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Chess in Armenia

The Yerevan Chess House, founded in 1970

Two men playing chess in Yerevan Vernissage

Chess has been played in Armenia since the early Middle Ages; however, it was institutionalized during the early Soviet period. Highly popular in Armenia today, chess gained widespread recognition during the 1960s, when Soviet Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian became the World Chess Champion. A country of about three million people, Armenia is considered one of the strongest chess nations today. Among countries, Armenia has one of the most chess grandmasters per capita.

Since the country's independence, the Armenian men's chess team has won the European Team Championship (1999), the World Team Championship (2011) and the Chess Olympiad (2006, 2008, 2012). The women's team had its crowning victory at the 2003 European Championship. As of June 2014, Armenia ranks sixth in the world by the average rating of its top players. Levon Aronian, Armenia's best chess player, is currently world No. 9 in the FIDE rankings. Aronian was a World Champion candidate several times.

Since the 2011-12 school year, chess lessons have been made part of the curriculum in every public school in Armenia, making it the first country in the world to make chess mandatory in schools.

Garry Kasparov has compared the popularity of chess in Armenia with the popularity of football (soccer) in Latin America.

Name

Until the early 20th century, chess was known in Armenian as čatrak (ճատրակ), from Middle Persian Chatrang. Today, that term - pronounced jadrag - is only used in Western Armenian, which is spoken in the Armenian diaspora. In modern Eastern Armenian, which is the variation of Armenian used in the Republic of Armenia, chess is known as šaxmat շախմատ . It is derived from Russian šáxmaty (шахматы), itself a derivative from Persian šâh mât (شاه مات), literally meaning "the king is at a loss."

History

Early history

In Shatrang: The Book of Chess (1936), orientalists Joseph Orbeli and Kamilla Trever suggest that chess was known in Armenia since at least the 9th century, when Armenia was under Arab rule. According to them, the game was brought to Armenia by the Arabs from India, where the game is believed to have been originated in the 6th century as Chaturanga. In 1967, chess figures were found in the citadel of Dvin, the medieval Armenian capital. Chess is mentioned in manuscripts from the 12th century-13th century kept in the Matenadaran Institute of Ancient Manuscripts in Yerevan, including a 13th-century manuscript by Vardan Areveltsi. Until the mid-20th century villagers in Shenavan near Aparan were using homemade chess figures similar to medieval ones.

Soviet period

Chess in Armenia was institutionalized after the establishment of Soviet rule in 1920. In 1926-27, by the initiative of chemist Simon Hovyan (1869-1942), sections about chess started appearing in many Armenian newspapers. Hovyan contributed to the popularization of chess in Armenia by giving lectures about it. He translated books by Emanuel Lasker, Ilya Maizelis (ru), and Yakov Rokhlin (ru) into Armenian.

A 1996 Armenian postage stamp depicting Tigran Petrosian and the Yerevan Chess House

The first chess competitions were held in 1927, when the Armenian Chess Federation was founded. Until 1934 chess players from Armenia competed in the Transcaucasian championship. In 1934 the first Armenian Chess Championship was held in Yerevan. Genrikh Kasparyan became its winner. In later years Kasparyan won the championship nine times and became the most-titled Armenian chess player with ten national championship wins. The women's championship was also held the same year, Sirush Makints and Margarita Mirza-Avagian shared the champion title. The first Armenian chess club was founded in 1936. Chess clubs were also founded in Leninakan (now Gyumri) and Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) in the 1950s.

Chess became particularly popular with the unprecedented success of Tigran Petrosian in the 1960s. Born in Tiflis, the current capital of Armenia's neighbor Georgia, he started his ascent in Armenia with a 1946 victory at the national championship. He then won the Soviet champion title four times (1959, 1961, 1969, 1975). In 1963 Petrosian became the World Chess Champion, defeating Mikhail Botvinnik, another Soviet representative. Petrosian's victory not only popularized the game of chess, but also "led to an outpouring of patriotic fervour" in the smallest Soviet republic. "From that moment on, chess became a national obsession." Many couples named their sons Tigran, after Petrosian. Besides being World Champion for six years (1963 to 1969), Petrosian won the Chess Olympiad nine times with the Soviet team (1958 to 1974).

