Fabiano Caruana is an American Grandmaster of Italian descent whose rapid advance into the elite ranks of chess has earned him the reputation as the next rival to Magnus Carlsen for the world championship. He is currently No. 5 in the world with a FIDE rating of 2787.
The 23-year-old was born in Miami, Florida and was introduced to chess through an afterschool program as a five-year-old in Brooklyn, New York, living near Bobby Fischer’s childhood home. This same year, he played in his first tournament at the Susan Polgar Chess Center in Queens, New York. This landed Caruana his first coach, NM Bruce Pandolfini.
At 10 years old, Caruana became the youngest American to defeat a GM in a sanctioned event. By 12 years old, he was a FIDE master and winner of several national scholastic championships, as well as two gold medals in Pan-American Youth Championships. When it became evident that chess would be his future, Caruana and his family moved to Europe.
Caruana was a four-time Italian national champion and today is one of the hottest players on the global scene. He crossed the super-elite threshold of 2800 after winning the 42nd Sparkassen Chess Meeting in Dortmund, Germany. He was the eighth player in history to pass the 2800 barrier. He secured the tournament win in the penultimate round without losing a game.
In 2014, Caruana achieved two impressive results - he placed second behind Magnus Carlsen in the World Rapid Championship and won the Sinquefield Cup with a remarkable score of eight and a half out of ten.
In early 2015, after spending ten years as a member of the Italian Chess Federation, Caruana rejoined the United States Chess Federation as one of its strongest members. Caruana hopes to make 2016 his most successful year to date. In addition to his first U.S. Championship appearance, he will compete in the March 2016 World Championship Candidates’ Tournament for the right to play for the World Title later in the year.
The defending United States Champion has been the longtime U.S. No. 1 Grandmaster and the leading hopeful to become America’s first World Champion since Bobby Fischer. The chance for that world title creeps ever closer this year, Nakamura will play in his first Candidates’ Tournament this March in Moscow.
A child prodigy in every sense of the word, Nakamura made a fast impact on U.S. chess by knocking down nearly every age record on his way to the top. He was at one time the youngest American master in history (10 years, 79 days), the youngest American international master (13 years, 2 months) and eventually the youngest American Grandmaster (15 years, 79 days). This broke Fischer’s record by three months.
Nakamura has collected numerous titles and championships since the age of 13, when he first arrived onto the national scene by becoming the 2001 U.S. Junior Champion. He quickly confirmed his place as one of chess’ great elites, shocking the world with a sweet sixteen appearance in the 2004 FIDE World Cup. Nakamura has had another excellent year in 2015, capturing his fourth U.S. Championship and winning the top prize at the 2015 Millionaire Chess Open in Las Vegas, Nevada.
His accomplishments do not end there. Among them, he was awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship. His honors include becoming the 2007 National Open champion and three time winner of the North American Open. He was an individual bronze medalist in the 2006 and 2008 World Olympiad, as well as the gold medalist on the first board of the 2010 World Team Championship, where the United States placed second.
Ever since FIDE began publishing Blitz ratings, Nakamura has graced the top of the list, demonstrating his skill and speed. Nakamura won bronze at the FIDE World Blitz Championship in June 2014, and he currently sits second on FIDE’s Blitz rating.
So learned chess from his father at age 6 and was competing in junior tournaments by 9 years old. By earning his Grandmaster title at the age of 14 years, 1 month, and 28 days, So completed the trifecta as the Philippines’ youngest-ever National Champion, International Master and Grandmaster. Considered a chess prodigy, he is the eighth-youngest GM in the world.
So came to the U.S. in August 2012, enrolling at Webster University in Saint Louis. There, he made the jump from top-100 to top-10 in the world, leading the school to back-to-back national titles along the way.
In October 2014, So won the inaugural Millionaire Open in Las Vegas along with its $100,000 prize, then returned to Saint Louis to lead the Arch Bishops to their first-ever U.S. Chess League championship.
So participated in his first world-elite tournament with a fourth-place effort in 2014 at the 77th Tata Steel Chess Tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Holland, though returned this past January and tied for second place, just a half-point behind winner World Champion Magnus Carlsen. Wesley also participated in the 2015 Sinquefield Cup as the wildcard selection.
Gata Kamsky is a five-time U.S. Champion. Born in Siberia, Russia, Kamsky learned chess at the age of seven, won the USSR’s U15 Championship at the age of nine, then became back-to-back Junior Soviet Champion at 13.
Kamsky began his dominance of American chess shortly after immigrating to the U.S. in 1989 and spent nearly 20 years as the highest-rated American - losing that title to Nakamura in 2009. In 1990 he earned his GM, and soon after became the youngest player ever rated in the World’s top-ten. Kamsky won his first U.S. Championship in 1991, and the following year helped the USCF secure its first-ever gold medal in the World Team Chess Olympiad. Kamsky also became the youngest player to challenge for the FIDE World Title and the first American since Bobby Fischer, as the Candidate for the 1996 World Chess Championship.
