BBC lecture: Armenia, the cleverest nation on earth

by ChessBase
9/17/2010 – Next Tuesday the 39th Chess Olympiad begins in Khanty Mansiysk, with Russia is the favourite in all categories. But wait – who won the last two? It was Armenia, a tiny country with a total population less than a third that of Moscow. How is that possible – is it something in the water? Gabriel Gatehouse of the BBC tries to answer this question in a wonderfully interesting BBC World Service broadcast.

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Armenia: the cleverest nation on earth

Armenia, a tiny, poor country of around three million people, has won the chess Olympics twice in a row. In so doing, it has triumphed over giants like Russia, China and the US. Chess is pursued fanatically in many parts of the world, but nowhere more so than Armenia, where its over-the-board stars have become national celebrities.

But how has little Armenia created a nation of chess geniuses; is there something in the water? Assignment investigates.


Formerly part of the Soviet Union, Armenia today is a unitary, multiparty, democratic nation-state in a landlocked mountainous country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Situated at the juncture of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, the de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Azerbaijan to the east, and Iran and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan to the south.

Armenia has an ancient and historic cultural heritage. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion in the early years of the 4th century. The modern Republic recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church as the national church of Armenia, although the republic has separation of church and state.

Levon Aronian

The top player today in Armenia is Levon Aronian, who turns 28 just after the Chess Olympiad in Khanty Mansiysk (6th October is his birthday. His current Elo rating is 2783, making him number four behind Carlsen, Topalov and Anand. Aronian won the FIDE Grand Prix 2008–2009, qualifying him for the Candidates tournament for the World Chess Championship 2012.

Lev visiting our ChessBase office last year

Tigran Petrosian

Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, June 17, 1929 – August 13, 1984, was World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was nicknamed "Iron Tigran" due to his playing style because of his almost impenetrable defence, which emphasised safety above all else. He was a Candidate for the World Championship eight times: 1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980, winning the title in 1963 against Botvinnik and successfully defending it in 1966 against Spassky, against whom he lost it in 1969. Petrosian was arguably the hardest player to beat in the history of chess.

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