LevonAronyan: Victories are built upon defeats
After taking the 5th place in World Chess Candidates Tournament in Moscow, Armenian Grandmaster LevonAronyan finally decided to break the silence. Such occasions can never be missed by journalists, so we are chasing answers to all of our questions.
- Why did the silence last so long and why did you decide to finally break it?
When you lose the game, first of all, a sense of inner discontent arises. You withdraw into yourself and you need some time to recover and speak up. I spent a week at home in training, thinking, meeting different people, listening to music. About a week later I pulled myself together, let’s say, recovered, and now I’m looking only forward.
- What helps you recover? How do you recover?
My relatives support me in my recovery process a lot. I have long talks with people that are dear to me, especially with Arianne. We’ve been following the same path together for 9 years. She helps me, and I help her. We analyze and understand what the main secrets of victories and losses are. We thought about it for a long time and came to the conclusion that one should not cling to the win, one shouldn’t search for it endlessly and concentrate on that alone. There’s no need to put too much strain.
To be honest, prior to this tournament, I was working very intensively, with much concentration and pressure. I guess that’s the very reason why I didn’t come first. That nervous tension. I’ve been talking to different people who have succeeded in their spheres, and there’s one thing for sure, success comes when you expect it the least, when you have already done everything for that and when it’s not the most important goal. When you look at success easily, it comes easily.
- I have always had the opposite opinion; in order to reach something, one must struggle and put inhumane efforts for it and grab your piece of victory from fate.
Maybe it depends on the person. I have always been an easy-going person, but then everything changed. I started to concentrate and delve into everything. I have lost that feeling of lightness and now I must try to find it back again.
- How did you lose that feeling? Maybe it’s connected to the age?
No. At least in my case, this does not have to do anything with age. I lost the feeling of lightness when I tried to gain control over everything. But that’s impossible, it’s a utopia, which you shouldn’t follow. It turned out that the feeling of lightness is much more important for me to reach the results I expect.
- When you took 5th place, rumors started spreading that you’re planning to leave chess. How close is that to reality?
That is absolutely not reality! I have always believed that every person is born with some mission. The mission and the dream of my life is to become the world champion. And I will fight for that till the end of my life. But now I will be fighting a different way, without losing the sense of lightness in my life. Freedom is very important for me, when I don’t think whether I will win or lose the game, the final result becomes less important. It’s important for me personally to treat the game more as an art.
- Is chess art or sport?
It’s sport, but in case you’re a person of art, you should look at this sport from that prism. It’s an individual thing.
- Clever people know that it’s impossible to always win in this life. There should also be losses, and they help you to get to know yourself.
I agree. Even more, by winning consequently in many tournaments, I have learned less than by losing.
Defeats are our greatest teachers. Defeats help us to improve our style and make right conclusions based on mistakes. The problem is that when you continuously win, you start losing your awareness. And it’s different from the ‘lightness’ I was speaking about. It’s a kind of intoxication which leads to blindness. One should lose from time to time to prevent this.
And the sense of lightness, it’s to find the final meaning of the game in the game itself rather than in the win. I’m repeating this:it’s when you’ve done everything for victory in the preparatory stage and you go to the game without losing your sense of freedom, not becoming a slave to the final result of the game. I believe, if I don’t think of that final result, I’ll play a better game.
- Has your life somehow changed after the last not-so-successful tournament?
Yes, a lot! I admit that I haven’t been quite as sad for any of my results more than this one. At the same time, I had never thought of the reasons for failing.
- The beginning of the tournament was quite successful. After the first round you were in better positions together with Karjakin. When was the breaking point when the game went the other way?
During the match with Anand, I betrayed myself and tried to play tougher. And that’s not my style. When you lose because of your tough mistake, an obvious bad game, you take that loss easier. But when you lose another way, when your position gets gradually worse, and you lose by being “tortured to death”, losing step by step, and it is not that you lose, but somebody take you over, this is even harder to accept, much more painful.
- Before the Candidate’s Tournament, Magnus Carlsen mentioned you in his list of favorites. Does this situation have some influence?
The experience shows that people who are not in the list of favorites do not usually get in tense situation during the tournaments and as a rule, they win. There’s less psychological tension on them. And the favorites try to prove that they deserve it, they try not to make mistakes and it’s an additional pressure. You can’t play like a robot, right?
- Can we say that your current ultimate goal is to participate in the next Candidates’ Tournament?
Sure. I will start training for the next Tournament which will take place in two years. But this time I’m going to play in a different way. I’m a strong but at the same time a universal player who can do a lot of things, but does not know himself well enough yet. That’s why I think I need to further explore my opportunities.
Behind the scenes
- Is there the factor of Luck in chess?
Yes, definitely. When out of all the possible moves your rival plays the very one you waited for…
- When the game is over, the king and the pawn appear in the same box. Do you believe in equality in life?
In terms of equality, I truly believe that each and every person in this life gets his/her chance. There is Justice, too. A person simply needs to believe that in case of living a just and right life, if he can reach his mission in life, then he can live in the field of justice he has created with his own efforts.
- Chess is a mini model of life; the same fight, same planning, getting the enemy into a trap.. Is a chess player a good player in life, too?
