NY Times: Fostering Sevian's talent

by Albert Silver
1/14/2015 – It was not long for the US media to gravitate to one of its newest stars, fourteen-year-old Samuel Sevian, the youngest grandmaster in American chess and the youngest in the world at the moment. The New York Times published an article describing how the Kasparov Chess Foundation has helped put the player in touch with a top trainer as well as give him training with Kasparov himself.

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While his pedigree has brought him invitations to events such as the Wijk aan Zee Challengers, for players developing in the land of Uncle Sam, the challenges are many, and many break down along the way. Consider that while the US is not short of talent, the only homegrown American player to break into the Top 10 since Bobby Fischer is Hikaru Nakamura. Bear in mind, Yasser Seirawan was only five Elo away from the top 10 in January 1986, but it gives an idea as to the hurdles for American players to develop in a manner competitive with the international community.

Several weeks had passed since the greatest moment in Sam Sevian’s chess life, enough time to allow for some quiet reflection. On a recent Sunday afternoon inside a Midtown Manhattan high-rise, where the teenage Sevian had been invited for a training session with the chess champion Garry Kasparov, he recalled a recent game with enormous stakes.

The tension Sevian felt during that Nov. 22 contest — “nerve-racking,” he called it — was brought on by the prize that awaited him if he won it.

Sevian was taking on Andrey Gorovets of Belarus in a fourth-round game at an invitational tournament in St. Louis. With a victory, Sevian — then 13 years 10 months 27 days old — would become the youngest grandmaster in United States history, by more than a year. In 2009, Ray Robson earned the title at 14 years 11 months 16 days.

Sevian had won his first three games of the tournament, but Gorovets was proving to be stiffer competition.

“I was on the attack,” Sevian said, but Gorovets “was defending really well.”

The game went back and forth for hours, and Sevian’s greatest difficulty seemed to be completing his moves in the time allotted. At one critical juncture, Sevian’s painstaking deliberations nearly cost him the game.

The New York Times piece not only highlights Samuel Sevian's accomplishment, but helps
identify important steps to foster his talent, and that of others

“I had about five seconds on the clock, and I thought, No, this isn’t enough time to make a move,” Sevian said. “And then I made my move, and I see I have one second left. So I had to, like, smash the clock!” He laughed as he mimicked a speedy hand gesture toward an imaginary timer.

After that move, Sevian picked up his pace. When he eventually claimed the victory, he became a grandmaster, a title based on a formula of ratings and results. Once attained, the title is kept for life.

“I was, of course, really happy,” said Sevian, who began playing chess competitively at 5. But Sevian also acknowledged a tremendous sense of relief. “I had to win,” he said.

That was a frank admission for Sevian, who generally keeps his innermost thoughts and feelings private, even from his parents, Armen and Armine.

Despite his reserved nature, Sevian, who turned 14 on Dec. 26, has gathered a sizable collection of friends in the chess community, communicating regularly with many of them via Skype. Those relationships are a byproduct of his lifestyle. Sevian, who lives in Southbridge, Mass., is home-schooled, a circumstance made necessary by the amount of time he spends on the road competing.

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Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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