Armenia won the 2011 World Chess Team Championship in China on Tuesday, solidifying its internationally recognized status as a powerhouse of the ancient game.
The championship held in the Chinese city of Ningbo was contested by the national teams of the world’s ten leading chess nations, including Russia, Ukraine, India and Azerbaijan.
The Armenian team led by Levon Aronian, the world’s third highest ranked chess player, dominated throughout the 12-day tournament, winning five games and drawing the four others. It sealed the title with a draw against Ukraine in the final round of the competition.
The team mostly consisted of players who won two consecutive world Chess Olympiads in 2006 and 2008. Those victories earned them domestic stardom comparable to the popularity of the world’s leading athletes.
Chess has been one of Armenia’s most popular sports ever since Tigran Petrosian, a Tbilisi-born Armenian, became a world champion in 1963. The country currently boasts one of the largest per-capita numbers of chess grandmasters in the world.
Two of its three post-Soviet presidents are keen chess players who have promoted the game while in office. The current president, Serzh Sarkisian, heads the Armenian Chess Federation. He personally supported the national team during its Olympic triumphs.
Earlier this year, Sarkisian’s government decided to make chess a mandatory subject in primary schools.
The Armenian National Congress, an opposition grouping led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, was quick to welcome the “brilliant” victory in Ningbo. “Thanks to this feat by our chess players, Armenia has entered the chess Olympus for good,” it declared in a special statement.
“This is a great result,” agreed Vanik Zakarian, the honorary chairman of the Armenian Chess Federation. “Our team has been considered a major contender in all chess competitions held in recent years.”
Zakarian said the championship victory is no less significant than the Olympic titles. “What makes chess Olympiads different is that all teams compete in them, whereas only the selected best teams take part in world championships,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.