Armenia is a Eurasian, landlocked country with borders to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Georgia. Although the country is fairly small by population (placed 137 in the world) and size (placed 138) it has brought us some exceptional good chess players. The men’s national team won the European Team Championship (1999), the World Team Championship (2011) and the Chess Olympiad (2006, 2008, 2012), while the women’s team won the 2003 European Championship.
One of the Women’s team players in 2003, WGM Lilit Mkrtchian, was kind enough to give us an interview.
The best of Armenia – Lilit Mkrtchian
Arne Kaehler: Dear Lilit, you are one of the best female chess players in the world and in the top ratings list of Armenia for many years. Tell us a bit about yourself, and also how and when you started to play chess.
Lilit Mkrtchian: I was born in 1982 in Yerevan. When I was six, my grandfather taught me how to play chess and soon took me to the chess club for trainings. The first big success I achieved was in 1995, at the age of 13. I won the Armenian Women’s Championship and became a member of the national team. Since then, I played in all team championships, and we achieved memorable victories. In all these years I had great coaches helping me to improve my chess skills. I am very thankful to them.
AK: Can you explain the chess success of the rather small country Armenia?
LM: Everything started with “Iron” Tigran Petrosian, who initiated a chess-hype in Armenia, back then still part of the Soviet Union. All of Armenia was in a state of “Chess” and “Petrosian”. In chess clubs, on the streets, basically everywhere, big chessboards were built up and commentators were showing the moves played in Petrosian’s games. All Armenians were analyzing his games, following and rooting for him. It was such a fantastic time! Many children wanted to learn how to play chess and repeat the success of great Tigran. No surprise, the next generation was full of very strong Grandmasters headed by Rafael Vaganian. The chess-hype continues to this day.
AK: Levon Aronian is a national hero, how much of an inspiration is he for Armenia?
LM: Levon is really a hero in Armenia and an inspiration for the young generation. He is an idol for many kids who want to play and achieve as many successes as him.
Levon Aronian (left), Lilit Mkrtchian and her husband having a dinner
AK: Since when are you a titled player and how did you achieve your titles?
LM: I received my WGM title in Elista in 1998, in the Chess Olympiad, when I was 16. These memories are unforgettable for me. The IM title followed a couple of years later.
AK: Does the country give you any kind of support towards your chess career and in general for chess players?
LM: Yes, our chess federation supports us and does a lot for chess in Armenia. In the last years, many “chess” schools were opened everywhere in Armenia. Thousands of children train chess in these schools, and also because chess is a subject in the Armenian school program. The national teams and the grandmasters receive good support as well. Our federation and chess academy are organizing many international tournaments additionally.
AK: What do you do normally besides playing chess?
LM: Since I am in the national team, I am busy playing chess most of the time. But when I have the opportunity I give chess lessons and lectures. I like to spend my free time in nature, read, watch interesting shows on the internet, and study German, since I live in Germany.
AK: Armenia officially declared its independence in 1991, how did this affect you and your family?
LM: In those days all Armenians were very excited with the idea to be an independent country, including my parents. There were demonstrations on the streets and on public squares, which my parents attended actively. They took me and my brother with them to witness this unforgettable time in Armenian history. I am glad and also proud that I am able to represent my independent country in worldwide tournaments.
AK: Did you live in a big city or in a smaller place?
LM: In Armenia I lived in Parpi, a small, lovely village not far away from Yerevan, where I also lived. We have a house with a nice garden in Parpi. I really enjoy spending my days there.
AK: Do you remember what fascinated you about chess?
LM: Frankly speaking, I don’t exactly remember what fascinated me about chess in my childhood. Little by little I was involved deeper and deeper in chess and then simply couldn’t get out of it any more.
AK: The Queen’s Gambit seems to be one of your favourite openings, what do you like about it?
LM: The Queen’s Gambit and French Defence are the openings I learned in my childhood and played over many years. And, yes, I like them both! Queen’s Gambit because it’s a solid opening with a safe centre; French Defence because it offers many opportunities for counterattacks!
AK: Who were the coaches you were mentioning and what made them remarkable?
LM: In all these years I had many coaches. They were Norayr Movsisyan, Vladimir Hayrapetyan, Arsen Yegiazarian, Ashot Anastasyan. I attended the Armenian Chess Academy for many years and was part of Arsen Yegiazarian’s group. As I mentioned, since 1995 I am in the national team and the coaches of our national team were Eduard Mnacakanyan, Arsen Yegiazarian, Artur Chibuchchyan. Now the coach of our national team is Zaven Andriasyan. Now I am training with him. Besides imparting their good chess knowledge, they are also nice and attentive people! This is very important for me and I am really thankful to all of them!
AK: How did you meet your husband, and did you coach him chess-wise?
LM: I met my husband, as happens quite often in these days, on the internet. He wrote me as a chess fan, then came many times to Armenia to visit me. And finally we decided to marry 🙂 By the way, he plays chess as well, and in his youth participated in many tournaments.
AK: If you look back at your career: what was the most remarkable moment?
LM: For me all medals that I won are very precious and remarkable. How can I forget the moment when, as a member of the Armenian national team, we won the European Team Championship? Besides, of course all my medals in European Individual Championships.
AK: And what is your favourite game?
LM: I have many memorable games, but the favourite one I can’t choose.
AK: Thank you very much for your time and the interview.
LM: It was a pleasure. Thank you for asking me to do this.