I recently found out about Caruana's performance in the Sinquefield Cup - 2014. I only started watching chess recently. I was convinced that Carlsen is head and shoulders over everyone else when I started watching two months back. Now I've realized anyone above 2750 is very dangerous. Recently I came to know about Caruana's performance in 2014 and I am wondering why he was not able to maintain that level of performance .

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    It is possible for anyone to have a string of great games now and then, playing above one's normal strength in these. In Caruana's case, this simply means "to beat everybody, including Magnus", since he's already one of the best players in the world. But Caruana is not as good as Magnus yet, so maintaining a level of play where he consistently one-ups Magnus is not feasible at this stage. And that is exactly what is needed to keep up Caruana's 2014 performance from Sinquefield Cup.
    – Scounged
    Aug 28, 2016 at 9:23
  • @Scounged Is the difference in between the two players due to natural talent or hard work or something else ? Carlsen was very reluctant to praise Caruana when he was playing like that in that Sinquefield Cup.
    – Saikat
    Aug 28, 2016 at 9:41
  • @Scounged Another way to look at it is to see how strong players are when they hit their top form. Magnus clearly has the best average, as is shown by his higher rating, but Caruana's top is clearly higher than Magnus' as shown by this tournament rating performance.
    – Halvard
    Aug 28, 2016 at 10:56
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    @Halvard The notion that Caruana's top is higher than Magnus' top based on one tournament is ludicrous. It is like saying that Karpov's best was better than Kasparov's best simply because of Linares 1994. Remember, that in 2009 Carlsen had a 3002 performance in Nanjing when he was 18 years old. Caruana was 22 in 2014 and had a 3100-ish performance. But his opponents were higher rated. Is this due to rating inflation or better players in St. Louis in 2014? There are so many factors here in play, that it is ridiculous to make the claim that you seem to have made.
    – Scounged
    Aug 28, 2016 at 15:14
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    @Halvard I would most likely come to the conclusion that top/peak performance is very subjective. How on earth are you supposed to objectively compare a completely dominating performance against world-class competition vs. a completely dominating performance against world-class competition? Take Caruana in Sinquefield 2014: 7 wins, undefeated, 10 rounds vs. Carlsen in Tata Steel 2013: 7 wins, undefeated, 13 rounds. What counts higher? Ratio of wins, or longer streak of being undefeated? Or diversity of opponents? How can we determine what the most objectively correct metric should be?
    – Scounged
    Aug 28, 2016 at 20:21

1 Answer 1


TL;DR: Caruana says that his performance depends on 'luck', which can be boiled down to Caruana's effort in the game compared to his opponent's effort. And by effort at this level, he mostly means fighting spirit and opening preparation, but also external factors affecting the players' psychology.

This interview records Caruana's changing fortunes in his own words:

Interviewer: You’ve managed to be the 3rd highest rated playe[r] in chess history at your young age. To what do you owe this success?

Caruana: I think I was having an extremely good period. I won 40 points in one tournament. It could have gone another way - I could have just had a few good tournaments, but all my success was basically concentrated on one tournament and that’s why I (laughs a little) won seven games in a row and my rating went up to 2840… I still wonder why I had that result and some results after it were very good, like the European Club Cup and after the Grand Prix. For some time I was playing extremely strong chess, probably stronger than I deserved (laughs). Maybe I had some luck as well! Because I had the strong period, and for a couple months after that I was struggling. In Wijk aan Zee, Zurich the next year I had like a six-month period where I was struggling to show good results, but for that especially one tournament (Sinquefield Cup 2014) I was unstoppable.

Source: chess24.com, emphasis is mine.

So Caruana says that he put a lot of effort into one tournament, the Sinquefield Cup 2014, but after that it is hard to maintain such a dominant position in chess. From the same interview, Caruana says this about fluctuating performance:

Let’s say you’re playing an opponent who is 2750. There’s a chance that one day he will play like, let’s say, not 2750 but 2300, 2400 or 2500 – he’ll just have a very bad day. Just a recent example - Nakamura against Ding Liren in the last round of the Sinquefield Cup was just an example of a very strong player having a very bad day, but I think it all balances up. You might have cases where your opponent is playing very poorly, but also cases where your opponent plays just unstoppably and doesn’t give you a chance, or you fall into preparation and lose because your opponent just had a new opening idea. Or the reverse! You win because of your new opening idea. I think in general it balances up, but there are ways to increase your luck just by fighting and never giving up. The more resistance you put up the more chances there are that your opponent will screw up.

  • Who was playing at a sub-2500 level in Nakamura vs Ding Liren match ?
    – Saikat
    Sep 13, 2016 at 3:32
  • @user230452: Ding Liren had the bad day then. Check out the game here: chess24.com/en/watch/live-tournaments/…. The game was over in 28 moves.
    – user1108
    Sep 13, 2016 at 8:12
  • Thanks. I'll check it out. Ding Liren doesn't have much experience playing in super elite tournaments. Maybe that's why.
    – Saikat
    Sep 13, 2016 at 9:18
  • I remember watching Liren's interview the day before. He was saying that he'll look to defend with the black pieces the next day. He was already in a negative mind frame, I guess.
    – Saikat
    Sep 13, 2016 at 9:20

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