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Rafael Vaganian

Full name Rafael Artemovich Vaganian
Country Armenia
Soviet Union
Born 15 October 1951
Yerevan, Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, Soviet Union
Title Grandmaster
Peak rating 2670 (January 2005)

Rafael Artemovich Vaganian, also transliterated Vahanyan (Armenian: Ռաֆայել Վահանյան, Russian: Рафаэль Артёмович Ваганян), is an Armenian chess grandmaster known for his sharp tactical style of play. Vaganian was born on 15 October 1951 in Yerevan.

Chess career

He achieved International Grandmaster status in 1971, at the unusually young age of 19, following an excellent result at the Vrnjacka Banja tournament the same year, where he took first place ahead of Leonid Stein and Ljubomir Ljubojević. This was also the year that he finished fourth at the World Junior Chess Championship, the winner being the Swiss player, Werner Hug. In the wake of this disappointing outcome, he was so upset with himself that he challenged Hug to a blitz match in an attempt to salvage some pride. The players blitzed for only a few minutes and Vaganian emerged as the winner by a 10-0 scoreline.

A cheerful and popular character on the grandmaster circuit, his tournament record is outstanding and includes further victories at Kragujevac 1974, São Paulo 1977, Kirovakan 1978, Las Palmas 1979, Manila 1981, Hastings 1982/83, Biel 1985 (the Interzonal), Leningrad 1987, Toronto 1990 and Ter Apel 1992. At Moscow 1982 and Tallinn 1983, he shared first place with Mikhail Tal and at Næstved 1985 with Walter Browne and Bent Larsen. He won twice the Reggio Emilia chess tournament, the 35th edition 1992/93 and the 37th edition 1994/95.

At Odessa in 1989, he won the 56th Soviet Championship on his 38th birthday. In previous attempts he had shared third place in Leningrad 1974 and Moscow 1983, whilst finishing second at his hometown in 1975.

He was a world championship Candidate twice, losing out to Andrei Sokolov in 1986 and to Lajos Portisch in 1988. It is estimated that he has won in excess of thirty tournaments in all, and as recently as 2004, was co-winner of the Moscow Aeroflot with Sergei Rublevsky and Valerij Filippov. In January 2005, his Elo rating briefly reached a 21st-century high at 2670, putting him back into the world's top 50, despite being in his mid-fifties.

Team competitions

Over the years, he has also won many medals in team competition, representing the Soviet Union and then Armenia in the Olympiads and European Team Chess Championships. In 1974, he was board one for the USSR team at the World Student Team Championship at Teesside, scoring 10/11 and taking the board one prize. Most recently, he took team bronze and individual gold for best performance on board 3 at the 2004 Calvia Olympiad.

Playing style

In 1985, Alexey Suetin described him as a player with great natural gifts. Having played with him a number of times, he had sensed the Armenian's great powers of intuition - "He has a fine feeling of the dynamics of a chess battle and knows how to intensify the play at the right moment. He does not always calculate variants thoroughly, relying on his natural chess flair." Of Vaganian's volatile ideas at the chessboard, he added "... The feeling of fear or uncertainty is unknown to him. He is a perpetual optimist, full of ambitious intentions at every stage in every game, with an explosive temperament ..."

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