In 1962, there were 30,000 chess players in Soviet Armenia, as well as 3,000 instructors and judges. By 1986 the number of chess players had increased to 50,000, including three grandmasters: Rafael Vaganian, Smbat Lputian, and Arshak Petrosian. In the late Soviet period, Rafael Vaganian (1989) and Artashes Minasian (1991) became Soviet Champions. Vaganian also won the Olympiad with the Soviet team twice in 1984 and 1986.

In 1985, Garry Kasparov, born in Baku, Soviet Azerbaijan to an Armenian mother and Russian Jewish father, became World Champion. Although he never represented Armenia and is only half-Armenian, some sources preferred to call him Armenian, partly because his last name is the Russified form of his mother's Armenian last name Kasparyan.

Independent Armenia

Armenia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Since then, Armenian chess players have had the opportunity to represent the Republic of Armenia. Three major chess tournaments have taken place in independent Armenia: the 32nd Chess Olympiad was held at the Sports & Music Complex in Yerevan in 1996; the 2001 World Team Chess Championship and the 2014 European Individual Chess Championship were held at the Yerevan Opera Theater.

Armenia earned its first medal at the 1992 Chess Olympiad, finishing third. Armenia won bronze medals at the 2002 and 2004 Olympiads as well. The Armenian team made a breakthrough with the sensational victory at the 2006 Chess Olympiad. They also won the 2008 and 2012 Chess Olympiads. Their record at the World Team Championships has been similarly outstanding, finishing third in 1997, 2001, and 2005, and winning in 2011. At the European championships the team performed somewhat more poorly, placing third in 1997, first in 1999, and second in 2007.

Teaching of chess in schools

In 2011, the Ministry of Education of Armenia made chess part of the primary school curriculum along with such standards as math and history for children over the age of 6. Chess is compulsory for second, third and fourth graders. Over $1.5 million was spent on the program. The inclusion of chess in schools was generally received positively by the public, but some parents claimed that their children's school program was already complicated and overloaded. Grandmaster Smbat Lputian argues that "bringing chess into schools is the best way to build the future."

The decision was widely reported in the international media. Journalists, chess experts and officials in various countries praised the program and advised its adoption in their respective countries. During his visit to Armenia in 2014 Magnus Carlsen stated: "I think Armenia's experience of teaching chess in schools is a great example for the whole world."

Institutions

The national governing body for chess, the Armenian Chess Federation, was founded in 1927. President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan was elected its president in 2004 (when he was Defence Minister) and was reelected in 2011. Sargsyan "is known for enthusiastically supporting Armenian chess players." On one occasion, Sargsyan stated that "We don't want people to know Armenia just for the earthquake and the genocide. We would rather it was famous for its chess." The Armenian government provides grandmasters with salaries and perks.

The Chess Academy of Armenia (Հայաստանի շախմատի ակադեմիա), "one of the leading chess-teaching institutions in the country", was "founded in 2002 in Yerevan by the initiative of grandmaster Smbat Lputian, supported by the Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan". The academy has organized international and national chess tournaments.

National championship

Read main article: Armenian Chess Championship

The first Armenian championship occurred in 1934 when it was part of the Transcaucasian SFSR. Championships were held sporadically in the Armenian SSR until 1945, when they became an annual event; this practice has been continued in independent Armenia. Genrikh Kasparyan has won it the most times (10 times), followed by Ashot Anastasian (8 times), Levon Grigorian (6 times) and Artashes Minasian (6 times).

The first woman's championship also took place in 1934, but was not held again till 1939. Some of the most notable women champions include Elina Danielian (6 times), Lilit Mkrtchian (4 times) and Siranush Andriasian (3 times).

Media

The logo of Chess in Armenia magazine

In 1972, the magazine Chess in Armenia (Շախմատային Հայաստան Shakhmatayin Hayastan) was founded by Gaguik Oganessian. It was published monthly until 1997, when it became a weekly magazine. In 1972, the TV show Chess-64 (originally named Chess School) started to be aired by the Public Television of Armenia. Hosted by Gaguik Oganessian, it is the "longest lived program series" in the channel's history. Another more recently created show, Chess World, is aired after the First News.

