Levon Aronian will shortly lead the Armenian team in a bid to win that small nation their third Chess Olympiad in the last four attempts. In an interview with NEWS.am Sport he talked about why he was heading to Turkey before the rest of the team, jokingly explained his lacklustre Tal Memorial, commented on Kasparov’s political career and named Alexander Alekhine as the greatest player of all time.
Aronian was talking to Vera Martirosian:
Levon, what sort of form are you in now?
Before the Olympiad we always hold a training camp. On this occasion we spent more time on physical preparation. I think our team’s in good form. That freshness you need before a tournament is there.
At your request the Candidates Matches weren’t held in Baku. What can you say about Istanbul? How important is the place a tournament’s held?
Baku and Istanbul are different cities, different countries. We love playing in Istanbul and always have the urge to play well there.
You’re heading to Istanbul earlier than the others. Why?
I always go before the rest. I like to study a city – to immerse myself in the atmosphere of a city.
This is the first Olympiad where Sergei Movsesian will be taking part. How much has the team’s play altered since Sergei’s arrival?
Yes, it’s his first Olympiad, but during the World Championship we won he was also in our team. We were also leading the European Championship until we stumbled at the end. Thanks to Sergei our chances have increased.
Who are the team’s main rivals?
In recent years Azerbaijan has also joined the top teams. The favourites are always the same – Russia, Ukraine, USA, Israel and China.
You were the favourite at the Tal Memorial, but you took fifth place. Why was that?
It’s a long road. You can’t play at the top of your ability in all tournaments. That was my third tournament this year and I didn’t know what to expect from my opponents. My expectations weren’t so high, but they played very well. I forgot they play well.
Quite a lot of time has passed since the tournament. Have you drawn conclusions?
Of course, as without that no chess player is capable of winning. For me losses are the start of a new rise.
You once said you didn’t particularly stand out for your hard work. Are you trying to overcome that shortcoming before the start of the Olympiad?
I said that a long time ago. All sportsmen change over time. I think I’ve become more hardworking. It sometimes happens that after choosing one path you go a very long way along it. You always need to find the golden mean. I think I’ll manage to find a balance.
What’s your inspiration?
Talking with my friends and family and music.
Different kinds. I really like our national music. I really like Hayrik Muradyan.
I’m a fan of jazz and classical music, particularly Bach.
During games when your opponent is thinking for a long time over his next move do you sometimes mentally switch off and go somewhere else?
That’s what usually happens. That’s 80% of the thought process. But the main thing is not to be distracted. Sometimes you notice your opponent is also thinking about other things. Moreover, there’s a physical link between chess players, so that during a game you sense your opponent’s breathing has changed or that he’s altered his sitting position. Chess psychology is very interesting. We devote a lot of time to it.
Who’s your principal opponent?
It would be wrong to name any one person. I don’t think I’ve got any complexes with anyone. Any opponent is a difficulty that needs to be overcome not only on the chessboard, but also before you play. It’s very important to prepare correctly.
Ivanchuk was once quite an inconvenient opponent for you.
Ivanchuk is one of my favourite chess players. I’ve learned a lot from him, but in recent years I think I’ve played well against him.
Do you talk to Kasparov?
We get in touch very rarely. I get great pleasure from talking to chess legends, but it happens very rarely as I’m also very busy.
What’s your opinion on his political activity? A few days ago he was arrested in Moscow.
I’m a long way from politics. Kasparov’s games have their place in chess history, but I know little about his political activity. I hope he knows what he’s doing.
When people are asked to name the best chess players of all time they usually come up with two names – Fischer and Kasparov. Who do you consider the best?
It’s hard to say. Why not Alekhine or Petrosian? It’s clear that Fischer and Kasparov won a very large number of games, but it was with Alekhine that modern chess history began. For me he’s the best.
What are your plans after the Olympiad?
After the Olympiad ends the next tournament I’ll take part in is in Brazil, but at the given moment all my thoughts are focussed on the upcoming tournament.
After the World Team Championship you didn’t return to Armenia. Will you return after the Olympiad?
It’s one of the team traditions. After team events I haven’t returned to Armenia from Turin onwards. I think the main thing for a sportsman is training. If you start to devote a lot of time to joy and celebrations you lose your sporting edge. Personally I have a very serious attitude to chess. I like to finish my work and only then start to celebrate.
Levon, would you like chess to be included in the programme for the Olympic Games?
Yes. I think chess is the best table sport. It's very close to a sport. Before a game starts we prepare for 4 hours, then the game itself lasts from 4 to 5 hours. After that we go to sleep and again start preparing to play. Chess isn’t simply a game. It’s closer to art and sport. I think it would be appropriate if chess was included in the Olympic movement and took its place in the list of Olympic sports.
Aronian names Alekhine best player of all time