Today it was announced by Super Grandmaster Levon Aronian that he will be relocating from his home country of Armenia to the United States and will switch federations in order to represent the USA on the international stage. The move is of course very big news in the chess world as it is somewhat rare that players change federations, let alone a top grandmaster that is currently ranked 5th in the world! This change means that the USA now has 5 players in the top 20 players in the world and will be even more formidable at the next Olympiad.
It also follows a pattern of the USA attracting players from all over the world, thanks in no small part to Rex Sinquefield and the St. Louis Chess Club. In the last eight years elite players such as Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, and Lenier Dominguez have all switched their federations. Many others have come via the many thriving collegiate chess programs. Such moves inevitably spark debate over countries “buying” chess players. While these players are certainly likely to receive significant financial incentives, players switching federations also often cite the “lack of support” from their home countries’ federations.
In 2014, after attending college at Webster University, Wesley So made the switch from the Philippines. Fabiano Caruana, the current number two player in the world, followed from Italy in 2015, though in my mind Caruana’s move was less controversial as he is an American citizen and grew up playing chess here. Next to come was Cuba’s top player, Lenier Dominguez-Perez in 2018, and now Armenian Levon Aronian.
With the addition of Aronian our national team is stronger than ever with an average rating of 2782 (based on current ratings):
1. Fabiano Caruana (2819)
2. Levon Aronian (2781)
3. Wesley So (2770)
4. Lenier Dominguez (2758)
The next most competitive teams would be Russia at 2762 and China at 2748.
I do believe there should be some debate about whether countries should be able to endlessly recruit players, since this obviously favors more wealthy countries, along with the effects it may have on the state of chess in countries that lose their top players. For my part, it is exciting to see the continued influx of chess players to the United States and how the popularity of the game continues to grow. Welcome to Levon Aronian!