Levon Aronian To Play For United States
Levon Aronian will start representing the U.S. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Levon Aronian To Play For United States

PeterDoggers
PeterDoggers
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382 | Chess Event Coverage

GM Levon Aronian will switch federations from Armenia to the United States and will relocate to St. Louis. Earlier today, Aronian announced the news via a statement on social media.

"I am sincerely proud to have had the honor of making a significant contribution to the greatest achievements of Armenian chess," Aronian is quoted in a press release by the Saint Louis Chess Club. "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."

On February 4, 2021, the Armenian news portal Armenews was the first to report that Aronian is switching federations, referring to a second source called Mediapart TV. In the article, a fallout between Aronian and the Armenian government was suggested:

"The reason for this departure and especially for the abandonment of the colors of Armenia would be an unfulfilled promise against it on the part of the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. In the first months of his arrival as the head of the Armenian government, Pashinyan would have met Aronian and promised to solve the problem of the acquisition of a super-computer as well as the financing of a personal trainer for Aronian so that the Armenian champion can fully prepare for top tournaments. But according to Mediapart TV, Pashinyan would have failed in his promise."

When the rumors became stronger, with Armenian Chess Federation Vice President GM Smbat Lputian referring to an upcoming statement from Aronian, the Armenian number-one faced growing criticism to the point that his mother, Seda Aronovna, wrote a statement on Facebook defending her son. She also addresses the issue of not having access to a strong computer and counters the accusations that her son would have received "astronomical amounts," as quoted by News.am:

"The amounts were transferred to the Armenian Chess Federation for permission to benefit from the special server, and he isn’t the only one who has benefited from that server. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t been allowed to use the service since 2020."

In his statement on Facebook, Aronian confirmed that tensions with the new government, which has been in power since May 2018, led to his decision.

"After more than a year of waiting for the fulfillment of the promises made by the current government, I realized that I had to make a breakthrough decision and leave my native country. Obviously, every year of expectation of change is a wasted year for my sports career."

The previous president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, was a big chess lover. During his reign, he was also the president of the Armenian Chess Federation and, in fact, still is. Aronian pointed out that he and his colleagues owed much to Sargsyan, but that a lot has changed for the worse since Pashinyan took over:

"After the revolution in 2018, the new government promised to continue the line, but the promise was limited to only one year of partial assistance, after which it stopped. Meanwhile, the chess arena was invaded by absolutely ignorant new sports state figures who have rewritten our successes to themselves, began to self-proclaim even through blackmail. They managed to divide a solid chess family and atmosphere into chaos."

Although Aronian's decision was long in the making, it just so happens to come a day after significant political turmoil in his home country. On Thursday, Pashinyan warned of an attempted military coup, after the country's armed forces said he and his cabinet must resign.

Levon Aronian
Levon Aronian. Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Aronian makes no secret of the fact that he enjoys financial assistance from billionaire Rex Sinquefield, co-founder of the Saint Louis Chess Club. According to Aronian, Sinquefield "repeated his offer to move to the United States every year."

"I would like to express my gratitude to the respected Rex Sinquefield for still believing in me today. Thanks also to Fabiano Caruana, America's strongest player, who 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."

In response, Sinquefield said: "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 St. Louis and representing the U.S., I could think of no one better. We welcome him with open arms."

According to their press release, the Saint Louis Chess Club has become "a second home" to Aronian. After winning the 2019 Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz, he spoke fondly of his many visits to the Central West End. At the closing ceremony, he remarked: "I love playing in the city of St. Louis, where chess players are proud to be chess players and we're loved, and that is mainly thanks to the Sinquefield family."

It is not exactly clear yet when Aronian will be eligible to play FIDE-rated events under the American flag. A player previously had to wait two years after initiating a transfer, but under the new regulations, in effect since December 1, 2020, this two-year period starts counting from the moment the player last competed in an official FIDE event representing his previous federation.

In addition, FIDE also requires proof of the new place of residence, which also determines the start of the two-year waiting period. At the moment, FIDE hasn't received documents yet, but in case Aronian can provide backdated proof of residence this would gain time for him.

Aronian's last official over-the-board FIDE event was the World Rapid & Blitz Championships in the last week of 2019. It is not exactly clear whether the 2020 FIDE Online Nations Cup and the 2020 FIDE Online Olympiad will count; the FIDE Qualification Commission will have to make a decision on them.

All in all, it is likely that Aronian can be a member of the U.S. team for the next Olympiad, which is scheduled for the summer of 2022 in Moscow.

Chess Olympiad Team USA
Team USA during the last Olympiad, in 2018 in Batumi, Georgia. Photo: Peter Doggers/Chess.com.

Currently rated 2781, Aronian would be the number-two American player behind Caruana (2823) and just ahead of GMs Wesley So (2770) and Leinier Dominguez (2758).

These three players have their own histories of federation changes. After his young years in the U.S., Caruana played for Italy between 2005 and 2015 before representing America again. So was born in and played for the Philippines until 2014. Dominguez transferred federations from Cuba to the U.S. in late 2018.

Aronian's departure will leave a big hole in Armenia, where he is a national hero. He was named the best sportsman of Armenia in 2005 and was awarded the title of Honored Master of Sport of the Republic of Armenia in 2009. 

As the number-one player since the early 2000s, he had been very successful as a team member. He led the Armenian national team to gold medals in the Olympiads of 2006 (Turin), 2008 (Dresden), and 2012 (Istanbul) as well as the World Team Championship in 2011 (Ningbo).

Aronian informed the Armenian Chess Federation and his followers on Thursday, February 25, 2021, by stating: "I am very grateful to my family, relatives, friends, all the people who know my principles and understand my decision to change federations. I want to assure once again that I am connected to my homeland. By all means, I will continue to do the possible and the impossible for my country even from afar."

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