By Emil Danielyan
An Armenian-sponsored international chess tournament played on the Internet, the first of its kind in the world, ended on Thursday, underscoring Armenia’s status as a tiny powerhouse of the ancient game.
The week-long tournament, organized by the Armenian Chess Federation in memory of the late world champion Tigran Petrosian, brought together four of the world’s strongest chess teams representing Armenia, China, France and Russia. Seated behind computer monitors thousands of miles away from each other, they squared off through the cyber space in what some chess promoters believe could set a pattern for future world competitions.
The four-member Armenian team unexpectedly finished bottom of the group, twice beaten by the winners, China. But the organizers, who set a $50,000 prize fund for the contenders, played down the defeat, emphasizing the very fact of Armenia pioneering such an event.
“In terms of national teams playing, in terms of a team event of this stature, with this many participants of this high rating and international arbiters from different countries being present at local playing sites, this tournament is the first of its kind,” one of the them, Aram Hajian, told RFE/RL.
“It’s a watershed event. We will see more events of this kind in the future,” Hajian added.
Mark Crowther, a British chess expert, agreed. “The Tigran Petrosian Memorial Internet tournament is one of the most interesting events of recent times,” he wrote in a London-based online chess publication last week.
“There have been a number of serious events played over the Internet but they have been plagued with a number of problems, not least cheating,” Crowther said. “However the idea of serious chess played with arbiters and proper time limits and with the players in different locations has not been tried enough. The 6-round event has produced some interesting chess and should be tried again.”
The organizers made sure that proceedings in each playing hall are refereed only by chess officials from one of the three other participating nations. The Armenian players were thus watched by Chinese arbiters who arrived in Yerevan for that purpose. The Armenian side, for its part, sent arbiters to Paris.
One of the visiting Chinese officials, Lin Feng, said: “The organizers have done a very nice job. It’s been a great contribution to the chess world.”
The Armenian players’ setback contrasted with their strong performance at the recent Chess Olympiad in Spain where they tied Russia, the world’s most highly rated team, for second place. Armenia had won bronze medals at two other Olympiads held since the Soviet collapse and itself hosted such a competition in 1996.
“It’s a bit tougher to play when you don’t see your opponent,” said Levon Aronian, one of the four Armenian players. “Body language and psychology do play a role in chess.”
With a population of just 3 million, Armenia boasts 19 grandmasters, the largest per-capita number of top-class chess players in the world. Their average international rating is also the highest in the world.
The Internet tournament was the latest in a series of events marking the 75th anniversary of Petrosian, the ace player who dominated the game in the 1960s and is revered by Armenians. Many of them also take pride in the ethnic Armenian roots of Garry Kasparov, presently the world’s most prominent and strongest grandmaster.
“People who follow chess, and maybe even some who do not, recognize that Armenia has a rich chess tradition,” Hajian said. “I think this tournament has a particular appeal even outside the world of chess. Here is an example of a wonderful marriage between the real of high technology and the realm of chess.”