Interviews Sep 8, 2014 | 3:06 PMby Colin McGourty

Aronian: Drawn towards imperfection

Levon Aronian will want to forget about the 2014 Sinquefield Cup in a hurry – three losses in a row early on left him in damage limitation mode while Fabiano Caruana snatched his world no. 2 spot. The Armenian still remains at the very pinnacle of world chess, though, and is also a fascinating interview subject. He made that clear once more when he answered questions for an Argentinian newspaper, discussing what chess means to him, why we should study the classics and the influence strained Armenia-Azerbaijan relations have had on chess.

Levon Aronian between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sinquefield Cup | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

If you don’t trust us, here’s Levon’s own recommendation!

The Armenia no. 1 was talking to Argentinian IM Martín Labollita for the Buenos Aires-based Página/12 newspaper. We’ve translated some of the highlights:

Martín Labollita: How would you explain to someone not from the world of chess who Levon Aronian is?

Levon Aronian: I think I could say I’m one of the top players of the last ten years.

Chess is an ancient discipline that people have tried to define in many ways during its long history. Do you consider yourself a scientist? An artist? Simply a board game player? What is a chess player?

I think everyone finds his own essence in chess. For me it comes closest to battle, the dialogue between two people, two minds, since the effort creates both a thing of beauty and a winner.

Do you think it’s important to study the chess classics?  Or do you think that the use of technology has made an awareness of the famous games of chess history superfluous?

I think it’s a matter of perception. Personally I always wanted to study classic games to find my own style. To find your individuality you have to seek out and get to know the classics. When you start to play chess you think you’re inventing something new; each player believes that, but in time you realise that a lot more has been played than you think. That process of studying games and finding something that can enhance your individuality is what I especially value in chess. And also its history: how, when and why it was invented fascinates me and I think that usually occurs with people who play it at a very high level. As for technology, it has changed the game a lot. It’s true that it’s caused a lot of people to ignore classic games, but I doubt anyone “at the top” can neglect that aspect of chess.

Do you think there’s a correspondence between a player’s chess style and personality?

Yes, and quite a strong one. For example, my personality is drawn towards imperfection, the raw and spontaneous; coming up with something as it is. That’s what I find beautiful and that’s also my chess style.

You’re noted to be a creative player. How do you work on chess?

I work on chess, above all, when I’m inspired. That doesn’t occur every day, but when it does it can last for many hours or days. Currently I do much more than before; I’m more passionate about chess. I think I have a somewhat different approach. When you’re on a path and focused intently on a goal that can provide inspiration, but for me it’s the opposite: when I reach a goal I begin to appreciate it. I love this job, and I love the feeling of having something that’s my language, the only way in which I can express myself. It’s the same with everything I live for in this world.

Do you have moments when you get distracted during a game? What causes you to lose focus?

It’s absolutely normal to get distracted during a game. There are always things that cause you to lose focus because in some sense you enter into a type of meditation. You concentrate on small things and your mind starts to wander. When it happens, I generally start if not to compose, then to play some song in my mind and alter it. That can be a symphony or some tune I really like, generally from Baroque music. I don’t actually do that consciously – it just happens by itself.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov and Levon Aronian traded wins at the 2014 Candidates Tournament in Khanty-Mansiysk | photo: official website

Finally Levon was asked if he felt the political conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan had had a negative impact on chess:

Not really, but it’s not so easy to remain good friends since, especially on the part of the Azerbaijan government, there’s always a line drawn, an attempt not to be seen talking to us and so on. It’s something we calmly accept. I was actually friends with Mamedyarov for many years and now I’ve noticed that his family tries to avoid me – maybe that has to do with a government order or something, I don’t know. Nevertheless, I feel warmth for his family. This year there was also a tournament in honour of the Azeri player Vugar Gashimov and unfortunately I wasn’t invited. Otherwise I would have considered playing, because I valued Vugar and his family. It would have been nice to compete in a tournament in memory of a player who died so young.

Levon will be competing against Viswanathan Anand, Paco Vallejo and Ruslan Ponomariov in the Bilbao Masters that starts on Sunday 14th September.

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