Levon Aronian: the 'David Beckham' of chess

by Albert Silver
2/1/2016 – It isn’t every day that a chess player is compared to a sports star of David Beckham’s stature, yet that is precisely what CNN did in a recent portrayal of Levon Aronian. Of course, the comment must be put in context before any ado. It is his home and country, Armenia, that have elevated him to such heights, by virtue of their singular love of chess, and where he reigns supreme.

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In a chess-obsessed country, Levon Aronian is a superstar

(CNN) When Levon Aronian walks down the street in his native Armenia he's met by cheering crowds; restaurants insist he eats for free; new parents name their babies after him.

Aronian isn't an actor, activist, or astronaut. He's a chess player -- the fourth best in the world, to be precise. And in this tiny, ex-Soviet, chess-obsessed country, that means he's also a national hero.

"The first time my fiancée arrived in Armenia we stopped at one petrol station and they said, 'OK, we're not going to charge you,'" says the 33-year-old dubbed "The David Beckham of Armenia" by the foreign press.

"So for her this is pretty shocking -- but that happens all the time," he adds, referring to his Australian girlfriend Arianne Caoili, an international chess champion in her own right whose good looks have spurred the nickname "The Anna Kournikova of Chess."

The article is more than a portrayal of Levon, it is also a glimpse at Armenia's love affair with chess

Armenia's chess king

The red carpet treatment of players isn't so far-fetched in a country where chess is compulsory in all schools. Here, even the nation's President Serzh Sargsyan is also President of the Armenia Chess Federation.

For a nation of just three million, Armenia has one of the highest numbers of grandmasters per capita in the world. Of the past five Chess Olympiads, the national team has won three times -- led by none other than idol Aronian.

"I won't be humble about that," he adds with a cheeky laugh. And while Aronian may not have the swagger of a footballer like Beckham, his playful and sincere charm has only endeared him to a country of chess-fanatics.

Home-schooled by his scientist parents in what was then the Soviet Union, Aronian was taught to play chess by his sister as a nine-year-old -- and turned pro the same year.

These days the chess prodigy spends around four hours a day training. He usually travels seven months a year -- playing at international tournaments offering anywhere between a few thousand and over a million dollars in prize money.

Click for complete article at CNN


Topics CNN, Levon Aronian

Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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LAMIB LAMIB 2/2/2016 09:41
Can not understand what CNN meant by that. But Aronian is a great player and I can think of better adjectives for him than they did.
fyang8 fyang8 2/2/2016 11:16
Stupid cnn. Pawn star? When they tried to say good things about Petrosian, they use the photo Petrosian playing Fischer in 1971 etc etc.
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