Individual statistics

FIDE, the World Chess Federation, lists 24 active Armenian grandmasters, 4 woman grandmasters, 17 international masters and 4 woman international masters.

Men

The Top 10 Armenian grandmasters as of June 2014 are listed below.

Armenian players in FIDE Top 100
Levon Aronian (#2)
Gabriel Sargissian (#59)
Sergei Movsesian (#69)
Vladimir Akopian (#77)

# Player Birth year GM Title Rating World rank
1 Levon Aronian 1982 2000 2815 2
2 Gabriel Sargissian 1983 2002 2686 59
3 Sergei Movsesian 1978 1997 2672 69
4 Vladimir Akopian 1971 1991 2667 77
=5 Arman Pashikian 1987 2007 2630 144
=5 Hrant Melkumyan 1989 2008 2630 145
7 Tigran L. Petrosian 1984 2004 2624 165
8 Zaven Andriasian 1989 2006 2611 195
9 Robert Hovhannisyan 1991 2010 2601 222
10 Samvel Ter-Sahakyan 1993 2009 2604 270

Levon Aronian is currently No. 2 in the FIDE World Rankings, behind Magnus Carlsen. In 2005 he won the Chess World Cup.

Women

The Top 10 women Armenian chess players are listed below as of August 2013.

Armenian women players in FIDE Top 100
Elina Danielian (#23)
Lilit Mkrtchian (#35)

# Player Birth year Title Rating World rank
1 Elina Danielian 1978 GM 2470 28
2 Lilit Mkrtchian 1982 IM 2454 36
3 Maria Kursova 1986 WGM 2351 107
4 Lilit Galojan 1983 IM 2319 148
5 Evgeniya Doluhanova 1984 WGM 2296 188
6 Irina Vaganian 1963 WIM 2269 not active
7 Nelly Aginian 1981 WGM 2247 292
8 Anna Hairapetian 1989 WIM 2214 385
9 Siranush Andriasian 1986 WIM 2206 415
10 Narine Karakashian 1971 WIM 2190 N/A

Team records

Chess Olympiads

A billboard in central Yerevan celebrating Armenia's victory at the 38th Chess Olympiad. It shows members of the Armenian team with the caption "The Kings of Chess".

Men's
Year Event Location Players Position Ref
1992 30th Chess Olympiad Manila, Philippines Vaganian, Akopian, Lputian, Minasian, A. Petrosian, Anastasian  
1994 31st Chess Olympiad Moscow, Russia Vaganian, Akopian, Lputian, Anastasian, Minasian, Yegiazarian 13  
1996 32nd Chess Olympiad Yerevan, Armenia Akopian, Vaganian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian, A. Petrosian 5  
1998 33rd Chess Olympiad Elista, Russia Vaganian, Lputian, Akopian, Minasian, Asrian, Anastasian 16  
2000 34th Chess Olympiad Istanbul, Turkey Vaganian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian, Asrian, Sargissian 17  
2002 35th Chess Olympiad Bled, Slovenia Akopian, Lputian, Asrian, Sargissian, Minasian, Anastasian  
2004 36th Chess Olympiad Calviá, Spain Akopian, Aronian, Vaganian, Lputian, Sargissian, Minasian  
2006 37th Chess Olympiad Turin, Italy Aronian, Akopian, Asrian, Lputian, Sargissian, Minasian  
2008 38th Chess Olympiad Dresden, Germany Aronian, Akopian, Sargissian, T. Petrosian, Minasian  
2010 39th Chess Olympiad Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia Aronian, Akopian, Sargissian, Pashikian, Grigoryan 7  
2012 40th Chess Olympiad Istanbul, Turkey Aronian, Movsesian, Akopian, Sargissian, T. Petrosian  
2014 41st Chess Olympiad Tromsø, Norway Aronian, Sargissian, Movsesian, Akopian, Kotanjian 8
Women's
Year Event Location Players Position Ref
1992 30th Chess Olympiad Manila, Philippines Aslanian, Khalafian, Danielian, Karakashian 33  
1994 31st Chess Olympiad Moscow, Russia Danielian, Aslanian, Grigorian, Airapetian 24  
1996 32nd Chess Olympiad Yerevan, Armenia Danielian, Hlgatian, Mkrtchian, Khalafian 20  
1998 33rd Chess Olympiad Elista, Russia Danielian, Hlgatian, Mkrtchian, Aginian 21  
2000 34th Chess Olympiad Istanbul, Turkey Danielian, Mkrtchian, Hlgatian, Aginian 10  
2002 35th Chess Olympiad Bled, Slovenia Danielian, Mkrtchian, Hlgatian, Galojan 15  
2004 36th Chess Olympiad Calviá, Spain Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian, Andriasian 11  
2006 37th Chess Olympiad Turin, Italy Mkrtchian, Danielian, Aginian, Andriasian 8  
2008 38th Chess Olympiad Dresden, Germany Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian, Galojan, Andriasian 6  
2010 39th Chess Olympiad Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Aginian, Kharatian 11  
2012 40th Chess Olympiad Istanbul, Turkey Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Kursova, Hairapetian 6  
2014 41st Chess Olympiad Tromsø, Norway Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Kursova, Sargsyan 5