Surely, there can be many parallels taken between the real life and chess. But there is one vital difference. In chess, when you lose in an important and interesting game, there’s something that dies inside you, but then you recover. You’re sure there will be many more games in the future where victories will follow the losses. And in reality, we are given a life only once, so we learn whether we’ve won or lost only in the end.
- Clever people win in chess, treacherous people in life. Is corruption and intrigue used in chess when the rival uses banned methods? For instance, he bribes the person you train with.
The everyday work of a chess player is very much alike the work of a miner. You dig and dig something you don’t know yet, or does even the thing you dig exist? As a rule, a strong chess player never trains with a strong chess player. You discover new steps and develop new strategies during the game, and it’s not desirable that another strong chess player knows about them. That’s why there are special assistants, who, although being good players, are not the strongest.
We do so because the intrigue you mentioned are widely spread in chess playing. Very often these assistants sell the information or use it against you. Hopefully we don’t have this vicious phenomenon in our country, but this practice is quite common on the international stage.
I have a lot of chess player friends from other countries that have faced this more than once. There have even been funny cases. A chess player found an interesting move during the game. Then his assistant started training another chess player. The assistantinformed his new boss about the new move but didn’t say who the author was. By fate, they happened to play against each other. And can you imagine the surprise of the chess player who saw his opponent playing the continuation he had invented himself?
- So, it turns out that it’s very important to choose assistants as carefully as nannies for babies. Do you trust your assistants?
Definitely, the choice should be done with great carefulness. And I trust my guys 100%.
- If you had a time machine and could travel back to the past, who from the famous chess players would you like to play with and win?
It’s a bit hard to say that I would win…
- Ok, let’s say, play…
I would like to play with TigranPetrosyan. He had a very interesting style. We are different in style, so I cannot even predict whether I would have won or not. I think it would have been an interesting game. As if ice and fire would met.
- And who of you is the ice and the fire?
I guess, I am the fire (smiles)
- You say…style… How would you describe your style in chess?
I search for depth in the game, I go to the deepness. I see layers that are unseen. During the game I try to go beyond rules and borders and at the same time create those rules. If I try to formulate it, I want to find innovative steps that will later turn into rules. That’s my motivation, to show that my game is not simply abstractionism, but something harmonious, that is not widely spread yet.
- In chess, the king is the most defenseless piece. And one of the main functions of queen is to defend him. And how’s the situation in real life now?
In the scope of the chess evolution, the queen has indeed become the most powerful piece. In real life women too have become much more powerful, that’s the tendency of the world. The modern world lives in super dynamic rhythm. If you don’t get used to that rhythm, you might be thrown away from the train!We live in a technogenic society where everything changes within seconds. Historically, the main power of a man has been his physical strength. In the modern world, the brain has substituted it. And women have a totally different way of thinking, they have become more flexible, more adapting. That’s why they’ve become stronger. Even to secure the financial means you don’t need physical strength, do you? Of course, if this does not relate to grabbing one’s wallet in the street.
- We gradually reached the question that is awaited by a lot of people. Your fiancé is a chess player, too. Does it make your life even harder? A chess player can always count your moves.
Here it’s very important to ask, who is the stronger chess player! If you’re a stronger player than your partner, then your life does not really get harder. It is you that can see further! The fact that Arianne is a chess player only helps me. We understand each other perfectly and there’s no need for me to explain anything to her. When a woman has analytical thinking, she understands that every step brings us to certain circumstances. It’s an elementary truth for chess players. We both know that we won’t ever make illogical steps. If there’s a step made, it means it has been thought thoroughly and it has its long-term goal.
- Even with analytical thinking, a woman chess player is always a woman first. And any woman can do all kinds of illogical steps that can blow the minds of all chess champions. Because aren’t women, women in the end?
It only makes me happy. In that case we are able to complement one another. Arianne is more emotional, and I am the cool headedone. And opposites are always more attractive in life.
- Arianne has recently launched a new project, “Champord”,a free newspaper which is delivered in all public transportation in Yerevan. What do you think about this initiative?
If my attitude was bad about this initiative, I would not have given this exclusive interview to you (laughs). To be serious, I think it’s very important. Arianne has great goals. With this new format she’s aiming at changing the urban culture and atmosphere. Arianne truly believes that modern society needs positive journalism. I believe in Arianne and I believe in “Champord”. I hope you will succeed.
- We spoke about analytical thinking. It denotes predicting the future to some degree. On the background of recent events, Armenians are worried only about one main question; what awaits us? [Editor’s note: this is a reference to the recent outbreak of war in NagornoKarabakh]
What awaits usis not important. It’s much more important to know what we are ready for. I believe in the unity and the power of our nation. I believe in the unique ability of our nation to unite in extremely difficult and crucial moments. It is a skill implanted on almost a genetic level and it has enabled us, the Armenians, to survive and live up to the 21st century. That’s our strength and key to our victory. A lot of people were surprised how the Armenians could unite and become a strong. I myself am not surprised. I know my nation and I know myself. I am so because I am Armenian, too…
[After the not-so successful tournament in Moscow, at the end of April, Levon performed without losses in the prestigious Stavanger chess tournament and triumphantly beat world champion, Magnus Carlsen, in the process]