Aronian In South Africa: 'Chess Is The Purpose Of My Life'
Levon Aronian at the South African Junior Chess Championship. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.

Aronian In South Africa: 'Chess Is The Purpose Of My Life'

Alessandro_Parodi
Alessandro_Parodi
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21 | Chess Event Coverage

Levon Aronian: “You don’t play chess to have fun. You play chess to crush your opponent.”

A high-spirited Aronian attended the South African Junior Chess Championship (SAJCC) Jan. 3-8 in the city of Ekurhuleni. More than 2,700 youths competed in a record-breaking team event and had the opportunity to meet Aronian, who was a guest star in many side events hosted during the competition.

In chess, the important thing is not just the taking part. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
In chess, giving back is as important as taking pieces. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.

Freestyle blitz in Joubert Park:

Following in the footsteps of Hikaru Nakamura and Wesley So, who attended the SAJCC in 2018 and 2019 respectively, Aronian spent a morning in Johannesburg in the iconic Joubert Park, the lair of Africa’s best chess hustlers. After warming up against the juniors of the Hyenas Chess Club, Levon took on some local masters, including the South African champion Johannes Mabusela.

Many international players learned chess in Joubert Park. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
Many international players learned chess in Joubert Park. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.

In an attempt to stop Levon’s perfect streak, the grandmaster’s wife Arianne Caoili joined the crowd amid cheers and local music. Only the youthful Simphiwe Buthelezi managed to score against the Armenian superstar, and won a dramatic game thanks to a blunder by the overworked opponent.

“Chess is my 9-to-5”:

Another surprise for Aronian came from an inspired local veteran, who managed to beat the GM in a draining eight-hour-long simul on 107 boards the following day. The national master pulled off a mate-in-four in a complicated position, after a strenuous fight from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I have never faced so many opponents in a simul,” admitted Aronian before making the first move. What’s more, the exhibition had no rating cap and a few players rated between 1800 and 2200 showed up.

107 boards is a South African record and a personal record for Aronian. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.
One hundred and seven boards is a South African record, and a personal record for Aronian. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.

In an interview with Chess.com, Aronian commented: “Every time I’m playing a simul, people say 'this guy is good, this guy is bad, pay attention to this one'—but I actually don’t like that. I like the randomness and I like the fact that I have to put up an effort.”

Aronian also met some of the best players in southern Africa in a master class and Q&A. He described his path to success to players and coaches and shared with them some suggestions on how to train a future champion.

A bughouse walkover:

Aronian joined forces with his wife to wipe out the competition in a carnival-themed bughouse tournament. Slick chess hustlers and go-getting youth in costume were no challenge for the world authority in bughouse, who also sported a sensational Joker costume.

Bughouse ain't no joke! | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com
Bughouse isn't a joke! | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com

“We love playing every kind of game partnering with my wife," said Aronian, "because we love being a team generally, in every sport. If only the level was a little bit higher, we could have had some competition.”

A day with a super-GM:

Along with being an unmatchable bughouse specialist, Levon turned out to be an outstanding athlete, or at least that’s the rumor in the South African U10 circuit!

“Uncle Lev is better at soccer than at chess,” claimed Caleb and Judah Levitan, two of the most promising South African youth and the best "springboks" in last year’s World Youth. “We managed to snatch a draw with him in the simul, but he gave us no chance on the soccer field.”

The two boys showed the Armenian guest the beauty of South Africa and forced him to add a Mandela shirt to his wardrobe.

“It was a great emotion to meet Aronian,” said Lindiwe Kololo, an intellectually-disabled player who made the ceremonial first move against the GM. “Chess taught me that if you really want to achieve something, you will. Now that I've met one of the best players in the world, I want to play international tournaments with opponents from all over the world.”

Lindiwe Kololo is a South African LSEN champion. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com
Lindiwe Kololo is a South African LSEN champion. | Photo: Alessandro Parodi/Chess.com.

On another note:

Levon Aronian's visit to South Africa was a unique experience for many aspiring GMs, and an opportunity for the country to promote chess in local news and national broadcasts. The tournament has few equals worldwide in terms of participation, despite the gap that still exists between the quality of chess in the continent and global standards.

However, South African chess has experienced a political crisis for the past few months, resulting in the coexistence of two national federations. The Chessa crisis has precedents in Gabon and Kenya and has hindered the organization of international tournaments in the country, as well as the participation of some players in the 2019 African Youth Chess Championship.

A severe restructuring of the federation will possibly have a more effective impact on local chess players than the visit of an incredible role model like Aronian. In the margins of the SAJCC, Chessa is expected to find a quick solution to months of uncertainty and court cases. This will certainly help South African chess to move forward, and players to be competitive internationally.

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