Candidate Profile: Levon Aronian

Candidate Profile: Levon Aronian

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By GM Robert Hess and IM Teddy Coleman

Two years ago, Levon Aronian was the clear frontrunner to challenge for the world championship. Boasting an astronomical rating of 2830 after demolishing the field at the 2014 Tata Steel event, he rode his monster 2014 momentum to the cusp of history. After seven rounds in Khanty-Mansiysk, he was tied for the lead in the Candidates’ with a score of +2 and it seemed like Aronian’s star would only continue to rise.  

Instead, everything came apart at the seams. He lost three of the last seven games -- including the final two rounds -- to crash out of contention. His slide continued downward in 2015, as his rating fell (by his standards) to a pedestrian 2765.  A shoo-in for the candidates matches in 2014, Aronian was on the outside looking in this time, failing to qualify by any of the traditional methods.

But Caissa was looking out and he was granted the final wildcard spot, notably ahead of players such as former world champion Vladimir Kramnik.  

Having beaten every other player in the Candidates’ and claiming numerous prestigious first-place finishes to his name, there’s nothing Aronian can’t do when he’s on form.  After letting his golden opportunity to face Carlsen slip through his fingers in 2014, can Aronian make the most of the wildcard spot in 2016?


Key Strengths:

Aronian is one of the best in the world at discovering deep positional sacrifices. He’s not afraid to play down material if it gives him excellent piece activity and a chance to torture his opponent. In the two games below, he defeated Carlsen while playing down a pawn and squeezed Giri after sacrificing an exchange.  

Torturing opponents is by no means limited to games where he conducts a sacrifice.  Aronian is one of the best at milking an advantage and converting it to a victory. His recent win over Nakamura underscores his ability to not allow his opponents to escape.  

Key Weaknesses:


The idiom “when it rains, it pours” unfortunately rears its ugly head around Aronian. Aronian seems unable to regroup and will suffer embarrassing losses.  The game below was from the last round in Tata Steel from 2015, where Aronian struggled and finished on a ghastly note.

What to watch for:

Levon Aronian righted the ship in the second half of 2015, gaining a whopping 27 rating points and dominating the field at the Sinquefield Cup. Look for the three-time Olympiad gold medalist to turn back the clock and be in contention until the very last round.

Can Aronian play inspired chess and knock off the likes of Vishy Anand like he did in the above game way back in 2007? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Can't get enough Aronian? Check out's videos featuring Levon Aronian

The FIDE Candidates’ Tournament runs March 10-30 in Moscow. The winner will earn the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a match that will be held November 10-30 in New York.

The eight participants are Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura (both USA), Vishy Anand (India), Anish Giri (Netherlands), Sergey Karjakin and Peter Svidler (both Russia), Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria) and Levon Aronian (Armenia). is publishing profiles of each participant.

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