The weather was so harsh in the years that youngster Varuzhan Akobian spent in Mongolia, his father forbade "Var" and his sister from playing outside. Instead, he taught them chess -- a perfect indoor distraction.
"From the very beginning, I was different from other chess kids,” Akobian recalls. “It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and I knew that I would do what it takes."
Later as a teenager in Yerevan, Armenia, Akobian spent many of his days playing chess and soccer -- all with his teachers’ permission.
"This is one way in which Armenia is very different from the United States. If I went to high school here, I never could have spent so much energy on chess."
Akobian immigrated from Armenia to the U.S. in 2001, and it didn’t take him long to make an impact on the American chess community. Within his first three years, Akobian had been awarded the prestigious Samford Chess Fellowship, tied for first in the 2002 World Open, won the Irme Koenig GM Invitational, and dominated the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship after winning his first seven games. He was officially awarded the GM title in June 2004, after which he won the World Open again, clinching it with a sparkling win against Alexander Shabalov.
Akobian is a popular rotation in the Resident Grandmaster position at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and he continues to be a force in U.S. chess tournaments. This past year, Akobian narrowly lost an armageddon playoff in the 2014 U.S. Championship to Gata Kamsky, though he dusted himself off nicely by helping the Saint Louis Arch Bishops to their first-ever U.S. Chess League championship.