World Team Championships

Men's
Year Location Players Position Ref
1993 Lucerne, Switzerland Vaganian, Akopian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian, Petrosian 4  
1997 Lucerne, Switzerland Akopian, Vaganian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian, Khachiyan  
2001 Yerevan, Armenia Akopian, Vaganian, Lputian, Asrian, Anastasian, Minasian  
2005 Beersheba, Israel Aronian, Akopian, Asrian, Vaganian, Lputian, Anastasian  
2010 Bursa, Turkey Aronian, Akopian, Sargissian, Pashikian, Petrosian, Kotanjian 5  
2011 Ningbo, China Aronian, Movsesian, Akopian, Sargissian, Hovhannisyan  
2013 Antalya, Turkey Aronian, Movsesian, Akopian, Sargissian, Petrosian 5  
Women's
Year Location Players Position Ref
2007 Yekaterinburg, Russia Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian, Andriasian, Aghabekian 8  
2009 Ningbo, China Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Aginian, Andriasian 5  
2011 Mardin, Turkey Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Kursova, Aginian 6  
2013 Astana, Kazakhstan did not participate

European Team Championships

Men's
Armenia vs Azerbaijan at the 2011 European Team Chess Championship. Levon Aronian (left) and Teimour Radjabov (right) pictured in the foreground.

Year Location Players Position Ref
1992 Debrecen, Hungary Vaganian, Akopian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian 19  
1997 Pula, Croatia Akopian, Vaganian, Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian  
1999 Batumi, Georgia Lputian, Minasian, Anastasian, Petrosian  
2001 León, Spain did not participate
2003 Plovdiv, Bulgaria did not participate
2005 Gothenburg, Sweden Akopian, Aronian, Vaganian, Lputian, Anastasian 12  
2007 Heraklion, Greece Aronian, Akopian, Sargissian, Asrian, Lputian  
2009 Novi Sad, Serbia Aronian, Akopian, Sargissian, Pashikian, Petrosian 4  
2011 Porto Carras, Greece Aronian, Movsesian, Akopian, Sargissian, Hovhannisyan 4  
2013 Warsaw, Poland Aronian, Movsesian, Akopian, Sargissian, Petrosian 4  
Women's
Year Location Players Position Ref
1992 Debrecen, Hungary Aslanian, Hlgatian, Grigorian 19  
1997 Pula, Croatia Danielian, Hlgatian, Mkrtchian 5  
1999 Batumi, Georgia Danielian, Mkrtchian, Hlgatian 5  
2001 León, Spain did not participate
2003 Plovdiv, Bulgaria Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian  
2005 Gothenburg, Sweden Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian, Andriasian, Galojan 6  
2007 Heraklion, Greece Danielian, Mkrtchian, Aginian, Andriasian, Aghabekian  
2009 Novi Sad, Serbia Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Aginian, Andriasian 5  
2011 Porto Carras, Greece Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Kursova, Aginian 7  
2013 Warsaw, Poland Danielian, Mkrtchian, Galojan, Kursova, Hairapetian 5  

Club championships

In 1995, the Yerevan city club won the European Chess Club Cup men's tournament. In 2006, the Yerevan MIKA club won the European Club Cup women's tournament.

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