Utah children go head-to-head with chess champion
by Tyler Peterson Deseret Morning News
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)
December 19, 2004 Sunday
Local schoolchildren and Utah Chess Association members had the chance to match wits with the current world open chess champion this weekend at the McGillis School in Salt Lake City.
The Mountain West Chess Association paid for grand master Varuzhan Akobian's visit from his home in Los Angeles to teach strategies and play a whole lot of chess -- at times without looking at the board -- and against as many as 30 people at once. The event concludes today.
"It's like having your favorite movie star come to town and stay at your house," said Grant Hodson, chess association president.
"That guy is awesome," said Jeffrey Phillips, one of the association's top-ranked players.
Akobian moved with his family from his homeland of Armenia to Mongolia in 1988 when he was only 5. Since 40 below zero temperatures in Mongolia made it hard to play outside, Akobian's father taught him to play chess.
"Immediately I fell in love with the game," Akobian said.
At age 9 he played in his first rated tournament, the Armenian Junior's Chess Championship, and won third place in his age group. A year later he played in his first international competition and continued to place high in other tournaments during the 1990s. In 2002, he won first place in the 30th World Open. Akobian's goal is to eventually become world champion.
In the meantime, he plays chess for about four hours every day, works out at the gym and spends time helping others improve their game.
Ryan Gould, an 11-year-old from Tooele, was one of many who sat across from Akobian for a five-minute match on Saturday.
"I was only down a pawn in the endgame, but I still lost. It was really hard," he said.
Gould said it was cool to have the "once in a lifetime" chance to go up against someone ranked as high as Akobian, which is the kind of reaction organizer Kevin Heath hoped to get by bringing the grand master to town.
"I wanted to stimulate the chess atmosphere" in Utah, he said.
Heath has two more chess celebrities lined up to visit. Gregory Kaidanov, the highest-rated player in the United States, comes to the McGillis School Jan. 8-10. The highest-rated woman player will hopefully visit later next year, he said.
For more information visit www.utahchess.com. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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