The number two chess player in the world, Levon Aronian, shared his desire to increase chess’ status in the United States, his road to success and his take on the 2014 FIFA World Cup at a Monday night event with fans in Glendale, the Glendale News-Press reports.
The meet-and-greet was part of a 10-day visit the Armenian chess “Grandmaster” had planned in the Los Angeles area, during which he will teach chess at the Glendale Hilton Hotel.
“If all of the countries in the world learn to play chess, we will have a better future,” he said before a crowd of 75 at the Adult Recreation Center, adding later that he is especially passionate about increasing chess’ significance in the United States.
In Armenia, chess is a favored sport and is integrated into the education system. Aronian, who started playing at 9 years old and is considered a celebrity in his home country, said the low cost of the game has made it so popular in Armenia, a country of roughly 3 million people that has faced numerous economic challenges.
Aronian has taught chess in Armenia, but the five-day camp organized by Metropolitan Chess and the American Chess Academy will be his first time teaching American students.
The winner of the 2005 Chess World Cup is known for his tricky playing style, which he attributed to the “wizards of the game” who influenced him when he was growing up.
“They start slowly, but at a moment they add the spice. That’s what I try to do,” he said.
Although chess is a popular sport in Armenia — led by Aronian, the country’s team won gold in the 2006, 2008 and 2012 Chess Olympics — Aronian said he was still bullied as a child.
But chess taught him to persevere.
“You finish the game and then starts the next one,” he said. “I always stood up for myself after being beaten up.”
The childhood bullying also inspired him to learn to box, he said. In addition to being a fan of boxing, he is also a soccer lover. He said he’s been following the World Cup, and although his favorite team in general is England, he has been rooting for Argentina.
Aronian has also been trying to learn to dance for the past eight years — he enjoys the tango — but he still stumbles. His girlfriend, Arianne Caoili, who is a “Woman International Master” chess player, has been on the Australian version of “Dancing with the Stars.”
“Maybe one day I’ll succeed in moving my body parts at the same time in different directions,” he said.
For Aronian, reaching a goal requires extreme confidence and dedication.
“I think you need to strive. You need to be completely taken by your goal,” he said. “If you don’t put your soul, your entire world into something that you do, you’re not going to reach greatness.”