Features Jun 24, 2014 | 7:37 AMby Colin McGourty

Carlsen tours Armenia with Aronian

Rather than take a break immediately after winning the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Dubai, Magnus Carlsen set off on a 3-day tour of Armenia, where world no. 2 Levon Aronian is acting as his impromptu guide. Our report on Carlsen’s visit includes photos, videos, yet another blitz game and his answers from a 20-minute press conference he gave in Yerevan on Monday.

Two World Champions - Tigran Petrosian and Magnus Carlsen - in the Tigran Petrosian Chess House in Yerevan | photo: armsport.am

Norway and Armenia have more in common than you‘d think. Although Norway is more than 10 times the size of land-locked Armenia, in terms of population both are relatively small (Armenia: 3.12 million people, Norway: 4.99 million) mountainous countries. And, of course, both have now produced a World Chess Champion! Almost Carlsen’s first act on Armenian soil was to place flowers next to a monument to the 9th World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian.

Carlsen pays his respects to the greatest hero of Armenian chess | photo: armsport.am

Simul in the Tigran Petrosian Chess House

Carlsen gave a simultaneous display against 12 of the best young students of the Armenian Chess Academy. 

The demonstration boards mean no-one will miss a move as the youngsters try to overcome the triple World Champion! | photo: armsport.am 

Carlsen won all 12 games, with Armenpress quoting Ara Eroyan (at whose board Carlsen apparently spent the most time):

He played great. So well that I couldn’t resist his attacks and I decided to resign. I’ll remember that game for my whole life.

The Academy’s Director, Smbat Lputian, also called it an “unforgettable day”, even if he felt his students hadn’t played as well as they could!

Magnus Carlsen strides the stage | photo: armsport.am

Afterwards Carlsen gave a brief video interview:

Predictably, he was asked for his impressions of Armenia:

I think it’s an example for the whole world in terms of chess and the enthusiasm for chess – the level of play – and also that it’s taught in schools. I’m happy to be here and experience that. Already today I was at the Chess House for a couple of hours and there was great enthusiasm for chess there which was great to see.

What did you know about Armenia before coming here?

I knew the name of the capital, where it’s located in the world. A little bit of history. I think more than the average Norwegian, but not very much.  

Carlsen loses to an Armenian politician

Next stop for Magnus was playing IT professionals and politicians in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts in Yerevan. Why IT professionals? Well, the trip is sponsored by the IT company Acronis, founded by St. Petersburg-born Serguei Beloussov, who also founded Runa Capital, the company that sponsored Magnus’ trip to Moscow earlier this year. The other major sponsor is Armenian-born billionaire Ruben Vardanian and his IDeA (Initiatives for Development of Armenia) Foundation.

From photo evidence it seems GM Vladimir Akopian was also present! | photo: Yerkramas

The only real information we so far have about this event is that Magnus Carlsen won all his games but one – which he lost to Tachat Vardapetyan, a Deputy in the Armenian National Assembly.

Arminfo notes that the game took 3-4 minutes and the politician won by moving his king to g4 (update: in fact he captured with his queen on g4!). Vardapetyan felt Carlsen was a little embarrassed by the surprise outcome of the game, adding:

This is the most momentous event in my life.

Hopefully the politician’s wife wasn’t in earshot!


Video has now emerged of the fateful game (thanks to Chess-News.ru for spotting it): 

Magnus - who was clearly given much less time than his opponent - was well on top, though when asked for his opinion during the game (as you'll see, the conditions weren't exactly typical for chess!) he said "it could go either way". The critical moment came after 24.Nf5? Nxe4!:

Carlsen - Vardapetyan after 24...Nxe4

Carlsen has let a winning advantage slip but 25.Bxe4 would still leave him on top. Instead he takes the knight with his queen, only to realise mid-move that Black will capture with check and the game will be over. So Carlsen tries to play 25.Qg2 instead, only for his opponent and the crowd to insist upon the touch-move rule. After 25.Qxg4 Qxg4+ Magnus extends his hand and the politician doesn't hide his joy!