Afterwards, Kamsky began an eight-year hiatus away from chess to focus on studies, first graduating in pre-med chemistry and then completing his law degree. His return to chess in 2004 began an extraordinary second chapter in his playing career. Within three years Kamsky had regained his elite form, qualifying for the 2007 Candidates Tournament and later winning the 2007 Chess World Cup, where he knocked off Magnus Carlsen in the semifinals. In 2010, Kamsky won his second U.S. Championship – 19 years removed from his first title. Since then he's earned three more.
Born in Guam, Robson soon after moved with his family to Florida, where his father taught him chess when he was just three years old. From 2004 to 2007, Robson finished in the top 10 at the World Youth Championship and then won SuperNationals in 2005. He defeated his first grandmaster in 2006, the same year he earned the USCF National Master title. Other impressive performances include first place in the 2005 and 2006 Pan-American Youth Championships; the 2009 U.S. Junior Championship; the 2009 World Team Championship; and the 2012 Dallas Invitational.
In 2008, Robson won his first major tournament at the Miami Open, and later that year became the youngest American to win the Grandmaster title, at the age of 14 years, 11 months and 16 days. The mark bested the record held by Hikaru Nakamura and once by the great Bobby Fischer, making Robson one of America’s brightest hopes to another world-elite GM.
Though the University of Texas offered him a chess scholarship, in 2012 Robson decided instead on the SPICE program at Webster University where, just a few months after enrolling, he won the 2012 Webster University SPICE Cup Open and eventually helped the program win three consecutive national titles.
Alexander Onischuk began playing chess when he was six years old and has ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world for the past two decades.
Onischuk earned his GM title as a Ukrainian 18-year-old in 1994, then later won the 2000 Ukrainian Championship before emigrating to the U.S. the following year. For five years, he played collegiate chess for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), leading the program to multiple national titles before graduating in 2006 with a degree in linguistics. He has been invited to every FIDE World Cup since 2005, winning more than 20 major tournaments along the way, including the 2006 U.S. Championship -- which he called the happiest moment of his career, having his name on a trophy alongside players such as Bobby Fischer and Paul Morphy.
Onischuk was key to America’s bronze medal finishes at the 2006 and 2008 Olympiads, and delivered a gold-medal performance on board two at the 2009 World Team Championship in Bursa, Turkey.
In 2012, Alexander Onischuk was named the head coach of Texas Tech University’s chess program, helping the squad return to the President’s Cup in 2014, finishing in a close second behind Webster University. He led the TTU program back to the Final Four of Collegiate Chess in 2015. National recognition again came in 2014 when Onischuk was named “Chess College of the Year” and was awarded “2014 Grandmaster of the Year” by the U.S. Chess Federation.
He has finished among the top three in the U.S. Championship seven times.
When Sam Shankland was just 18, he announced he would be retiring from the game of chess. Before leaving, however, he agreed to honor his previous commitments and compete in the 2010 U.S. Junior Closed Championship - the rest is history. He won the Junior championship after back-to-back playoff matches against Parker Zhano and tournament favorite Ray Robson, earning Shankland a spot in the 2011 U.S. Championship and another commitment that became too good to refuse.
The youngster performed admirably in the 2011 national title fight, edging veteran GM Alexander Onischuk in a playoff to reach the four-player quad finals. There, Shankland ran into eventual champion GM Gata Kamsky, who topped him 1.5-.5 - though after his defeat, Shankland remained upbeat. He finished third place, and described his performance as his “dream tournament for the year."
Sam spent much of the past year at his all-time rating’s high, and enters the 2016 U.S. Championship with very good recent results. A strong showing at the 2014 Qatar Masters Open was topped by an undefeated run at the 2014 Tromso Chess Olympiad, where he entered as the fifth-board reserve but went on to win an Olympic gold medal. He made his first break into the world’s top 100 players at the end of 2014, then opened up 2015 with another undefeated performance in the Tata Steel Challengers section for third place. Shankland will face the toughest U.S. Championship field in 2016. As his past performances have shown, he is up for the challenge.
Jeffery Xiong of Coppell, Texas, has shown tenacity well beyond his years. At 15, he already has had an impressive list of results: the 2010 Under-10 North America Continental Champion, a silver medalist in the 2010 Under-10 World Youth Chess Championships, and the 2013 MVP of the entire United States Chess League for his undefeated play for the Dallas Destiny. But it is his creativity on the board and his maturity in defeat that has caught the eye of some of the most renowned chess grandmasters.
From a very young age, Xiong has seen his losses, though painful, as an opportunity to improve. While some of Xiong's older competitors have been known to display their frustration with difficult losses, he remains collected, analyzing where his play could have been stronger. This maturity has helped enlist legendary Grandmaster Garry Kasparov as a mentor in the Young Stars program, and it has led to numerous impressive victories and awards since.
