There’s a widely held belief that Elton John’s 1971 hit “Levon” (with lyrics by Bernie Taupin), was inspired by The Band’s co-founder, drummer, and singer Levon Helm. But in Susan Black's biography Elton John in His Own Words, Elton says: "It"s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It's just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can't because it's the family ritual."
And this also could be the case for the chess world’s very own “Levon”, Armenia’s Levon Aronian. Here’s a creative force in the game who could well have gotten “bored with blowing up balloons” of playing solid, risk-free chess as he attempted to become an official challenger for the world crown. His play suffered, and he looked as if he just wanted to get away from it, but it was a ritual.
Aronian had near misses in five successive Candidates events, and is considered by many to be the modern day equivalent of Paul Keres, as the best player of his generation never to have played in a world championship match. Aronian is a national hero in Armenia, and for much of Magnus Carlsen’s reign as World number one, he was ranked No. 2 in the world - and in June 2012, he came within 10 points from eclipsing Carlsen.
But like Keres, Aronian is prone to having a ‘Candidates catastrophe’. He finished next to last in Mexico 2006, was knocked out in the quarter-finals when favourite in 2011, had a poor run in London 2013, and could only look on in envy in 2014 as Vishy Anand staged a remarkable comeback to challenge again for the title.
Lately, Aronian’s form has suffered, and he’s slipped out of the official FIDE world’s Top 10. But at the Sinquefield Cup in St Louis, the second leg of the Grand Chess Tour, we’re seeing Aronian back to his brilliant, creative self with some very imaginative play that’s set the tournament alight - and he did it again with the only decisive game of the round, as he annihilated wild card and US No.3 Wesely So, to jump into the joint lead alongside Veselin Topalov.
Aronian’s live rating is now heading back up the charts - and in this free-spirited form, I wouldn’t bet against Levon going on to win the World Cup next month to earn another crack at the Candidates. And who knows, perhaps finally that crack at the world crown?
Grischuk draw Topalov
Caruana draw Anand
Vachier-Lagrave draw Nakamura
Giri draw Carlsen
So 0-1 Aronian
Round 4 standings: 1-2. Veselin Topalov (Bulgaria), Levon Aronian (Armenia) 3/4; 3-4. Anish Giri (Netherlands), Magnus Carlsen (Norway) 2.5; 5-6. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France), Hikaru Nakamura (USA) 2; 7-8. Wesley So (USA), Alexander Grischuk (Russia) 1.5; 9-10. Vishy Anand (India), Fabiano Caruana (USA) 1.
Wesley So - Levon Aronian
3rd Sinquefield Cup, (4)
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.f3 An offshoot of the Sämisch Variation that can get very sharp, very quickly, and both sides have to have their wits about them. However the Samisch proper usually comes with a3 - then f3 - to first put the question to Black's bishop on b4. 4...c5 5.d5 0-0 6.e4 The White pawn chain of c4-d5-e4-f3 also resemble the "other" more famous line from the German master Friedrich Sämisch, the Sämisch King's Indian Defence 6...d6 7.Nge2 a6!? Levon is in a very aggressive mood - here he's making it clear he intends going for a ...b5 pawn sacrifice break, a la the Benko Gambit. 8.a4 Ba5! Not so much a retreat as a clever ploy by Aronian, who is not deterred by 8.a4 of playing ...b5. Here he's threatening it again, as after White takes twice on b5 the sting in the tail is ...Bxc3+ winning the rook on a1. And in his post-game interview, Aronian credits this interesting novelty to Peter Leko. 9.Bd2 exd5 10.cxd5 Nh5! Aronian is definitely going for it - here he again makes life uncomfortable for his opponent, whose pieces are not being developed as they should. 11.g3 Nd7 Just look at how harmonious the development of Black's pieces are compared to White's - Aronian's opening choices has been a success, and he's threatening now to blow the position wide open to take advantage of his actively placed pieces. 12.Bg2 b5! 13.g4? Wesley So cracks under the pressure. Taking the gambit was fraught with dangers: 13.axb5 axb5 14.Nxb5 Bxd2+ 15.Kxd2 Rxa1 16.Qxa1 and already Black is threatening ...Qb6 followed by ...Ba6, ...Rb8 and ...Ne5. Life will not be easy for White, as Black will have all the fun. However there was nothing wrong with 13.0-0 b4 14.Nb1 - Black is admittedly slightly better, but at least White's position is not crashing here. 13...b4 14.Nb1 Qh4+! White is doomed after this move, as the Black attack comes in like a tsunami now. 15.Kf1 Ne5! (See Diagram) 16.Be1 If 16.gxh5 f5! 17.Be1 Qf6 and Black is poised to crash through. 16...Qf6 17.gxh5 Nxf3 18.Bf2 Bg4 Yes, your all-seeing, all-powerful engine will tell you that 18...Qxb2 is best as it wins back all the material and then some - but what does that soulless silicon beast know? Aronian, ever the artist, maintains the pressure by going for the creative win. 19.Qc1 Nd4 20.Nxd4 cxd4 Now the problems are multiplying for White - not only has the c-file been opened for his rook, there's also now a possible threat of the Black d-pawn simply walking down the board. 21.e5 White is totally bust here: 21.Nd2 d3 22.Kg1 Rac8 23.Qe1 b3 also looked horrific to defend against. At least this way prolongs the inevitable for a couple of moves to take the game out of miniature territory of losing in under 25 moves. 21...dxe5 22.Nd2 Rac8 23.Qb1 b3 24.Nxb3 Bb6 25.a5 Ba7 All roads lead to Rome here for Black, but I am somewhat surprised Aronian didn't conclude things here with the aesthetically pleasing win 25...Rc2!! 26.Qxc2 d3 27.Qd2 Be2+. 26.Kg1 Bf5 27.Be4 If 27.Qe1 Rfe8 and White can't stop the e- and d-pawns storming down the board together. 27...Qg5+ 28.Kf1 Qf4 0-1 The end is nigh, as White can't stop ...d3: 28...Qf4 29.Bxf5 d3 30.Qe1 Rc2.