We also have the following video of one of Carlsen’s victories against an IT professional:

GM Jan Gustafsson deciphered the moves, which you can play through below, and gave his guestimate for the opponent’s rating as 2200 (Jan was also unconvinced by 14...Rc8):

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. ♘c3 ♗b4 4. e5 c5 5. a3 ♗xc3+ 6. bxc3 ♘e7 7. ♕g4 ♕c7 8. ♕xg7 ♖g8 9. ♕xh7 cxd4 10. ♘e2 ♘bc6 11. f4 ♗d7 12. ♕d3 dxc3 13. h4 ♘f5 14. h5 ♖c8 15. h6 ♘a5 16. h7 ♖h8 17. g4 ♘e7 18. ♘d4 a6 19. ♕g3 ♕c5 20. ♗e3 ♘c4 21. ♗xc4 ♕xc4 22. ♕h4 ♘g6 23. ♕f6 ♕c5 24. f5 ♕e7 25. fxg6 ♕xf6 26. exf6 fxg6 27. ♗f4 ♔f7 28. ♗e5 ♖c4 29. ♘f3 ♖xg4 30. ♔f2 ♗c6 31. ♖ag1 ♖xg1 32. ♖xg1 ♖xh7 33. ♘g5+ ♔g8 34. ♘xh7 ♔xh7 35. f7 g5 36. f8Q ♔g6 37. ♕f6+ ♔h5 38. ♕xg5#


Carlsen and Aronian visit the Tatev Monastery

The next day saw the world’s best two chess players set off on a trip to the spectacular 9th-century Tatev Monastery in Southern Armenia. First they took a helicopter!

Levon Aronian, Magnus Carlsen, Espen Agdestein and other VIPs strap up tight for the 250km trip! | photo: acronis_live instagram 

Then later they tried out the “Wings of Tatev”, a 5.7km cable car above a gorge that features in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s “longest non-stop double track cable car”.  

And from the outside...

In the monastery Carlsen and Aronian received a suitably religious greeting:

Levon Aronian and Magnus Carlsen came dressed for the occasion (almost!) | photo: Levon Aronian's Facebook page

And they also found time to play a joint simul!

Carlsen and Aronian Press Conference 

On returning to Yerevan Aronian and Carlsen attended a joint press conference, where it was mainly the World Champion who fielded questions, answering in English:

As usual, Carlsen didn’t waste a word, and we’ve transcribed the majority of his answers below:

On Norway’s prospects for the Chess Olympiad

I think you should rather ask Levon about that because Armenia has in recent years been the best chess country in the world in the Olympiads and the World Team Championships. But we’ve been looking forward to this event in Norway for a long time and I hope it will be great for chess both in the Olympiad and also to build for the future. I think our own ambitions for the Norwegian team are rather more modest. One goal will be to improve our score against the Armenian team, since the last time we met them in 2006 we lost 4:0.

Impressions of Armenia

The press conference with Magnus and Levon was again held in the Cafesjian Center for the Arts | photo: NEWS.am Sport

Well, first of all the impression I’ve had is that there is a great enthusiasm and love for chess in this country and it’s something that I think the whole world can admire and aspire to, and equally Norway. So today we just came from an excursion, which would at least partly explain my rather casual attire, but it was a very beautiful place, Tatev, in the mountains, and it reminded me quite a bit of my home country.

How long are you planning to stay here?

Well, if everything goes well I’ll be leaving tomorrow. (laughs)

Computers and chess players in “non-chess” countries

I think the fact that nowadays chess players can pop up in different countries is partly a product of our information age, but I don’t consider myself really as a product of this era. I was lucky enough to have a very good chess environment close to where I was living. I was lucky that my father played a bit of chess as well and taught me the moves and some of the basic things. Really my experience came in tournaments and analysing with other people. It was only later that I started to use the computer and the internet for chess.

World Championship games against Aronian

I played him in the FIDE World Championship in 2004 in the first round. He was not nearly as good a player as he is now but on the other hand I was just 13 years old. Anyway, he tricked me in the first game, but I managed to save a draw, then the second game was a quiet draw so we had to play a tiebreak, which I lost in the second game of the tiebreak in what could be described as a heart-breaker.

