13-Year-Old Armenian Chess Prodigy Wants to Take Over the World

Thirteen year-old chess player Samuel Sevian plays against his father Armen Sevian in Alexandria, Virginia, on October 9, 2014 (AFP Photo)

WASHINGTON (Agence France Presse)—Samuel Sevian may only be 13, but the American chess prodigy is in a hurry.

He wants to become the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the United States.

That honor currently goes to Ray Robson, who was crowned two weeks before his 15th birthday.

Samuel will be 15 in December next year and is just 14 points from becoming Grandmaster.

“I want to have this title,” he tells AFP on the eve of a tournament in Arlington, a suburb of Washington.

And the longer he can hold the title the better.

But once he has that in the bag, he will chase his next dream: to be world champion.

If he sounds confident, he has good reason. In 2006, in his first tournament, he became the youngest US Expert.

Then at nine years, 11 months and 23 days he broke another record when he was crowned youngest American Master. And at 12 years and 10 months, the youngest US International Master.

The secret to his success? Practice. A lot of it.
He spends his mornings being schooled at home — he said no school would accept his tournament-dominated schedule — and then plays chess for up to six hours every afternoon.

Spending a single day without playing is unthinkable. And the thought of losing a match?

“Losing is worse than dying,” says the taciturn boy wonder, who moved his first chess piece at age five with his father Armen and was once a world champion in his age group.

“I fell in love with the game,” he adds.

Now when father and son play chess together the pieces are arranged to Armen’s advantage, otherwise Samuel wins too easily.

Playing blindfolded
Armen Sevian, a scientist who was born and raised in Armenia and later moved to the United States, is understandably proud — but also worried.

A chess Master himself in his youth — before he decided to take up “other interests” — he is eager for his son not to become “a chess freak.”

“I’ve tried to steer him away to something else, pretty much anything else,” he says, explaining: “If you want to be at a high level, you can’t do anything else. It’s hours of work and dedication.”

But it is dedication that Samuel appears to relish, and his father admits that his son showed remarkable talent at a young age.

“At age eight, he played five games blindfolded at the same time,” he says.

“He won all of them.”

Armen credits the Kasparov Chess Foundation — legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov helps train Samuel online — for helping the boy realize his dream.

“The Garry Kasparov foundation is the only help we get, for trainings. It partially covers the expenses for the travels. It’s a great help,” he says.

International Master Greg Shahade admits the talent shown by youngsters like Samuel is frightening.

“Children are soaking up and taking in information at a faster rate than ever before,” he says.

“There is information out there on the Internet that’s fun and easy to read. There are tactics trainer programs that the top children are nearly obsessed with.”

Samuel, unlike many of his opponents, does not memorize moves from previous matches because it “is not necessary.”

Instead, he closely studies key positions of the game — opening, middle and closing moves — preferring a more tactical approach.

“You just have to remember the key positions, not the whole game,” he said.

He painstakingly studies books and chess computer programs, and as well as getting advice from Kasparov, and meets international Grandmaster Alexander Chernin every two or three months.


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  1. Norin said:

    As an Armenian, I feel proud of such a young man and what he is accomplishing. However, this level of pressure and drive to succeed at such a young age in any area has historically been a recipe for psychological disaster for a young adult or child. I cannot help but also feel a certain sadness for you Samuel given the enormous daily pressure to win in his shoulders daily. Sometimes it’s best for a child to be allowed to just be a child rather than push them to become “a prodigy”. More often than not, these types of unsocial a suffer a lot if psychological damage from years of premature pressure, stress, and obsessive compulsive pursuits.

    I wish him the best in life, but to his parents I say “allow him to be a kid as well instead just a grandmaster”. Being allowed to experience a full childhood will serve him much better in life than becoming a grandmaster.

    Lastly, Samuel is also yet another example of how Diaspora existence leads to squandered intellictual talent of Armenians for foreign powers and foreign soil. How many Samuels have Diaspora Armenians given to other nations. The glory of his talent would have helped Armenia had the Diapora made the serious move of settling back in Arrmenia and living in heir own nation rather than migrating from in country to the next.

    As it’s been said before, it may take another genocide for Armenians in the Diaspora to realize they need to live in Armenia for Armenia to prosper.