America’s newest esports chess star Levon Aronian shrugged off a slow start to the FTX Road to Miami to clinch his first title of the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour season. The 39-year-old Armenian, the oldest player in the tournament, overpowered China’s former child prodigy Wei Yi on day two of the final.
Both players have now qualified for the $310,000 FTX Crypto Cup in Miami next month. Aronian lifts up to 9th in the overall Tour standings with a total of $37,750 earned so far, one place above Wei.
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Aronian said he felt “amazing” after the win. Aronian, an undoubted big beast in world chess, entered the $150,000 event as the favourite but struggled in the early rounds and only just made the cut to get into the knockout. “I didn’t really deserve to be top eight,” he admitted. “Because my play was very, very poor but after that I think I got myself together and I played better.”
When the pressure was really on, Aronian’s class shone through as he knocked out India’s impressive teenager Arjun Erigaisi in the quarters and then World Cup winner Jan-Krzysztof Duda in the semis.
Aronian, a Tour winner in the Goldmoney Asian Rapid last season, ended Wei’s challenge with two games to spare after a winning a wild first match that could have gone either way by 2.5-0.5 yesterday.
Aronian, who was playing from Yerevan but has recently transferred federations to the US, took the lead when Wei suffered what appeared to be a catastrophic mouse-slip under intense time pressure. Until that point, it had looked like a dead draw. Then, sensing he needed to do something, China’s No. 3 started the second game with 1… g6 and quickly threw caution to the wind.
Aronian had at least two golden chances to finish off Wei in just two games, but missed them. Wei, playing from Hangzhou City, escaped with a draw and lived to fight game 3. In the third, Wei took even bigger risks with the eyebrow-raising 3. g4 offering a free pawn, which Aronian didn’t take, and then the committal 8. h4.
Aronian, however, stayed calm and gradually took advantage to seal the win. Aronian said: “I think this was definitely one of my performances. Play-wise I think I was being resilient, which is very important, and it’s a good confidence boost. I think I’ll try to build on this.”
The FTX Road to Miami was the fifth leg of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and the qualifier for the Tour’s next Major, the FTX Crypto Cup. The two finalists, Wei and Aronian, have now secured their places. FTX is the Official Cryptocurrency Exchange Partner of the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and was the title partner of the first FTX Crypto Cup in the inaugural season of the Tour.