wesley So, who had earlier defeated Carlsen.)

Caruana seems to be decent, likable guy, not a demanding neurotic like Fischer. His candidacy is an occasion for national pride. So why isn’t this front page news? The Wichita paper reports in excruciating detail about football players’ knees, yet there has been no mention of Caruana (or of Sam Shankland from San Francisco, who recently joined the 2700 club and is also having a very good year). I suppose that unless something is easily politicized, it doesn’t exist. The Cold War is over, and apparently to the media there is nothing interesting about white males3 who are merely among the best in history at a deep, fascinating game.

Notes

  1. Wilhelm Steinetz, the first “undisputed” world champion, became an American citizen during his reign but was born in Prague.
  2. Elo system
  3. Or Asian-American males: Wesley So and Hikaru Nakamura are powerful players, peers of Caruana and Carlsen, whom I’ve never seen mentioned in newsprint.

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