The weather in Mongolia was so harsh during the years that “Var” spent there as a child, that his father forbade him and his sister Armine from playing outside. He taught them chess, which fascinated the young Akobian. “From the very beginning,” Var says, “I was different from the other chess kids. It was never just a game for me. I always wanted to be a Grandmaster, and knew that I would do what it takes.” As a teenager living in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, Akobian spent his days on chess and soccer. His teachers encouraged him to focus on chess, so much that Var says: “If I went to high school in here [in the U.S], I never could have spent so much energy on chess.”
In 2002, a year after immigrating to the U.S., he earned the Samford Chess Fellowship. The Fellowship grant, which allowed the young Var to study and improve his chess, yielded quick results with a tie for first at the 2002 World Open and First Place at the Irme Koenig GM invitational. The following year, he won the 2003 U.S. Junior Closed Championship, earned his GM Norms in June 2004, and then won the World Open for a second time.
An excellent positional player, GM Akobian admires the games and style of Armenian Hero, former World Champion Tigran Petrosian. He admires him so much so that he became an expert in the French Defence, one of Petrosians most played openings with the black pieces. Var offers this advice for aspiring club players: “Don’t expect to see constant improvement. You build knowledge and work hard, and after a while you’ll see a big breakthrough.”
Daniel Fridman is a German chess grandmaster. He was Latvian champion in 1996, as well as German champion in 2008, 2012 and 2014. His first major success in his early chess career was when he took home a bronze medal in the Under-16 category of the World Youth Chess Championship. Daniel is a master of speed chess and won first place at the Essen rapid contest of 2000 and Dutch Open rapid tourney of 2008. Outside of his personal successes, he represented the Latvian men's team on board 4 at the Yerevan Olympiad of 1996 and at the Pula 1997 European Team Chess Championship. He returned to the Olympiad team as first board in 2004 (Calvià) and in 2006 (Turin). After he became a German citizen, he switched chess federations and, as incumbent national champion in 2008, was an automatic choice for the German team at the Dresden Olympiad.
This seventeen-year old from Coppell, Texas has a quite an impressive list of results. Showing a tenacity beyond his years he has won the 2015 Chicago Open, finished sixth in the 2016 U.S.Championship (the strongest in history), and was awarded the 2016 U.S. Outstanding Player Achievement Award by USCF. Xiong, the winner of the 2016 U.S. Junior Closed Championship is sure to give some of the seasoned veterans in this year’s field a run for their money.
The Ukrainian-born GM earned his title at the age of fifteen. Zherebukh says, “ My biggest success so far was the advancement to the fourth round at the 2011 World Cup in Russia.” In 2015, ‘Yaro’ switched his affiliation with the Ukrainian Chess Federation to the USCF, granting him eligibility to be the wildcard in the 2017 U.S. Championships. GM Zherebukh made his mark on the Saint Louis Chess Campus when he joined the Saint Louis Arch-Bishops, contributing to the team’s 2017 PRO Chess League Championship title. This impressive young GM who has become a regular presence at the Saint Louis Chess Club is a fan favorite and is sure to give us some exciting chess in this year’s Championship.
Benjamin Bok has been among Netherlands’ top players for a couple of years. His
first major success came in December 2015 by winning the London Chess Classic FIDE Open with 8/9. He debuted for the Dutch national team at the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Baku and also represented his country at the 2017 European Team Championship on Crete. At the European Championship 2017, he earned a spot in the FIDE World Cup 2017 by finishing 15th. A year later, at the European Championship 2018, he repeated this success by finishing 18th and thus already secured his spot for the FIDE World Cup 2019. Benjamin hasn’t played in any tournaments in the U.S. before so the 2018 Summer Chess Classic will be his first; he hopes to bring some excitement to the Saint Louis Chess Club.
Vasif started his chess career in 1999. He received the International Master title in 2007 and the International Grandmaster Title in 2010. His chess achievements include receiving second in the European Youth Chess Championship under 14 years old (Budva, Serbia) in 2006, winning the World Youth Chess Championship under 14 years old (Batumi, Georgia), and winning the European Youth Chess Championship under 18 years old (Batumi, Georgia) in 2010. Vaif has been part of SPICE chess program at Webster University since 2014 and has won three national titles with the team.
Sam Sevian is an American chess prodigy. He holds the record for the youngest ever United States Grandmaster at the age of 13 years, 10 months, and 27 days. He also holds the record for the youngest ever United States International Master at 12 years and 10 months; and the youngest National Master in USCF history at 9 years, 11 months, and 23 days. In 2012, he became World Champion in the U12 category. He achieved a 2500 FIDE rating during the Saint Louis GM Norm Invitational tournament with an impressive outcome of 7.5/9.
