CHENNAI: Soon after Fabiano Caruana was crowned the challenger to world champion Magnus Carlsen after clinching the Candidates tournament late on Tuesday in Berlin, Grandmaster Susan Polgar was among the many icons who took to social media to congratulate him. Caruana's association with the former world champion dates back to 1998 when the then 6-year-old turned up at the Polgar Chess Center - founded by Susan - in New York to learn the tricks of the trade. It was at this centre that Caruana featured in his maiden rated competitive chess tournament.
Susan recalled how Caruana showed spark as a youngster and backed his talent with hours of practice to get better at his game. "He was a tiny boy, very quiet and shy. He was cautious, diligent and not erratic. It was obvious from the start that he loves chess. They kept coming back to my centre for many tournaments. His Dad Lou was always with him. Even after they moved to Europe to give Caruana better opportunities for strong competition, Lou kept in touch," Susan told TOI on Wednesday.
Susan felt Caruana's biggest asset was his never-say-die attitude, a trait that should stand him in good stead while facing Carlsen at the World championship final scheduled to be held in London in November later this year. "Caruana is a hard worker, and he is fearless. He is not afraid to lose. Many people are afraid when they face Magnus, not Caruana. He is a fighter," asserted Susan.
Highlighting Caruana's ability to raise his game during crunch situations, Susan pinpointed the final round at the Candidates tournament where all he needed was a draw but he went for the kill. "He went for the win while others would have secured the spot by offering a draw. That makes him a dangerous opponent for Magnus. Of course Caruana is still the underdog. But he has as good a chance as anyone to beat Magnus. One thing is for sure, Magnus will not take him lightly," said Susan.
However, Susan does concede that Caruana has flaws that he would want to iron out in the coming months. "He needs to do a better job with time management. I will not reveal other things because it would be unfair to Caruana," she said.