The New Yorker: How Levon Aronian learnt to play chess

American The New Yorker published a large article entitled A Chess Master with an Unpredictable Style and the Hopes of a Nation dedicated to Armenian Grandmaster Levon Aronian.

“In 1988, war broke out between Armenia and its Soviet Republic neighbor of Azerbaijan, over the long-disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. It was another tragedy in a century of tragedies for Armenia, going back to the genocide carried out by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenian people, beginning in 1915. When the 1988 war began, thousands of ethnic Armenians who lived in Azerbaijan fled their homes. One of them was Melikset Khachiyan, a chess player who studied the game, as a teen-ager, under Tigran Petrosian, Armenia’s greatest-ever player. Khachiyan had shown early promise, but a shot at the game’s highest level, in an era of legends like Kasparov, Karpov, and Tal, eluded him. Now he needed a place to stay. He headed to Yerevan, Armenia’s pretty, pink-stoned capital; there, Grigory and Seda Aronian offered him a room in their modest home on the edge of town. Rather than pay rent, they suggested, he could teach their six-year-old son, Levon, chess.

Three years later, shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed and Armenia became an independent nation, Levon Aronian, under Khachiyan’s tutelage, quit school to focus on chess full time. Now thirty-four, Aronian is ranked seventh in the world and has one of the highest ratings in chess history. Armenia, a nation of three million people, is the game’s perennial overachiever. Per capita, more players from Armenia have attained the coveted status of grandmaster than any other country, and Armenia has won men’s gold at three of the last six Chess Olympiads, the highest honor for a national team. Armenia’s President is also the head of the country’s chess association, and he has spearheaded a chess revolution: Armenia is now the only country where the game is a required part of the national curriculum, and its top players receive a state stipend. “For a small, landlocked country, chess is a particularly ingenious way, and effective way, of mobilizing both competitive spirit and sports competition and intellectual discipline, without the need for huge infrastructural resources and, of course, financial spending,” the Armenian-American writer Peter Balakian told me recently.”

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