Six years ago I watched legendary chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini (who is played by Ben Kingsley in “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) give a lesson to Fabiano Caruana, eight. I was observing the lesson because I was writing a profile of Bruce for The New Yorker.
Now, at the age of 14 years and 350 days, Fabiano has reached the chess stratosphere. He has become the country’s youngest grandmaster ever, breaking Hikaru Nakamura’s 2003 record of 15 years and 58 days. (Nakamura, for his part, had broken Bobby’s Fischer’s 1958 record by three months; Fischer’s record had stood for 44 years!) Congratulations Fabiano! In Chess Life Online, Jennifer Shahade reports on how Fabiano achieved the GM title (which still must be formally granted by FIDE, the world chess federation).
Here’s what I wrote in The New Yorker (June 4, 2001):
Fabiano Caruana, the top-ranked player in the country under the age of eleven, was happy to see Pandolfini when we reached his parents’ Park Slope apartment. He folded up his scooter and plopped down at a chess table in the front room. He is small for his years—he is eight—and has curly brown hair and bright, alert eyes. Pandolfini was eager to show Fabiano some new rook and pawn endings, but Fabiano insisted on playing a game. Pandolfini chose a cramped formation called the French Defense, a favorite of Botvinnik’s. Fabiano, a tenacious attacker, couldn’t sit still while he played; he stood up or slung both legs up on the table, and stared off into space while Pandolfini was thinking. When Pandolfini moved, he responded instantly with a move of his own.
“The little machine is eating me alive,” Pandolfini said, “but that pawn move can’t be right. It weakens the dark squares.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Fabiano said.
“Of course it does,” Pandolfini said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Fabiano repeated.
“Fabiano’s greatest strength,” Pandolfini told me later, after Fabiano had lost the game, “is that he has the courage of his convictions. He is stubborn and sticks to his ideas, come hell or high water. That serves him well in tournament play-you need to believe in yourself-but it makes him harder to teach. When he has a misguided idea, it’s not easy to talk him out of it.”