General Feb 26, 2021 | 8:59 AMby Colin McGourty

Levon Aronian switches to the USA

World no. 6 Levon Aronian has confirmed the bombshell news that he’s going to switch to the USA, relocating to Saint Louis with support from Rex Sinquefield. The Armenian star, who led his nation of just 3 million people to an incredible trio of Olympiad victories in 2006, 2008 and 2012, complains of the “absolute indifference” to chess of the new government of Armenia since 2018. In a message on Facebook, Levon talks about the support he’s received from his “teammate” Fabiano Caruana.

This was Levon Aronian on the way to beating Fabiano Caruana in Norway Chess last year - they're now going to be US teammates! | photo: Lennart Ootes, official website

Three weeks ago the Vice-President of the Chess Federation of Armenia Smbat Lputyan claimed that Levon Aronian was about to make an announcement of a switch to the USA. A backlash followed in Armenia, with Levon's mother even speaking out in his defence

Levon is currently in Armenia and is successfully playing under the ARMENIAN FLAG, but no media outlet, neither oppositional nor pro-government, provides coverage of his victories. It is clear that this was an order. In addition, I must say that Levon has received and still receives several offers to play for the teams of other countries with salaries that are a thousand times higher than the salary in Armenia.

To date, he has declined the offers, but I can’t say what decision he will make this time, judging from the criticism of all Armenians.

Stop criticizing the talented chess grandmaster and trying to present him as a person who forgot the homeland and his family. Please note that Levon’s participation in chess life in Armenia wasn’t for the PR of President of the Chess Federation of Armenia, but for the reputation and honor of Armenia in the world.

The Opera Euro Rapid followed with no announcement (Levon was knocked out by Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in the quarterfinals), but now Levon has confirmed the news on his Facebook page this morning.

He begins, in Armenian:

Last year was too hard for all of us: epidemic, war, in my case also personal adversity, and the absolute indifference of the state towards Armenian chess. I was facing the choice to leave my life's work or move to where I was appreciated.

The Armenian chess team had the full support of the previous government in Armenia, with Serzh Sargsyan, the President from 2008-2018, also the President of the Chess Federation. 

The Armenian team received a heroes welcome when they returned victorious from the Istanbul Olympiad in 2012 

Now Levon says the new government has turned away from chess in general and him personally, with Levon quoting their saying, “Our experts find that Levon Aronian has no more potential”. As Levon points out, he followed that statement by beating world no. 1 Magnus Carlsen and world no. 2 Fabiano Caruana in Norway Chess in Stavanger.

It’s now not just that Levon will be moving to America, but that he seems set to follow in the footsteps of Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez and Fabiano Caruana and switch federations to represent the USA – he would currently be the US no. 2, behind Fabi and ahead of Wesley. Rex Sinquefield is again the driving force behind the move:

I've received many attractive offers from different countries for years, including the great American philanthropist and chess lover Rex Sinquefield, who repeated his offer to move to the United States every year. I've been rejecting everything. What the state was doing was priceless for chess development and no material value could compare to the respect that chess players enjoyed in Armenia.

I would like to express my gratitude to the renowned Rex Sinquefield for still believing in me today. Thanks also to Fabiano Caruana, who is America's strongest player, supports me and shares my decision to be teammates. I am very grateful to my family, relatives, friends and all the people who know my principles and understand me.     

Although no transfer of Levon Aronian to represent the US has yet been formalised, his switch would make Hikaru Nakamura only the 5th best US player on rating, behind Caruana, Aronian, So and Dominguez. It's sure to reignite debate about "buying nerds".

The US team did indeed win the 2016 Chess Olympiad, and with Aronian are likely to be favourites in 2022. Magnus did some recyling today:

Hikaru Nakamura commented on his Twitch channel that he understands Aronian, but it's an "absolute disaster" for young US players such as Jeffery Xiong and Awonder Liang as well as the likes of Sam Shankland and Ray Robson, who will now struggle to qualify to play at the Olympiad. Hikaru, who noted he might decline to play the Olympiad to give youngsters a chance, added:

The home grown talents are the people that really need the support the most, not the top players. 

Ian Nepomniachtchi also supported Levon's life choice in moving country, but felt that chess should be like football, where after playing for one international team as an adult you can't play for another. 

For Levon, it's clear that switching to the US is a traumatic decision. In his post he looks forward to a time when chess is again respected in Armenia and notes that he will still do everything for his country from a distance. For now in Armenia there's more at stake in the tense aftermath of losing land to Azerbaijan in the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan yesterday accused the army of an attempted coup.

Levon is focused on the challenges ahead.

My mother often repeats the Armenian saying, "God gives every man a test in his own way". There have been many trials in my life, and every new one I accept with humility and willingness to be better than yesterday. I hope I overcome this one with dignity.

The Saint Louis Chess Club has now confirmed in a press release that Levon will be relocating to Saint Louis. They quote Rex Sinquefield:

Levon played in our first-ever Sinquefield Cup in 2013. I’ve come to know him over the years to be a fierce competitor and true gentleman. He represents the best of our sport. When he came to us with interest in moving to Saint Louis and representing the U.S., I could think of no one better. We welcome him with open arms.

Rex Sinquefield between new US teammates Levon Aronian and Fabiano Caruana before the 2018 St. Louis Rapid & Blitz | screenshot: St. Louis Chess Club YouTube

Levon comments:

I am sincerely proud to have had the honor of making a significant contribution to the greatest achievements of Armenian chess․ Clearly, it is impossible to reach world heights in chess without the huge amount of work done at home and through the support of my fellow countrymen. I truly appreciate the personal attention and support that I received from the third President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan for many years.

Levon is likely to be back in action next when the 4th stage of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour starts on March 13th here on chess24. He's also been announced in the field for Altibox Norway Chess in May while it now looks as though we might see him in action in the US Championship in Saint Louis this October!   

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