Grandmaster Levon Aronian is a walking celebrity and the pride of chess-strong Armenia, having been declared Sportsman of the Year twice, Honored Master of Sport in 2009 and the 2012 Person of the Year by a leading national magazine. The 32-year-old is just the sixth player in history to cross the elite 2800 threshold, and reached a career-best 2835 earlier this year. Ironically, Aronian’s arrival to the Showdown in Saint Louis -- currently ranked No. 4 in the world and rated 2797 -- comes as part of a slump by his own exceptional standards: It is the first time Aronian has been out of the world’s top-3 since November 2010.
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 FIDE Grand Prix twice, the prestigious Tal Memorial three times, and the Corus/Tata Steel Chess Tournament four times, including the 75th anniversary of the event earlier this year where he beat out the rest of the field by 1.5 points.
Not just confined to classical chess, Aronian was the 2009 World Rapid Champion as well as the 2010 World Blitz Champion, though both titles have since been claimed by the now triple-crown World 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.