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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Washington (AFP) – Samuel Sevian may only be 13, but the American chess prodigy is in a hurry.

He wants to become the youngest Grandmaster in the history of the United States. That honor currently goes to Ray Robson, who was crowned two weeks before his 15th birthday.

Samuel will be 15 in December next year and is just 14 points from becoming Grandmaster.

“I want to have this title,” he tells AFP on the eve of a tournament in Arlington, a suburb of Washington. And the longer he can hold the title the better.

But once he has that in the bag, he will chase his next dream: to be world champion.

If he sounds confident, he has good reason. In 2006, in his first tournament, he became the youngest U.S. Expert.

Then at nine years, 11 months and 23 days he broke another record when he was crowned youngest American Master. And at 12 years and 10 months, the youngest U.S. International Master.

The secret to his success? Practice. A lot of it.

He spends his mornings being schooled at home — he said no school would accept his tournament-dominated schedule — and then plays chess for up to six hours every afternoon.

Spending a single day without playing is unthinkable. And the thought of losing a match?

“Losing is worse than dying,” says the taciturn boy wonder, who moved his first chess piece at age five with his father Armen and was once a world champion in his age group.

“I fell in love with the game,” he adds.

Now when father and son play chess together the pieces are arranged to Armen’s advantage, otherwise Samuel wins too easily.

Armen Sevian, a scientist who was born and raised in Armenia and later moved to the United States, is understandably proud — but also worried.

A chess Master himself in his youth — before he decided to take up “other interests” — he is eager for his son not to become “a chess freak.”

“I’ve tried to steer him away to something else, pretty much anything else,” he says, explaining: “If you want to be at a high level, you can’t do anything else. It’s hours of work and dedication.”

But it is dedication that Samuel appears to relish, and his father admits that his son showed remarkable talent at a young age.

“At age eight, he played five games blindfolded at the same time,” he says.

“He won all of them.”

Armen credits the Kasparov Chess Foundation — legendary chess champion Garry Kasparov helps train Samuel online — for helping the boy realize his dream.

“The Garry Kasparov foundation is the only help we get, for trainings. It partially covers the expenses for the travels. It’s a great help,” he says.

International Master Greg Shahade admits the talent shown by youngsters like Samuel is frightening.

“Children are soaking up and taking in information at a faster rate than ever before,” he says.

“There is information out there on the Internet that’s fun and easy to read. There are tactics trainer programs that the top children are nearly obsessed with.”

Samuel, unlike many of his opponents, does not memorize moves from previous matches because it “is not necessary.”

Instead, he closely studies key positions of the game — opening, middle and closing moves — preferring a more tactical approach.

“You just have to remember the key positions, not the whole game,” he said.

He painstakingly studies books and chess computer programs, and as well as getting advice from Kasparov, and meets international Grandmaster Alexander Chernin every two or three months.

Photo: Nicholas Kamm via AFP

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