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GM Varuzhan Akobian Print E-mail
GM Varuzhan Akobian, Photo Jennifer Shahade
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."

Varuzhan excels in positional battles and admires the games and style of Armenian hero, World Champion Tigran Petrosian. Var's favorite Black opening, just like Petrosian, is the French Defense. Var's advice to players aspiring to improve is "Don't expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while, you'll see a big breakthrough."

Varuzhan moved to Los Angeles in 2001. Recently he moved from Glendale, dominated by Armenian-Americans to North Hollywood, which he feels is less crowded and more diverse. Var felt accepted immediately as an immigrant who didn't know much English. "There is so little racism in America compared to what I've experienced in any other country." Still he misses Armenian relatives and fresh food. "The fruits, beef and vegetables taste better there. It's all natural." The downside is that every food has its season. "In Armenia, there is no watermelon in winter."

In 2002, Varuzhan won 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. 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 is the first person in the 21st century to win clear first in the World Open (without having to play a blitz playoff).

Varuzhan is the highest rated player in the state of California. A true Californian, he goes to the gym five times a week, is learning to speak Spanish and has a passion for motor-vehicles.