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Chess in Armenia

Armenia, with a population of around three million, stands out as one of today's strongest chess nations with a high number of chess grandmasters per capita. Notably, Armenia is the only country where chess is a mandatory subject in schools, compulsory for second, third, and fourth graders.

Chess has a rich history in Armenia, dating back to the 12th–13th centuries, documented in manuscripts at Yerevan's Matenadaran, including works by Vardan Areveltsi and Mkhitar Anetsi. Archaeologists unearthed chess pieces in the medieval Armenian capital of Dvin in 1967, further confirming its historical significance.

In their 1936 book on chess history, Joseph Orbeli and Kamilla Trever propose that chess was known in Armenia since at least the 9th century during Arab rule. They suggest the game was brought to Armenia by Arabs from India, where it is believed to have originated as Chaturanga in the 6th century.

My magnetic chess set! Getting ready to shoot a chess video for my YouTube channel "Chess with Suren" during a hiking trip to mount Apakeqar!

Fast forward to modern times! The Armenian Chess Federation was established in 1927, marking the beginning of the promotion of chess at a state level. The inaugural Armenian Chess Championship took place in Yerevan in 1934, with Genrikh Kasparyan becoming the champion. Incidentally, Kasparyan holds a record in Armenian chess championships with ten national championship victories. He is recognized as one of the early promoters of chess in Armenia. Above all, he is now famous for being a prolific chess composer. He was awarded the titles of International Judge of Chess Compositions in 1956 and International Grandmaster of Chess Composition in 1972, the first composer to receive this title from FIDE (Harkola 2007).

In the same year, the women's championship saw Sirush Makints and Margarita Mirza-Avagian sharing the title. The first Armenian chess club was founded in Yerevan in 1936, and chess clubs spread to Leninakan (now Gyumri) and Kirovakan (now Vanadzor) in the 1950s. By the early 1980s, all towns and districts of Soviet Armenia had chess clubs.


The playing hall of Tigran Petrosian Chess House! Those demonstration chess boards have always drew my attention!

Chess gained widespread recognition in the 1960s when Soviet Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian defeated Mikhail Botvinnik, becoming World Chess Champion. From then on, chess became a national obsession.

Since Armenia's independence, the men's chess team has excelled, winning the European Team Championship (1999), World Team Championship (2011), and Chess Olympiad (2006, 2008, 2012). In 2022, Armenia secured a silver medal at the 4th FIDE Chess Olympiad and a bronze medal at the 2023 European Team Championship. The women's team celebrated a significant victory at the 2003 European Championship.

In 1972, Gagik Oganessian founded the magazine "Chess in Armenia" (Շախմատային Հայաստան Shakhmatayin Hayastan), which was published monthly until 1997 and then weekly until 2015. The magazine covered the chess life of the republic and country, featuring materials about international competitions. In the same year, the TV show "Chess-64" (originally named Chess School) began airing on Public Television of Armenia, hosted by Gaguik Oganessian. It holds the record as the "longest-lived program series" in the channel's history, lasting until 2015, when it ended following Hovhannisyan's death.

In 1970 the Central House of Chess-player was opened. In 1984, it was renamed after the former world chess champion Tigran Petrosian. Urban explorers love to make a visit, since it has a huge historical value and looks as it was decades ago!


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