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Aronian playing Carlsen in 2007 

By the end of this month the new world champion Magnus Carlsen will know the name of his first official challenger. From March 13-31 eight of his rivals, including the ex-world champions Anand of India and Kramnik of Russia, will take part in an all-play-all tournament, with the winner earning the right to take on the seemingly invincible 23-year-old Norwegian.

The US number one Hikaru Nakamura will not be playing — he didn't qualify. But that did not stop the American from declaring last month: "I am the only person who is going to be able to stop Sauron. I do feel at the moment that I am the biggest threat to Carlsen." The identification of Carlsen with the evil force in The Lord of the Rings was a joke; but one person might not have been quite so amused. Levon Aronian is, on ratings, by some distance ahead of any of Carlsen's other challengers and, unlike Nakamura, is actually playing in the tournament which will select the champion's opponent.

Yet when I spoke to Aronian last month, just before he went into purdah to train for the event (to be held in the Russian town of Khanty-Mansiysk) he was not in the least offended, even by Nakamura's suggestion that he was too "old" to take on Carlsen: "Not at all, I love trash-talking although I'm wise enough not to do it myself now. And if Hikaru says that I am too old, then he must feel old himself, since he is not much younger than I am." (For the record, at 31 Aronian is five years Nakamura's senior)

But what does Aronian, described as "diabolically talented" by one of his more respectful rivals, think of his chances in a match against "Sauron"? "I do believe that I would do very well. But that's not a comment on Carlsen — I am confident that I would do well against anyone." 

Confidence is indeed Aronian's hallmark and it is most manifest in the rapidity of his play. He has been known to beat lesser grandmasters using less than a quarter of an hour's thought for the entire game. But occasionally this trait has caused Aronian to blunder in winning positions.

"Yes, sometimes I just think my position will win itself. But it is not so much over-confidence as that I become too emotional. This comes from my love of beating my opponent and my anticipation of that pleasure. But if I blunder away the game I always recover and am stronger for the next game. So it is not too much of a problem."

Some might see Aronian's hyper-competitiveness as a legacy of his particular cultural inheritance. His mother is Armenian and his father is Jewish — which was also true of Garry Kasparov. Levon is of course acutely aware of the fact that the Armenian people have also experienced a history of oppression, with Hitler once citing the fact that the Turks had got away with the genocide of the Armenians as a reason why he could do the same to the Jews. "Yes, this legacy makes you able to deal with setbacks, because you know it is nothing compared with what your peoples have endured."

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not a chase player
March 11th, 2014
10:03 AM
Thanks Dominic. Indeed, the absence of armenians from the triple package is a mystery (and a good feed for conspracy theories). if you've ever spent five minutes in the presence of an armenian you will have learnt that armenians talk only in superlatives with regard to most things armenians - best food, best water, best alphabet, best language, oldest this or that.. But my main conclusion from reading this - Nakamura must have armenian roots! (another favorite passtime of armenians)

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