Karen Grigoryan goes from zero to hero

by Stefan Löffler
2/6/2020 – Karen Grigoryan has only been living in Spain for a couple of months, but the Armenian GM has already gained more than 100 ratings points since and won no less than five tournaments in Portugal — most recently the big open and ensuing rapid in Lisbon. STEFAN LOEFFLER reports. | All photos: Portuguese Chess Federation

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The Portugal Open

Last summer Karen Grigoryan moved from Yerevan to a village in Andalusia. Friends, low living costs and proximity to tournaments and league matches made the case. Add the limited income in his home country. As a junior player he was helped and became a grandmaster at 18, but when he didn't progress to the national team the Armenian Federation lost interest and the support for Grigoryan went to zero.

The move gave him an enormous boost. The beefy built 24-year-old has gained more than 100 rating points and will be officially above 2650 in the March list. Across the border in Portugal Grigoryan won three tournaments last year and became second in Figueira da Foz. With his victories at the Portugal Open and the ensuing rapid tournament he claimed victories number four and five.

Life is good, says Grigoryan, but changing the nationality or federation is not in the books, at least for now. While he answered my questions Tigran Gharamian stood next to him and could not help to smile. His story is a similar one. He left Armenia with 18 with the intention to become a professional. Gharamian became a grandmaster in France, got French citizenship, champion of France in 2018 and founded an online chess school since.


Tigran Gharamian

Grigoryan's crucial game at the Portugal Open was the last one. His opponent Aleksandar Indjic was leading the field by half a point, whereas among those trailing him Grigoryan had one of the lowest Buchholz. It looked like he needed to take some risks, if he wanted a significant share of the prize money. But in his preparation he understood that Indjic just never plays safety first. His whole repertoire and approach was tailored to play for wins. Soon enough the Serbian gave up a pawn for good compensation. He went on to sacrifice an exchange — and was punished by Grigoryan for it. 


30…xd4? (30…♞xh3+ =) 31.exd4 xf3+ 32.h1 c7 33.g2 c6 34.d5 xd5 35.e8+ g7 36.b5 e1+ 37.f1 h1+ 38.e2 f3

Karen Grigoryan

Karen Grigoryan


39.d7! White's queen and rook are too strong in attack.

On the following day, between rounds of the rapid tournament, Indjic confirmed that he underestimated this queen move to d7. He had mistakenly thought that in the worst case Grigoryan would have a perpetual. Was he too brave? Not brave, corrects Indjic: Stupid was the right word.

Tournament hall

The playing hall

A little later the story repeated itself in the rapid. Grigoryan and Indjic were co-leaders before the penultimate round. Again, Indjic could not manage to defend passively. Grigoryan's win helped him to stay half a point clear of the others, including Indjic again.


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The aim of these Dvd's is to build a repertoire after 1.c4 and 2.g3 for White. The first DVD includes the systems 1...e5, the Dutch and Indian setups. The second DVD includes the systems with 1...c5, 1...c6 and 1...e6.

The second biggest winner of the Lisbon Open is probably Hugo ten Hertog. The Dutch student was the only non grandmaster on 7 out of 9, which was enough for his third GM norm that seals him the title. All other pursuers missed the targeted norms.


Hugo ten Hertog

Hugo ten Hertog with his GM norm certificate

A few more highlights:


35.b4 would have avoided the exchange sac. Then the counter ♜xc5 will not work. In the end, Haldorsen ran short of time and took a draw in a winning position: 35.h5 xg6 36.xh3 xc5 37.dxc5 d4 38.g5 xg5 39.fxg5 xc5 40.g1 d3+ 41.f1 d5 42.f2 e5 ½-½


The Russian GM now played a fine novelty 9...d5! and made quite a forceful draw in 26 moves.

Indjic played well against Alexander Motylev except for missing a relatively simple win:


Instead of 41…h7 simply 41…♝f8 42.♖c8 ♜xe1+ 43.♔g2 ♛xc8 44.♕xc8 d2, etc.

After ♚h7 the game was drawn: 42.xc5 xe1 + 43.g2 d2 44.c8 g1 + 45.h2 xc8 46.xc8 d1 47.f5+ g8 48.c8 + ½-½


Portugal is wonderful

When I played in Lisbon for the first time in 1999, everything I remember was plastic: Pieces, chairs, clocks, water bottles and even the little espresso cups. In 2020 Lisbon aspires to be the Green Capital of Europe, and the tournament supplied water tanks and free containers for refills. The organising Portuguese Federation has also invested in electronic wooden boards and a twitch channel of live commentary.

The 216 participants represented 34 different federations. This time the tournament coincided with a rainy and stormy week which turned out to be the last days of the short Portuguese winter. Next year the tournament will shift from the end of January to the first week of February. The Portuguese Federation hopes that its top event won't clash with Gibraltar again but start two days after, giving players the option of combining both.

Final standings (top 20)

Rk. Name Pts.
1 GRIGORYAN Karen H. 7,5
2 ALEKSEEV Evgeny 7,0
3 ITURRIZAGA Eduardo 7,0
4 ASADLI Vugar 7,0
5 INĐIĆ Aleksandar 7,0
6 TARI Aryan 7,0
7 MOTYLEV Alexander 7,0
8 GHAMARIAN Tigran 7,0
9 TEN HERTOG Hugo 7,0
10 PETROV Nikita 6,5
11 JANIK Igor 6,5
12 HALDORSEN Benjamin 6,5
13 MIHAJLOV Sebastian 6,5
14 DAMASO Rui 6,5
15 SOUSA André V 6,5
16 SOHAM Das 6,5
17 PLICHTA Kamil 6,5
18 SAVANOVIĆ Aleksandar 6,5
19 SPRAGGETT Kevin 6,5
20 BABA Masahiro 6,5

...215 players

All available games



Stefan Löffler writes the Friday chess column in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and succeeds Arno Nickel as editor of the Chess Calendar. For ChessBase the International Master reports from his adopted country Portugal.


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