I was working as a volunteer at the world Chess championship in New York in 2016. I had been given the opportunity of a lifetime, to work as a volunteer for the duration of the world chess championship. It was an incredible moment to see the very best chess players go head-to-head against each other. I got to meet quite a few chess personalities and one of the people that came through was none other than Fabiano Caruana himself.
Challenger for the world chess crown in 2018, Fabiano Caruana came through on one of the days to spectate. I wanted to have a picture with him, why not, I had travelled all the way from South Africa and I was not going to miss the opportunity of a lifetime. However, there was a small problem. I was just too scared and nervous to ask Fabiano for a picture. I knew I would not get many opportunities as this might be the only day he was at the World Chess Championship. I figured that there was no way that one of the top chess grandmasters would agreed to a picture so I gave up on this.
However I had also spoken to my friend Kimberly Doo who happens to be a very good friend of Caruana. She told me that he was such a cool guy that there is no way he would say no to a picture. Because of her, I thought it was worth a try. Why not? What is the worst that could happen. She said she had known Caruana since he was a child and she had always known him to be very cool, humble, likable guy.
Fabiano Caruana is such a cool guy, that much I can certainly confirm. You know he not only agreed to a picture with me but we spoke a little bit about chess and the match between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. I was just amazed by how laid-back the guy is. For such a strong and chess player the expectation might be that he would be intense or aloof like some of the chess geniuses we have known over the years but that is not the case at all with him. He has no airs at all about him.
I asked Caruana who he thought was going to win the world chess championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjakin. If I recall correctly he was betting that Carlsen would win.
So that is how I managed to have a picture with potential World Chess champion Fabiano Caruana. He also found time to mingle with other chess fans who were more than delighted to have a picture with one of the very top players in the world.
One of the things I wondered about was whether Caruana was disappointed that he was not playing in the world chess championship itself. He had already shown his pedigree and strength over the years as a chess player and the expectation was that he would probably be the one challenging Magnus Carlsen in 2016 but unfortunately this did not happen. Sergey Karjakin had shown not only his skills but fierce determination to win his games and emerge as the sole contender for the crown held by Magnus Carlsen.
However judging Caruana by his conduct he seemed to be having a really good time as a spectator at the event. It is fair to say he is a very easy going guy, a bit unlike Magnus Carlsen who can sometimes be moody if things do not go his way on the chess board. Caruana is a quietly confident chess grandmaster who lets his chess do the talking.
And now two years after I met him, it is 2018 and Fabiano Caruana is now playing Magnus Carlsen in London. In 2016 Sergey Karjakin managed to draw against Magnus Carlsen in the classical part of the match but went on to lose in the rapid part. There was a feeling among many chess players that Karjakin was playing not to lose rather than playing for the win. He even earned the nickname “Minister of Defense” for his amazing skills in defending lost or very difficult positions.
Caruana will be very different player in this respect. He will definitely take his chances against Magnus Carlsen. He will go for the win if the opportunity presents itself and he is not afraid of Carlsen. I can’t help thinking that in 2016 I might have met the future world champion.