Southbridge 13-year-old becomes youngest US chess Grandmaster


 

By Brian Lee

SOUTHBRIDGE, Mass. (Worcester Telegram and Gazette) — In less than a year, 13-year-old Sam Sevian of Southbridge became the youngest-ever US chess Grandmaster.

The previous record was set in October 2009 by Ray Robson of Florida a few weeks shy of his 15th birthday. After 11 months of anticipation that Sam might break the mark, he abruptly ended the suspense during a recent tournament in St. Louis.

During what his father, Armen Sevian, called one of Sam’s best tournaments to date, the teen achieved the title Nov. 22, at age 13 years, 10 months and 27 days.

Sam set the mark by eclipsing the 2,500-point rating in the World Chess Federation during the Chess Club and Scholastic Center 2014 Invitational in Missouri.

To achieve the Grandmaster title, a player needs to elevate his rating past 2,500 points and complete three “norms,” which are superior performances against a qualified field of opponents, basically other Grandmasters, said chess club spokesman Brian Jerauld.

The St. Louis organization regularly holds tournaments for which it invites up-and-coming players to compete against each other to get title norms.

Sam, who is home-schooled, plays roughly one tournament per month and attends chess training camps. He had already completed all three of his norms but he hadn’t passed the 2,500-rating watermark until recently.

Sam Sevian’s live rating at the tournament passed the mark after he won his fourth game.

With all requirements completed, he earned the Grandmaster title on the spot and now holds it for life, even if his rating dips below 2,500, Jerauld said.

During an interview recently, about midway through a daily, six-hour practice session, Sevian said self-effacingly, “It’s not really a big deal. It’s nice to have it.”

But his mother, Armine Sevian, said, “It’s a big deal for us.”

Sam’s father, who accompanied the boy to St. Louis, said Sam was ecstatic for a day, but after that he was back to normal. “He doesn’t really like talking about himself, or watching” footage of himself, Armen Sevian said.

Sam Sevian added, “It’s good to finally get it over with.”

His mother said the family was “a little bit worried” about the added pressure of earning the accomplishment after Sam had received the status of conditional Grandmaster after he made his third norm in August. She usually accompanies Sam to his matches, but she yielded to Sevian for the most recent event.

Armen Sevian used vacation time from his job as principal scientist at IPG Photonics in Oxford to attend. He said the recent event consisted of 10 players, nine rounds and an impressive display of sacrificial moves, great attacks and a lot of calculation.

“It was really high-energy games,” the father said. “It was really something to be proud of. It’s not just that he crushed it — he crushed it in such an impressive fashion, I’d say.”

Various local and international television news stations were at the event, as was Fox Sports, which is working on a documentary about Sam and will come to Southbridge to interview him in February, Mr. Sevian said.

In January, Sam Sevian will compete in the TaTa Steel Chess Tournament in the Netherlands, which his father called “probably one of the most watched tournaments in the world.”

He will compete against a group of challengers simply called Group B, for the right to play next year against the most elite players in Group A.

He received a special invitation because of his youthful Grandmaster status. The event, January 9-25, consists of 14 players in each of the two groups.

His mother said their trips are usually all about chess, but with four “rest days,” the upcoming tournament might yield the opportunity to “sneak out” for a day and explore nearby Amsterdam.

Armen Sevian, who taught Sam to play when he was young, said he and his son play chess once in a while these days. But the father admits he is no longer a match, and it’s more or less a “waste of time” for his son.

The young Sevian, who prefers round-robin tournaments because they allow him to study an opponent’s moves, usually practices by himself. But it isn’t like playing against himself, he said.

To practice the three phases of the game — the opening, middle and ending — Sam Sevian said he does “one-third of each on a daily basis, and I have books for each topic.”

His mother said Sam, whose birthday is the day after Christmas, is already set to receive two chess books as gifts to add to his collection of close to 100 such books.

Sam Sevian said he has friends with whom he talks about chess via the Internet. They are not fellow prodigies, just regular kids, he said.

Sam said people do not recognize him as a prodigy when he is out in public — something he prefers. He said he does not have friends in the neighborhood. Armine Sevian said, “It’s very hard to meet people when you don’t go to school. He spends so much time practicing chess, especially before tournaments.”

After tense tournaments, Sam and his opponents are friendly, he said. “Because they have the same interest, it’s very easy to be a friend,” she said.

At their apartment complex, Sam enjoys playing basketball, soccer and going to the gym. He has also taken to running and swimming, “but not in this weather,” he said.

His 12-year-old sister, Isabelle, does not play chess, their mother said.

The Sevians have been contemplating moving closer to Worcester, to shorten their commute to Logan International Airport in Boston.

But his father said Sam’s playing schedule has made it too hectic to complete the search.

Sam was born in Corning, NY. The Sevians have also lived in Florida and California, and moved to Southbridge last year because of Armen Sevian’s job.

Tony Rich, executive director of the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis, called Sam’s achievement absolutely wonderful.

“Sam has been an up-and-coming chess player for probably the past five years or so, and we’ve been lucky enough to see his progress as he’s competed in various events here at the club.”

In addition, Sevian participates in a program called the Kasparov Chess Foundation Team USA Rising Stars, a joint program between the St. Louis club and Kasparov Chess Foundation to identify and assist young and talented junior players as they try to become Grandmasters.

Speaking about the anticipation that Sam would become the youngest US Grandmaster, Rich said: “There’s something to be said about that momentum. Whenever Sam is feeling confident and, over the board, whenever he’s finding the variations and he’s beating players, he’s probably one of the toughest competitors to beat here.

“He just does his very best to make sure he can squeeze the most out of each position, and hopefully win the event.”