NEW YORK — The Republic of Armenia has long been distinguished as a nexus for chess supremacy, with its national preoccupation with the game, large share of world champions, including Olympic winners and over 70 grandmasters (GMs), and, recently, the integration of Chess into its core public school curriculum. This June, it took that passion a step further with the launch of the first Pan Armenian Chess Tournament (PACT), hosted by the AGBU-sponsored Armenian Virtual College (AVC) in association with the Chess Academy of Armenia.
The virtual journey took place between June 8 and 26, 2020, despite, and, to a large extent, on account of the global pandemic. As millions of Armenian students and chess players found themselves in lockdown mode and looking for ways to connect with fellow Armenians with likeminded interests, AVC was in an ideal position to step up and organize both the tournament and the all-star virtual closing ceremonies featuring 23 celebrated grandmasters from around the world.
During the ceremonies, GM Tigran L. Petrosian, a two-time Chess Olympic champion made inspirational congratulatory remarks, saying: “It was a brilliant idea to unite all Armenian chess enthusiasts from around the globe. I think the organizers have performed an important service with this virtual tournament. It gave me the opportunity to meet my colleagues and friends, whom I have been missing so much. I wish these young players all the best and hope that they will achieve new goals, titles, and we will have new winners.” GM Lilit Mkrtchian, European Women’s Team Champion extended her congratulations from Germany, remarking that she hoped that even when the pandemic was over there will be another online tournament organized.
GM Smbat Lputian, Founder and President of the Chess Academy of Armenia, also expressed his great satisfaction to all the stakeholders involved. “We were happy to create such a warm and collegial environment, which united Armenians from communities geographically distant from each other. I am thankful to all those who contributed into its realization. Honestly, I am so glad to be with all of you here, I am pleased that we are one family and that we hearten each other today.”
Soon after the announcement of PACT, 520 interested players signed up, representing 36 countries and five regions—from the Americas, Armenia and Artsakh to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia and Oceania. The tournament was structured in two stages: five regional semi-finals; and three rounds of final games leading to the PACT champion titles. Between games, players were given access to renowned Armenian chess champions via the AVC multi-media interactive chess courses.
Dr. Yervant Zorian, the founding president of AVC, a member of the AGBU Central Board, and mastermind behind this multi-regional virtual undertaking, explained the vision: “The idea of creating this innovative tournament was not only to discover new talent from across the Armenian world, but, more important, to create a dynamic online global community of chess loving students. AVC will continue to leverage its virtual platform and experienced community coordinators to offer them skill-building and interpersonal bonding activities.
Among the diverse competitors, Armenia’s players met their match among formidable peers ranging in all ages, with 428 players under the age of 20. Notably, winners were no older than 16. The youngest, a semi-finalist, was age nine.
Among the finalists, Third Prize was taken by 16-year old Tigran Arzumanyan of Goris in Armenia’s Syunik province, Second Prize went to 14-year old Kirk Ghazarian of Coto de Caza, California, USA, and First Prize was awarded to Sargis Sargsyan of Vanadzor in Armenia’s Lori province. An official certificate was conferred upon each winner, signed by GM Smbat Lputian, the president of the Chess Academy of Armenia and Dr. Zorian, as president and founder of AVC. In addition, winners received valuable monetary rewards in the form of virtual gift cards.
The semi-finalists from the Americas included (1st) Kirk Ghazarian, age 14 (USA); (2nd) Suren Ghazaryan, age 15 (Canada); (3rd) Ethan Boldi, age 13 (USA). From Europe: (1st) Daniel Karapetyan-Hakopyan, age 13 (Spain); (2nd) Dimitrios Levon Zakarian, age 12 (UK); and Henrik Serobyan. Middle East and Africa: (1st) Kevork Yeghian, age 16 (Syria), (2nd) Edward Iskanderian, age 14 (Lebanon); (3rd) Arsen Kenyan, age 9 (Syria). Armenia: (1st) Sargis Sargsyan, age 16; (2nd) Tigran Arzumanyan, age 16); (3rd) Menua Hakobyan, age 12. Asia and Oceania: Shahan Abu Sayeed, age 9 (India).
A semi-finalist from Aleppo Kevork Yeghian, an AGBU-AYA scout representing the Middle East/Africa region, echoed the sentiments of many of the young participants, saying, “I am really happy for the chance to participate in the competition and get acquainted with other chess lovers from different places.”
The closing ceremonies were capped with a surprise live “blitz” match between European Women Team Champion Elina Danielyan versus Russian Women’s Rapid Champion Karina Ambartsumova. Other commentators included U.S. Women’s Vice-Champion Tatev Abrahamyan and U.S. Vice-Champion Varuzhan Akobian.
In his congratulatory remarks, AGBU Armenia President Vasken Yacoubian summed up the broader implications of the successful tournament. “Chess helps develop the individual on many dimensions, but it has also become sort of our national trademark. Every nation has its features and virtues, and over the decades, chess has become the trademark of both the Armenian Nation and Armenia. And this has a big meaning. It’s clear that we, as Armenians, have the great possibility of producing champions, who become our national heroes and bring pride to the people. This pride helps unite people, and in unity is strength—which is the AGBU motto. That is why AGBU is so keen on supporting the game in all its forms. Since 2007, we have been involved in the Chess Olympiad in Armenia’s schools, and we will continue to do so along with new initiatives such as the Pan-Armenian Chess Tournament.”