Arianne Caoili, a sweet soul who gave a chess king his lucky stars

The chess world is still mourning the loss of Arianne Bo Caoili (pronounced kay-OH-lee) who sadly died March 31st. Her death came two weeks after a horrific single-vehicle accident that shocked the chess world.

Arianne was intelligent, articulate and certainly statuesque in appearance. She had an engaging personality and was down-to-earth. A native of Manila, Philippines, she started playing chess at six years old and represented her country in international events.

WIM Ariann Caoili

Arianne Caoili

Philippines Australia Armenia

At the 1996 World Youth tournament in Menorca, Spain, she met Levon Aronian, a young star from Armenia. Over time, they begin to develop a close friendship. She also represented the Philippines at Chess Olympiads in 1998 (Elista, Russia) and 2000 (Istanbul, Turkey). After changing her affiliation to Australia, she represented the country in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012. In 2006, she listed some of her likes her website…

“Funny stories, The Cream, arguing, getting up to no good, shopping, quotes, tea, Pink Floyd album covers, dancing (all forms), chocolate, blitz, theatre, Karpov’s games, Oreo’s, black and dry humour, singing, good music, gravity (without it we’re doomed), sunsets, sunrises, fine food (and fine boys), stars, moons, water, Edward Norton and Johnny Depp, grace, green lights, cooking, pina colada’s, vodka, red wine, Kahlua, dwarfs and the odd Cuban cigar.”

One memorable point of the relationship was made public when during the 2006 Chess Olympiad, Aronian was attacked by Daniel Gormally who was also trying to win the heart of the 19-year old stunner. This created a ruckus at the “Bermuda Party” as Gormally assaulted Aronian. Immediately, the Armenian players were seeking out the British Grandmaster. They later confronted him, “roughed him up” and he ended up leaving Italy.

Levon Aronian and Arianne Caoili
married at the Saghmosavank Monastery
Photo by u1+

That incident may have strengthened an already budding relationship. Soon this couple was on the world’s chess radar. The couple started to be seen in public and became one of the most doting couples on the chess scene. Both tended to be very well-liked and had enough contrast to be very interesting. Caoili, a lovely, multi-talented and an ambitious activist; Aronian, a free-spirited, jazz-loving, affable superstar with a penchant for garish styles.

When the two got married in 2017, it was quite a celebration as the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was Aronian’s best man in the wedding. At the time, Aronian was a 34-year old, three-time gold medallist and one of the world’s famous Grandmasters. Apart from his uncompromising style, he is loved for his quick wit and brutal trashtalking. Now he was known for having one of the most beautiful wives.

As the saying goes, “Levon married up.”

Arianne was an accomplished salsa dancer!
Photo by Oli Scarff (Getty Images)

For Arianne, she had earned the WIM title in 2001, but she had other ambitions. How many can say they have performed on “Dance with the Stars”? Paired with Carmelo Pizzino in the show’s 5th season, their stirring performance took second place!

Meeting Arianne

One of the most amazing traits of Arianne’s persona was her generosity and warmth. She once raised $6,100 in a fundraising campaign for children’s education. As a cyclist, I can appreciate her riding 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) in a two-week period. This was not easy terrain as the trek was from Ayas, Turkey to Agarak near the Armenian-Iranian border.

My first encounter with Arianne occurred during the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin just before the “Aronian-Gormally” incident. We were both walking from the player’s village to the Oval Lingotto stadium in Turin, Italy which was nearly 15 minutes away. Anyone who attended that Olympiad would remember the walk. It was a bit annoying, but somewhat therapeutic, good for blood circulation and provided a good opportunity to meet new people and chat.

On the way over, I met Arianne, who mentioned she was playing for Australia. I told her I was a journalist from the U.S. Her warmth shone as she spoke with pride about the Philippines and her background as a junior player. She also spoke highly of (now GM) Mark Paragua, who was also a Filipino junior player the same time she was. I don’t remember much else from the conversation, but I do remember how engaged she was in whatever I said and how easy the conversation was. It was one of my best memories of that Turin Olympiad.

Arianna Caoili and Ian Wilkinson at the closing of the 2012 Chess Olympiad. Ian was serving as the President of the Jamaica Chess Federation. Photo by Daaim Shabazz

I would later met her at the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul, Turkey after interviewing Levon Aronian. Armenia has just won another medal and he was in a very good mood. I saw Arianne was waiting patiently. After our interview, I reminded her of our 2006 meeting. She was surprised and gracious. I would then take a photo her and one of my favorite persons, Jamaica’s Ian Wilkinson.

After marrying Levon, she would often accompany him to tournaments and they seem to have such a chemistry. She was certainly a complement, yet had her own interests, both in and outside of chess. She granted a very nice interview with GM Maurice Ashley during the Grand Chess Tour in Zagreb, Croatia.

Video by Grand Chess Tour

Finally, a memorable game and an upset of GM Vladimir Epishin as a 13-year old!

Arianne Bo Caoili
December 22, 1986 – March 31, 2020

Daaim Shabazz

Daaim Shabazz is the founder of The Chess Drum, while serving as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds a B.S. Computer Science from Chicago State University, an MBA in Marketing and a Ph.D. in International Affairs & Development, both from Clark Atlanta University. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

4 Comments

  1. Dear Daaim,

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute and, from my very personal perspective, including my picture with her from the 2012 Olympiad in Turkey. I said it previously but, again, would like to extend my condolences to Mega-GM Levon Aronian, their respective families, friends and acquaintances on this veritable loss.

    She was an amazing person with tremendous versatility and was impressive in so many ways. She lived several different lives in such a short period of time. I was in awe of her and by all accounts I had lots of company.

    Levon Aronian is/was a very lucky man in every possible sense of the term. It was not just her physical beauty but the glow from within. There was a profound depth to her spirituality and, in spite of her grit and tenacity evident from her games, she radiated sheer warmth. She was the epitome of life itself and her memory will remain with me forever.

    May her soul rest in peace and be illuminated in that Divine, perpetual light.

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