Bobby Fisher non-withstanding, chess has never been a huge sporting phenomenon in the Unites States. In the small Republic of Armenia, it is a religion. This country of less than 3 million has given the world two World Chess champions: Tigran Petrossian and Gary Kasparov, though Kasparov is half Jewish and was born in Azerbaijan. Armenians have been moving around the world, forming a global diaspora of talented business people, artists and scientists ever since the fall of the medieval city of Ani in 1045. Now it seems that chess players are its latest exports. Some time in the near future, Armenians may once again make it to a world chess championship final and find themselves facing the United States — which also has a fine tradition in the sport — and one of their very own, in the person of a slightly older and perhaps unbeatable Samuel Sevian.
Sevian, now all of 14 years old, is Armenian-American and the son of an Armenian immigrant to the United States, Armen Sevian. He started playing chess when he was only five and completed all GM qualification standards by the age of 13. Throughout the course of his chess career he’s bested several previous all-time American records. Sevian became the youngest expert in USCF history at age eight, youngest National Master at nine and the youngest ever participant at a U.S. Chess Championship when he was only 12. Samuel also won the World Youth Under-12 Championships in Slovenia. Last November Sevian crossed the 2500 FIDE rating mark, which is the norm for becoming a grandmaster. In doing so Samuel became the youngest GM in American history — besting the previous age record by almost a year. That was held by GM Ray Robson who earned that honor in 2009, a couple of weeks before his 15th birthday. That means Sevian is the sixth-youngest Grandmaster in the world.
In 2014, after subsequently completing all three GM norms at the Foxwoods Open, Saint Louis GM Invitational and Washington International, Sevian became the youngest American ever to have all the GM norm requirements fulfilled at age 13. “If he gets the points he needs before his birthday on December 26, Sevian will become just the seventh player in the world to become a grandmaster before turning 14,” the New York Times reported earlier this year.
Sevian was born in Corning, New York and currently lives in South Bridge, Massachusetts. His father Armen Sevian, a laser physicist who came to the U.S. from Armenia for his Ph.D. studies in 1996, taught his son his first chess moves and coached him throughout the years. An avid chess player himself, Armen credits his first Chess teacher — another chess master Henrich Kasparyan — for instilling a love for the game in him at a young age as well.
Armenia is a small land-locked country located North of Iran in the Caucasus, approximately the size of the state of Maryland. Despite its small size, Armenia has won three out of the five world chess Olympiads since 2006 — as well as the 2011 world championship. Historians say that chess was brought to Armenia from India around the 9th century. In fact as late as the mid-20th century, certain Armenian rural settlements still played the original version of chess known as chatrak , a historical tradition that has apparently lasted over 11 centuries. According to California-based Armenian-American GM and U.S. national female team coach Melikset Khachiyan: “Armenians are generally good at intellectual games.” Khachiyan also pointed out that “Tigran Petrossian’s victory back in the 1960s during Soviet times was a huge psychological boom for our nation.” In 2011, Armenia made chess part of the regular school curriculum, a move that has since been emulated by countries such as Hungary and the Ukraine.
Sevian is currently ranked 1st in the Under-14 in both the United States and in world and ranks 35th among all U.S. active chess players. In a brief phone conversation, the young Samuel stated that although he was happy with his accomplishment, he had even bigger plans for the future. America’s youngest GM is already preparing for a major international tournament scheduled for January in Wijk aan Zee, Netherlands. Among Samuel’s immediate goals is raising his game to a new level, maybe hitting 2600 rating mark in the coming year. It seems that for Sevian, the sky’s the limit.