Sinquefield Cup Contenders: Levon Aronian
By Brian Jerauld
Grandmaster Levon Aronian is the pride of chess-strong Armenia, having been declared Sportsman of the Year twice, Honored Master of Sport in 2009 and, most recently, selected as the 2012 Person of the Year by a leading Armenian magazine. The 30-year-old is just the sixth player in history to cross the elite 2800 threshold, currently ranking No. 2 in the world at 2802. Aronian has remained in the world’s top three since November 2010 and has only twice slipped out of the top ten since July 2005.
Taught to move the pieces at 9 years old, Aronian was quick to appear on the world stage, winning the 1994 World Youth Chess Championship U12. In 2002, at 20, he won the Armenian Championship and later the World Junior Championship in India. But his mainstay in the world’s elite was marked in 2005, when he won the World Cup in Russia and cracked the world’s top 10 for the first time. Since then, Aronian has collected a staggering amount of elite titles.
He played the first board on three gold-medalist Armenian Chess Olympiad teams (2006, 2008 and 2012), also grabbing the individual gold in 2012. He has won the prestigious Tal Memorial and Corus/Tata Steel Chess Tournament three times each, and the FIDE Grand Prix twice. In 2009, he won the World Rapid Championship – a title that was taken from him the following year by Gata Kamsky – and in 2010 Aronian won the World Blitz Championship – a title that he took from defending champion Magnus Carlsen.
Aronian is also a talented chess variant player, becoming the Chess960 World Champion in 2006. He successfully defended the title to Viswanathan Anand in 2007, though lost it in 2009 to Hikaru Nakamura.
His play in 2013 leading up to the Sinquefield Cup has been representative of his elite status. A second place finish in the Tata Steel (behind Carlsen), a fourth place finish in the 2013 Candidates Tournament – his second appearance in the event – and a win at the Alekhine Memorial Tournament. Perhaps showing a bit of his human side, however, Aronian was surprisingly upset in the third round of the 2013 Chess World Cup in August, despite being the top seed.
In his career against Kamsky, Aronian is 5-1 with 2 draws; against Nakamura, Aronian is 5-3 with 7 draws. By far, his most familiar Sinquefield Cup opponent is Carlsen, with whom he has met for 35 classical games – Carlsen holds the series 7-4, with 24 draws.