1. d4 ♘f6 2. ♗g5 e6 3. e4 h6 4. ♗xf6 ♕xf6 5. ♘c3 ♗b4 6. ♕d2 d6 7. ♘ge2 ♘c6 8. a3 ♗xc3 9. ♕xc3 0-0 10. f4 e5 11. dxe5 dxe5 12. f5 g6 13. g4 h5 14. h3 ♖d8 15. ♕e3 b6 16. g5 ♕d6 17. ♘c3 ♕d4 18. ♕xd4 ♘xd4 19. 0-0-0 gxf5 20. ♗c4 ♔g7 21. exf5 ♗xf5 22. ♖hf1 ♖f8 23. h4 c6 24. ♘e2 ♘xe2+ 25. ♗xe2 ♗g6 26. ♖d7 ♖ad8 27. ♖xa7 ♖d4 28. ♖h1 ♖fd8 29. ♖e7 ♖8d5 30. ♗d3 ♗xd3 31. cxd3 ♖f4 32. ♔d2 e4 33. ♔e3 ♖f3+ 34. ♔e2 ♖dxd3 35. ♖xe4 ♖b3 36. a4 c5 37. ♖e7 ♖f4 38. ♖b7 ♖xb2+ 39. ♔e3 ♖bb4 40. ♖g1 ♖be4+ 41. ♔d3 ♖d4+ 42. ♔e3 ♖de4+ 43. ♔d3 ♖g4 44. ♖f1 ♖gf4 45. ♖xf4 ♖xf4 46. ♖xb6 ♖xa4 47. ♖c6 ♖xh4 48. ♖xc5 ♖g4 49. ♔e3 ♔g6 50. ♔f3 ♖xg5 51. ♖c6+ f6 52. ♖c4 ♖g1 53. ♖c8 ♖g4 54. ♖g8+ ♔f5 55. ♖h8 ♖g5 56. ♖h6 ♔e5 57. ♖h8 ♖f5+ 58. ♔e3 ♔d5 59. ♖a8 ♔e6 60. ♖a7 ♖b5 61. ♔f4 ♖b4+ 62. ♔f3 ♔f5 63. ♖a5+ ♔g6 64. ♖a8 h4 65. ♖a5 ♖b3+ 66. ♔g4 h3 67. ♖g5+ ♔f7 68. ♖h5 ♔e6 69. ♖h8 ♖c3 70. ♔f4 ♔f7 71. ♔g4 ♔g6 72. ♔f4 ♖c2 73. ♔g3 h2 74. ♔f3 ♔f5 75. ♖h5+ ♔e6 76. ♖h8 ♔e5 77. ♖e8+ ♔d4 78. ♖d8+ ♔c3 79. ♖h8 ♖d2 80. ♔g3 ♔d3 81. ♔f3 ♔c2 82. ♔g3 ♔d1


Since then he knocked me out of the World Championship cycle in 2007, once again in a very long and interesting match, and we’ve had lots of interesting duels, but not since then in the World Championship.

How long can classical chess survive in the computer age?

I think there was talk about the draw death of chess in the time of Capablanca and Alekhine and well, it’s still very much alive and in every top tournament now I see plenty of fighting games and games not being decided by computer preparation at home. So I think chess is in very good shape. I don’t really speculate on how long that is going to last. I’m just very content with the state it’s in now and I think both Levon and I are proponents for fighting chess that isn’t necessarily relying on computers so much.

The World Cup

Yes, I do follow the World Cup. Unfortunately where I’ve been I’ve had partly other things to do and partly there haven’t been many opportunities to watch the games. I think Argentina will win and I support the Ivory Coast.

Vishy Anand and their upcoming match

I did just draw one game with him and lose one in Dubai, so not considering him a worthy adversary would be I think excessively arrogant.

When he became a chess player

It depends on what you mean by a chess player. If you mean a professional chess player I didn’t really decide that before I was 15 or 16 years old, but I think I became a chess player much before that. You become a chess player when you’ve had enough experience and when the game is constantly in your head even when you don’t want it to be there. That’s what a proper chess player is to me.  

Today, on the final day of Carlsen's visit, the two players had an audience with the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.

Magnus chats to the Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who also happens to be the Armenian Chess Federation President - that's how much they value chess in Armenia! | photo: Press service of the Armenian President / Mediamax.am

The head of state said he was honoured to host the world's number one chess player, and added:

I am happy Levon Aronian is here as well. He is the pride of the Armenian people and I think he is also Magnus’s most worthy opponent in chess. Beyond doubt, we pin great hopes on Levon, and it’s first of all owing to him that the team of a small country such as Armenia has managed to become a three-time winner of the World Chess Olympiad. I am greatly thankful to him.

See also:

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