GM Var Akobian
The weather was so harsh in the years that Armenian-American Grandmaster Varuzhan Akobian spent in Mongolia, that his father forbade "Var" and his sister Armine, from playing outside. He taught them chess, a perfect indoor distraction. "From the very beginning," Var says, "I was different from other chess kids. It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and knew that I would do what it takes." As a teenager living in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Varuzhan spent all day playing chess and soccer. His teachers agreed that he could focus on chess, without fear of truancy charges. "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."
He immigrated to the U.S. in 2001 and a year later earned the Samford Chess Fellowship, which allows a talented junior to focus on chess for two years. The prize paid off quickly, as he tied for first in the 2002 World Open and also won the Irme Koenig GM Invitational. The following year, Akobian scored 8/9 to win the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, winning his first seven games. He was officially awarded the grandmaster title in June 2004, after which he won the World Open again, clinching it with a sparkling win against Alexander Shabalov.
Varuzhan excels in positional battles and admires the games and style of Armenian hero, World Champion Tigran Petrosian. His favorite opening with black, just like Petrosian, is the French Defense. Var's advice to players aspiring to improve is this: "Don't expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while, you'll see a big breakthrough."
Recently, GM Akobian moved from sunny California to Topeka, Kansas, where his wife is attending law school at Washburn University. He has joined the Resident GM rotation at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, which brings some of the country's top players to the Chess Club to give private lessons, present lectures and share their chess knowledge with the club's more than 1,000 members.