Sevian made his first appearance at the U.S. Chess Championships in Saint Louis, Missouri in 2013 as the youngest ever participant. There, Sevian placed in a shared 14th position out of 24 total players with a score of 4/9, beating out several grandmasters. He returned for another U.S. Chess Championships in 2015 and shared fifth place ahead of several well-known names in the chess world including Wesley So, a world top ten ranked player. His overall performance in the championship earned him a spot in the 2015 Chess World Cup.
Rinat developed his early chess career in 2011, including his participation at the World Cup and earning 1st place in Kazakhstan’s Chess Champion, men’s division. In 2013, he was 1st in Blitz at the Memorial Chigorin. In 2014, Rinat became 1st in Rapid at the Asian Nations Cup, and again placed 1st at the 2014 Kazakhstan Chess Championship for men. His next year was very busy, as he participated in the 2015 World Cup, was 3rd at the 2015 7th London Chess Classic FIDE Open, and took 3rd place in Classic and 1st place in Blitz at the 2015 RTU Open. Rinat’s achievements continued in 2016 where he was 3rd in Classic at the Asian Nations Cup and 2nd in Rapid at the Biel Chess Open. Most recently, he placed first at the men’s Kazakhstan Championship 2017, took 3rd place at the 2017 Mikhail Tal Memorial Rapid, Yurmala, and earned 1st place at the 2017 Sants Open.
Peter Prohaszka was born in 1992 and grew up in Vac, Hungary. He was a permanent member of the Hungarian national youth chess team since age 13. He won the U14 Individual European Championship in 2006 in Herceg Novi. In 2007, he was a member of the Hungarian team that finished in 2nd place in Singapore at the U16 chess olympiad. He won multiple gold medals with the Hungarian team in European Championships. His most memorable performance in the European team championships was to score 6/7 in 2009 on board one, helping his team to victory. He scored his first GM-norm at the age of 14 and became a Grandmaster just before his 18th birthday. As an adult, he continued to perform successfully in international tournaments, as well as representing teams all over Europe. He won the Xtracon Open in 2014 and the Fano Chess Festival twice. Recently, in 2017, he tied for first at the prestigious Benasque Open. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Prohaszka began his studies at Webster University, Saint Louis. He is a member of the prestigious Susan Polgar’s SPICE program, and represents the chess team in many major competitions. He speaks three languages fluently, Hungarian, English, and German. His rating is currently 2613 and he aspires to become an elite Chess Grandmaster while also graduating from Webster University.
Aleksandar learned how to play chess at the age of 4 and participated in his first tournament at 7. Until the age of 14, he was quite unsure about his future in chess; however, that all changed at beginning of 2010 when he was accepted to Itaka Chess Academy and started working with GM Velimirovic. In the next 3 years, in 2013, he was able to reach Grandmaster level. Notable achievements include: winning the Serbian Youth Championship U-16, U-20; the Serbian Individual Championship in 2014, 2018; sharing 1-2 place at the Philadelphia Open in 2016; and winning the Portugal Open 2018. Aleksandar is also a regular member of the Serbian National Team since 2013, competing in two Olympiads (Norway and Azerbaijan) and two European Team Chess Championships (Poland and Greece). At the 2016 Chess Olympiad in Azerbaijan, he won the bronze medal for individual performance on board 4 with 8,5/10 points.
Kamil started playing chess with his grandfather when he was 5 years old. After showing some interest to the game, his parents decided to register him for the chess classes. Kamil became a Grandmaster in 2013. His biggest achievements include: winning a gold medal in World Youth Chess Championship (U16) in Chalkidiki (Greece) in 2010; winning a gold medal in the European Youth Chess Championship in Fermo (Italy) in 2009; winning a silver medal in World Youth Chess Championship (U14) in Antalya (Turkey) in 2009; and receiving 1st place in London Chess Classic in 2014. Kamil has also won many medals in Polish Youth Chess Championship individually and with the team. He won the European Team Chess Championship 3 times with the team. Even more, Kamil took a 4th place medal for individual in the Polish Chess Championship in 2013 in Chorzow which was his best performance in this tournament so far. In 2017, he came to the U.S. to begin study in UTRGV in Brownsville and joined a chess team. In 2018, the team won the National Collegiate Championship.
Andrey is a Russian Grandmaster. Some of his greatest chess achievements include winning the 2016 U.S. Chess Masters in Greensboro, tying for first (two-way tie) in both Wisconsin Open 2017 and Philadelphia Open 2017, tying for second place in World Open 2017, and, lastly, being a member of the winning team, UTRGV, of the U.S. College Chess Championship 2018. Even more, he has won the Golden State Open 2015 (first place 3-way tie), Sunshine Orlando Open 2017 (2-way tie), and Dayton Open 2017 (2-way tie).
Alejandro Ramirez has become a frequent face the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis as he transplanted from Texas and now lives and works in Saint Louis. Ramirez was inspired by the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer when he was four years old. He became FIDE Master at the age of 9, an International Master at 13, and earned his Grandmaster title by the age of 15. That achievement set Ramirez as the first Centro-American to earn the elite title and, at the time, the second youngest grandmaster. A competitor in three U.S. Championships, Ramirez displayed some of his finest chess in May 2013, when he pushed reigning champion Gata Kamsky to a playoff for the national title. He drew the first two playoff games with Kamsky before losing an Armageddon game where he had 19 minutes and 45 seconds against Kamsky's 45 minutes. Ramirez studied video game design at the University of Texas at Dallas, earning a master’s degree in Arts & Technology, and he now currently serves as an editor for the popular chess news website ChessBase. Ramirez expertise has made him the natural selection for the new Saint Louis University chess team head coach position. The team made it to the final four of the Pan-American games in its first year. Along with coaching chess, Ramirez is a regular broadcast commentator in both English and Spanish for the Chess Club and Scholastic Center.
Josh was born and raised in New Hampshire, where he started playing tournament chess at the age of six. He was State Champion of New Hampshire three times and Northern California twice. Friedel participated in six U.S. Championships, tying for 4th in 2008. In 2009, Josh won the Edmonton International with 7/9 as well as the Toronto Open with a perfect 5/5 score. He has also won or tied for first in numerous open tournaments across the United States, including the Pan Am, Eastern, Saint Louis, National, and American Opens. Friedel was the 2013 U.S. Open Champion. He is also the current North American Open Champion, his second win at that event. Josh currently resides in a suburb of Milwaukee, where he divides his time between playing tournaments and teaching.
Vladimir has been a Grandmaster since 2013. He shared 1-2 place in the Wisconsin International Chess Festival 06/2017. Other achievements include winning the 2017 U.S. Masters Championship and first place in 53rd Annual American Open 2017. Vladimir was also part of the winning team that won the President’s Cup, the Final Four of College Chess competition, with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Chess Team 2018.
Sergey Matsenko was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia. He is a GM, with a FIDE rating of 2560. He has two bachelor degrees in Law and Engineering from South Ural State University. He is currently pursuing a master degree in Industrial engineering at Texas Tech.
Robert Aghasaryan started playing chess in Yerevan, Armenia at the age of 6. He is a three time Armenian Youth Champion under the ages U10, U12 and U18. He won the U10 European Youth Chess Championship in 2004 and the U12 World Youth Chess Championship in 2006. He was part of the Armenian team which won the U16 Chess Olympiad in 2010. He became a Grandmaster in 2014. He currently resides in Encino and is a Chess coach for the American Chess Academy. His most recent tournament win was the 2018 Western Class Championship in California
Cemil Can is a 20-year-old Grandmaster from Turkey. His current FIDE rating is 2530. He is currently a sophomore at the Saint Louis University studying Computer Engineering. He has a unique achievement of winning the European Youth Championships for five times. Additionally, he has represented Turkey in the 2012 Istanbul Chess Olympiad.
Dinara started to play chess at the age of 5. Since then, she has found a lot of success in her chess career. Her achievements include winning the World Youth Champion under 14, 18; winning the World Junior Champion under 20; becaming the Asian Women Vice-Champion, bronze medalist at the Asian Indoor Games; she is a multiple champion of Kazakhstan; and she is a member of the National Team. Currently she is 17th in the World women ranking list. Outside of chess, Dinara is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
WGM Tatev Abrahamyan started playing chess at eight after her father took her to the Chess Olympiad games in 1996. There she met Grandmaster Judit Polgar, arguably the greatest woman player of all time and the only woman in the tournament. "I was in complete awe," Tatev said. "My first thought was, 'I want to be just like her.'" She was soon playing competitively among the top players her age in Europe and has played in the U.S. Women's Chess Championship eight times.
Tatev is a formidable competitor. At the 2010 U.S. Women's Championship she played her heart out to a fantastic 7/9 score, which would usually be enough to net first place, but actually put her in a tie for second place, half a point behind Irina Krush. Tatev's strong play and fighting qualities in 2010 earned her the 9 Queens/Goddesschess Fighting Chess award, which was selected by former Women's World Champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk.
At the 2011 U.S. Women's Championship, Tatev turned in a remarkable performance, falling just short to Anna Zatonskih in the playoff finals to finish in second place. That same year, Abrahamyan graduated from California State University Long Beach with a double major in psychology and political science. These days she is a regular face of the Saint Louis Chess Club commentary and journalism crew.