Profile of a Prodigy: Samuel Sevian

by James Satrapa
12/17/2014 – At age 13 years 10 months and 27 days, Samuel Sevian became the world's youngest grandmaster, and the youngest grandmaster in US history, beating Ray Robson's record. His course has been a list of 'youngest evers', and his determination in the recent Saint Louis Invitational, where he clinched the 2500 rating, showed in his games. Here is a look at his spectacular chess resume.

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Born in New York to Armenian parents and learning chess when he was five, Sevian became the world’s youngest Grandmaster at the age of 13 years 10 months and 27 days. He is the first International Master and the first Grandmaster born in 2000 or later. He was also the youngest-ever US Expert (aged eight years and two months), the youngest ever US National Master (just before he turned ten), the youngest ever US International Master (12 years 10 months 15 days) and the youngest ever US Grandmaster. Moreover, he was the U12 World Champion in 2012 and in 2013 he was the youngest ever participant in the US Championship. An appropriate expression of these extraordinary achievements is that Sevian is also the top rated U14 player in the world.

Samuel Sevian scored his second GM norm in June this year

Sevian played his first tournament in Orlando on August 12, 2006 when he was still five. When he was six, he won the Florida State K-3 title. His first opponent in a FIDE rated game was in February 2009 in the first round of the 26th Annual U.S Amateur Team West in California, a few weeks after his 8th birthday. That opponent was none other than Samuel Shankland who was already an International Master rated 2453. Needless to say, eight-year old Sevian lost this game, but only six years later in November 2014, he would himself completed his relentless march to the Grandmaster title when he came from behind to defeat IM Andrei Gorovets (2482) in a nerve-wracking fourth round game in the Grandmaster tournament in St Louis.

His GM norm was secured after his win over Gorovets in a very exciting game

Despite losing most of his earliest FIDE-rated games, Sevian won enough games against relatively powerful opponents to clock in with an impressive initial FIDE rating of 2060 in FIDE’s November 2009 rating list, nearly two months before his ninth birthday. From then on, he was a regular competitor in local tournaments in California, and occasionally Nevada, accumulating expertise, rating points and results against masters. During 2010, he journeyed to Halkidiki in Greece to compete in that year’s U10 World Championship where he placed equal fifth with a score of 8.0/11. Ironically, he lost a few Elo points as he had accumulated so many points in the interim that the result was below technical expectation. Clearly however, his star continued to rise unabatedly and a few months later he registered his first win against a grandmaster, the Chilean master Mauricio Flores Rios, at the 2nd Annual Golden State Open in January 2011.

Sevian's third grandmaster norm came just two months after his second norm

2012 saw his star rising ever faster, performing powerfully in a series of powerful local events in California, including the Northern California International, the 19th Annual Western Class Championships, and in a number of Metropolitan FIDE Invitationals that soon lifted his rating and ranking to the top of the world’s U12 division of chess players. During this period, his equal first results in the 19th and 20th Metropolitan FIDE Invitational round-robin events earned him his first two IM norms.  Some more strong results in the Los Angeles-based FIDE Invitationals were followed by him winning the World U12 Championship in Halkidiki (in which he again lost rating points!). On his return to California, he celebrated by winning the 23rd Metropolitan FIDE Invitational which not only returned him his third IM norm (narrowly missing a GM norm) while he was still only eleven years old, but did so in a field in which he was the lowest rated participant.

A delightful clip of ten-year-old Sevian enthusiastically winning a blitz game against IM Greg Shahade

2013 was a year of consolidation, marked less by spectacular results and more by consistency. It was also the year in which he became the youngest ever participant in the US Championship (scoring 4.0/9 including 50% against six GM opponents) and made the small rating leap to 2400 during the First Saturday GM Tournament of November 2013 in Hungary to fulfil the final criterion for his IM title. Also, as it turns out, 2013 was the foundation for his leap into chess history in 2014.

After a modest start in January 2014 at the Bay Area International in Santa Clara, Sevian placed outright second in the 12th Annual Foxwoods Open in Connecticut, winning his first GM norm. Then followed a solid result in the UT Dallas Spring Open in March 2014 and a strong tie for third at the 8th Annual Philadelphia Open in April in which he drew with Gata Kamsky and defeated Indian GM Magesh Panchanathan.

In May-June, he won the CCSCSL Invitational Grandmaster Tournament in St Louis, scoring 6.5/9, including 2.5/3 against his grandmaster opponents Ben Finegold, Joshua Friedel and Denis Boros, to add his second GM norm to his collection. A minor mid-year slump in the 2014 US Junior Closed and the Canadian Championship was followed by a good second/third at the 3rd Washington International where he gained his 3rd GM norm.

The recenty held CCSCSL Invitational Grandmaster Tournament in St Louis clinched it

All that remained was to push his rating to 2500 and the GM title was his. That opportunity arrived in dazzling fashion at the 2014 St Louis GM Invitational event, when he opened his tally with a hyper-aggressive game against Boros, and then came from behind to defeat Andrey Gorovets in a tactical melee. He then proceeded to decisively win that event by a point and a half clear of the field, winning three games against GMs in 25 moves or less. Some of the games in that event were tactical smorgasbords that had commentators comparing him to the late great Mikhail Tal.

Samuel Sevian's whirlwind win in round one:

[Event "CCSCSL Nov GM 2014"] [Site "Saint Louis USA"] [Date "2014.11.21"] [Round "1.2"] [White "Sevian, Samuel"] [Black "Boros, De"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B09"] [WhiteElo "2484"] [BlackElo "2470"] [PlyCount "41"] [EventDate "2014.11.21"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "9"] [EventCountry "USA"] [EventCategory "9"] [SourceDate "2014.11.24"] 1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. Nc3 d6 4. f4 Nf6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. e5 Nfd7 7. h4 c5 8. h5 cxd4 9. Qxd4 (9. hxg6 {is played nearly as often. The continuation goes} dxc3 10. gxf7+ Rxf7 11. Bc4 e6) 9... dxe5 10. Qf2 {This is all theory, but} Qb6 {is not usual, and it seem likely Boros was on his own. Still, this is not the losing move, though it does present Black with problems after} 11. Qh4 $1 exf4 12. hxg6 h6 13. Bxf4 $1 {An astonishingly brave move, and it shows that Sevian is here to close his title and take his fate into his own hands.} Qxb2 {Black has little choice except to take it and pray.} 14. Nd5 Qxa1+ 15. Kf2 Nc6 16. Bd3 Qb2 ({Best was} 16... Qxh1 17. Qxh1 fxg6 {and White's attack is just enough to draw. Still, lots of luck trying to find that in a game with time already short.}) 17. Bc1 Qxa2 $2 18. Bxh6 $1 {and it's all over.} Nc5 19. Bxg7 Nxd3+ 20. Kg3 fxg6 21. Ng5 {Mate is just around the corner.} 1-0

Thus did the youngest ever Grandmaster that the United States has produced arrive on the world stage. His consistency and his mature style hold extraordinary promise for the future. A strong sign that the pace of Sevian’s development will be maintained is word from his father Armen (also a strong player)  that Samuel will play more chess in Europe where the competition is stronger.

Ratings progress of Samuel Sevian

James Satrapa has worked and lived in every State and Territory of his native island, Australia. He keenly participated in club and State championship chess, but has retreated to the more leisurely labors of Internet-based chess playing and writing, and occasional bouts of Street Chess and Easter tournaments.


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