Young Success

Meet the 26-year-old who could become the first World Chess champ from America since 1972 

Fabiano Caruana attends the FIDE World Chess Championship Match 2018 press conference on November 08, 2018.
Tristan Fewings | Getty Images

It's been 46 years since America took home the World Chess Championship. Today, 26-year-old Fabiano Caruana could change that.

Caruana is competing in the World Chess Championship for the very first time and he's up against Magnus Carlsen, a Norwegian chess prodigy who's hoping to make today's match his sixth consecutive win.

The two millennial chess grandmasters have gone head-to-head in 12 championship games over the past three weeks, and have tied each one. If Caruana wins today's final match in London, he'll be the first U.S. player to win since the late Brooklyn-native Bobby Fischer took home the title in 1972.

Magnus Carlsen (R) and Fabiano Caruana (L) during the First Move Ceremony of the FIDE World Chess Championship Match 2018.
Tristan Fewings | Getty Images

Here are five things you might not know about Caruana, the World Chess Federation's second-highest ranked chess player.

He started playing at age 5

Caruana, who goes by the nickname "Fabi," has been playing chess since he was in kindergarten. But he wasn't drawn to the game out of his own interest. He joined an after-school chess program to help address problems he had paying attention in school. Afterward, he became well-known for the game in his Park Slope, Brooklyn neighborhood thanks to his talent and dedication

A Russian chess grandmaster nearly stopped him from playing

As Caruana began getting more and more serious about the game, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov stepped in to warn his parents that a career in chess was "too risky" and that it would be difficult to make a living. 

Caruana's parents disregarded the advice and let their son play chess while homeschooling him. "We knew he was extremely intelligent, so we did have a degree of confidence that with or without formal education, he would be O.K.," said Caruana's father, Lou Caruana. "He spent a tremendous amount of time reading, and so he is somewhat self-educated."

He became the youngest grandmaster in America at 14

In 2007, Caruana became the youngest grandmaster in U.S. history and the 12th youngest in all of history at that time. Though his short-term goal was to be among the world's top 150 players by the end of that year, he also had his sights on another longer-term goal. "I guess I want to be world champion," the teen player said at the time.

His parents paid as much as $50,000 a year on coaches

Though he now lives in the U.S., Caruana and his family moved to Europe when he was 12 to pursue further opportunities for training and competition. His parents told the New York Times this year that they spent as much as $50,000 a year to get Caruana coaches and training. Caruana was 17 before he began making money from tournaments.

He's constantly training to stay mentally and physically fit

A typical year for Caruana consists of 100 classical games a year, in addition to a few hundred games of speed chess. He'll play about 50 games in any given night.

"You could easily do 70 hours of chess a week for a few weeks," said Caruana. "And during tournaments, it's like 12 hours a day."

When he's not doing sprints of chess, Caruana says he does yoga, runs with a trainer, plays tennis and spends time in the gym.

Whether or not all his training leads to today's world championship win, Caruana said he's prepared for what comes next.

"I welcome the challenge."

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: