Magazine May/June 2013 The 'Sans Voir' Knight

01 May 2013, 15:00
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The 'Sans Voir' Knight

Garry Kasparov, known to be the greatest chess player in the world, once said: “Chess continues to advance over time. Players of the future will inevitably surpass me in the quality of their play, assuming the rules and regulations allow them to play serious chess. But it will likely be a long time before anyone spends twenty consecutive years as number one, as I did.” This must have been said before Kasparov had formally met the young Samvel Sevian, who appears to be taking Kasparov’s statement as a challenge and closing the gap between “long time” and “twenty years” with his sensational rise to the top of the world’s chess rankings.

Samvel Sevian was born twelve years ago after his parents Armen and Armine Sevian moved from Armenia to New York. The first time Samvel sat down in front of a chessboard, his dad Armen presented the centuries-old board game like a children’s puzzle. “I showed him how each piece was allowed to move. He just – well, he just learned really quickly,” laughed Armen.

After his first introduction to chess, Samvel’s progress in the sport lit up like a mountain inferno. By the time he was four years old, Samvel was competing in tournaments and advancing in regional competitions. At age seven, he had locked in a United States Chess Federation (USCF) rating of 1700. To put that number into perspective, Bobby Fischer, known as the “greatest chess player of all time,” achieved a USCF rating of 1726 when he was thirteen – nearly double the age of Samvel.

In 2008, Armen Sevian moved his family to Northern California, where they settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. During his tournaments on the west coast, Samvel met Andranik Matikozian, an International Master (IM) who subsequently became his coach. Upon learning how to calculate and analyze moves more efficiently under the tutelage of coach Matikozian, he achieved his greatest honor in his chess career. At the age of eight, he advanced his USCF score to 2000, achieving the ranking of Expert, the youngest person in the United States to do so. Not allowing the momentum of his achievements to slow down, when Samvel was a month away from turning ten years old, he shattered the USCF record by achieving the rank of National Master, surpassing Bobby Fischer twice in chess rankings.

Sevian’s fame reached the point of national recognition in his chess career when he attended the U.S. Chess School in Los Angeles in December 2010. He sat down for an impromptu blitz game with International Master Greg Shahade. During a blitz game, each player is given fifteen minutes or less to best their opponent.

Samvel clocked in his win at 4:25. The game was recorded by a phone camera, and the video itself went viral after it was posted on YouTube. Yerevanmagazine had the opportunity to talk with Greg Shahade, the International Master who was defeated by the then 10-year-old. When asked about the game, Shahade responded that during the chess camp, he and Samvel had played numerous games in which he coached the participants with different strategies. “Samvel offered to play a casual blitz game for fun,” said Shahade. “After a long day of training, I couldn’t resist. So we sat down, and someone recorded the game, then posted it.” When asked about Sam’s potential in the chess world, Shahade only had praise for the young champion. “What sets him apart is his ability to learn rapidly. His family supports him, and he has a community that holds him up like a hero. He has a fierce desire to win, giving him that edge that will one day make him one of the best players in the world.”

Not to be limited to tournaments hosted only in the U.S., Samvel sought to expand his realm of competitions by participating in international tournaments. Upon winning major competitions against international players, Samvel became a top contender in November at the 2012 World Youth Chess Championship, hosted in Maribor, Slovenia. Simply participating in the championship wasn’t enough for the young chess master. He aimed to win in his age group (12 and under), and that he did. Winning the World Youth Chess Championship in his age rank led to his participation in the Master Norm Tournament in Los Angeles, roughly two weeks after Slovenia. With his undefeated streak in Los Angeles, he was chosen as the recipient of the Friedman-Schein Annual Recognition Award, presented in part by the American Chess Academy.

Before I was set to interview Samvel, the youngest National Chess Master in United States history, I had lingering questions hanging over my research: Why chess? What is so special about chess? Is chess a sport, a board game, or as some would say, an art?

It was also important to find out who the person was behind the contemplative stare of every tournament victory. At first I thought how intimidating it would be for me to sit in front of a 12 year-old boy who could play eight chess boards blindfolded and win them all. But upon sitting down with Samvel and his father, I discovered his personality was similar, if not identical, to my own cousins who were the same age. Sevian is just a regular, friendly kid with a shy smile. The only difference was that I sat across from the youngest United States chess champion and the forthcoming chess champion of the world.

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