Armenia has won the World Chess Olympiad for the third time in six years, confirming its internationally recognized status as a powerhouse of the ancient game.
The Armenian men’s team, the reigning world champions, edged Russia on Sunday to win gold on the last day of the 2012 Olympiad that took place in Istanbul, sparking jubilation at home. It clinched the title on tie-breaks after beating Hungary 2.5.-1.5.
The grandmasters led by Levon Aronian, the world’s second highest ranked chess player, received a hero’s welcome on their return to Armenia late on Monday. President Serzh Sarkisian personally greeted them at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport after sending his plane to Istanbul to fly them back home.
The five players and their coach Arshak Petrosian then headed to the city’s Liberty Square where hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the triumph. The celebration ended in a fireworks display.
Armenia already won two consecutive Chess Olympiads in 2006 and 2008 as well as the 2011 World Chess Championship. Those victories earned Aronian and his teammates 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.
President Sarkisian, a well-known chess lover, has promoted the game while in government. His government made chess a mandatory subject in primary schools last year
The country’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who now leads the opposition Armenian National Congress alliance, is also a keen chess player.
“Lots of people are engaged in chess in this country,” said Vrezh Ordian, deputy director of Yerevan’s Chess House. “The wider the foot of the chess pyramid, the higher its summit.”