Home-schooled now, Xiong already has been awarded a four-year scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas, with the chance to compete for their prestigious chess team. The school’s faith in him is well-founded, particularly since his play in this past spring’s UT Dallas vs. U.S.A. Junior All-Stars event helped his team, the Junior All-Stars, achieve victory over that same UT Dallas university program he may one day attend.
Jeffery Xiong’s impressive play in 2015 has confirmed his status as one of the most promising junior players in America. He competes for the first time in this year’s U.S. Championship.
Alex Lenderman first started playing chess with his grandfather when he was 9. From 2004-2007, he attended Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, and was a member of the super-team that won four straight, national high-school titles. The journey of this high-school chess dream team was documented in the 2007 book The Kings of New York, by Michael Weinreb.
Since that time, Alex has been a formidable force in the chess world and has solidified himself as a young rising star. In 2008, he managed to barely edge GM Sergey Kudrin to win the USCF's Grand Prix, and in 2009, he ran away with the competition.
Lenderman is an active member of the renowned Marshall Chess Club in New York City and was crowned the Marshall Chess Club Champion in December 2013, beating Kudrin and IM Aleksandr Ostrovskiy in the process. Having achieved an extremely strong result in the 2014 U.S. Championship, Lenderman returns to play in the 2016 version with a year of strong chess under his belt.
The weather was so harsh in the years that youngster Varuzhan Akobian spent in Mongolia, his father forbade "Var" and his sister from playing outside. Instead, he taught them chess -- a perfect indoor distraction.
"From the very beginning, I was different from other chess kids,” Akobian recalls. “It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and I knew that I would do what it takes."
Later as a teenager in Yerevan, Armenia, Akobian spent many of his days playing chess and soccer -- all with his teacher’s permission.
"This is one way in which Armenia is very different from the United States. If I went to high school here, I never could have spent so much energy on chess."
Akobian immigrated to the U.S. in 2001, and it didn’t take him long to make an impact on the American chess community. Within his first three years, Akobian had been awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship, tied for first in the 2002 World Open, won the Irme Koenig GM Invitational, and dominated the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship after winning his first seven games. He was officially awarded the GM title in June 2004, after which he won the World Open again, clinching it with a sparkling win against Alexander Shabalov.
Akobian is a popular rotation in the Resident Grandmaster position at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and he continues to be a force in U.S. chess tournaments. He returns this year hoping to capture America’s chess crown.
Alexander Shabalov realized chess would be his profession after winning the Latvian junior championship at the age of 11. He went on to win the Under-16 Championship of the Soviet Union in 1982. The four-time U.S. Champion is known for no-holds barred chess, and he thrives on wild moves.
Known for fighting chess, Shabalov rarely proposes or accepts early draw offers. In the 2003 U.S. Championship, there were eight Grandmasters vying for first place. After fifteen minutes, the stage was almost empty. All the other contenders had drawn their games, ensuring them a decent payday but depriving fans of exciting, high-stakes chess. Shabalov's game was the exception. He played a six-hour slug fest against Varuzhan Akobian, ending in a victory for Shabalov. In addition to the 25K he won for first place, main sponsor Erik Andersson awarded Alex and Varuzhan $5,000 each for their fighting spirit. Shabalov won clear first in the U.S. Championship four years later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, besting Kudrin in the final to edge out the defending champion, 2006 Champ Alexander Onischuk.
Shabalov is always a serious contender to take the crown. He will arrive again in Saint Louis looking to capture a fabulous, fifth title in the 2016 U.S. Championship.
International Master Akshat Chandra started learning chess at the age of 9 ½, during a visit to India - a relatively late start compared to most leading chess players who learn the game at the age of 5 or 6. When his family relocated there for nearly four years, Akshat was unable to play his favorite sports of basketball and football, so chess filled the competitive void.
In January 2010, Akshat received a starting FIDE rating of 1548 and, in just four years and ten months, improved his FIDE rating to 2490. His accelerated progress from such a late start is believed to be the largest and quickest rating increase in the world.
Akshat is the highest ranked junior rapid chess player in the country, and is among the leading junior blitz players in both online and on-board chess. He is the 2015 K-12 US National Champion in both classic and blitz forms of the game. In 2013, Akshat won the K-9 Super Nationals Championship, the Under-18 North American Youth Championship, and achieved his international master title as well.
Away from the board, Akshat is an avid writer and the youngest Chessbase author. He doesn’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly. In fact, as a fan of the New York Jets, his outlook echoes the words of former quarterback Joe Namath: “If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?” He indeed has come a long way. Winning the 2015 United States Junior Closed tournament, Chandra earned his place among this year’s field, and his shot to call himself the U.S. Champion.