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David Ayrapetyan plays during chess class in Yerevan, Armenia. Tigran Mehrabyan/AP Images. David Ayrapetyan plays during chess class in Yerevan, Armenia. Tigran Mehrabyan/AP Images.  

Chess is mandatory in Armenian schools

Anne Hobson
Contributor

The Armenian government has spent more than $3 million on the chess education project to supply chess equipment and train chess players to become teachers, Al Jazeera reports.

Armenian Education Minister Armen Ashotyan told Al Jazeera, “chess develops various skills leadership capacities, decision-making, strategic planning, logical thinking and responsibility.”

In 2011, the Armenian government decreed that that second, third and fourth graders take weekly chess classes. According to Ashotyan, the chess education project is intended to foster creative thinking and build a better society.

In the 1970s, former world champion Tigran Petrosian became a national hero. Since then, chess has become part of the cultural fabric of Armenia.

Armenia boasts more than 30 grandmasters and it won the team chess Olympiads in 2006, 2008 and 2012. Levon Aronian, Armenian champion, is currently the third-best player in the world, according to the World Chess Federation rankings.

Armenia’s project has attracted interest from other countries including Moldova, Ukraine and Spain.  Hungary will be adding chess to the national curriculum this year. Britain, the United States, Switzerland, India, Russia and Cuba already offer chess as a subject at some schools.

Ruben Aghuzumstyan is the leading member of a team of psychologists that have been researching the influence of chess on young minds. He said that children who play chess score better in personality traits such as individuality, creative thinking, reflexes and comparative analysis, calling it “an optimized game which develops a lot of areas of the brain.”

The Chess Academy of Armenia, located in a suburb of Yerevan, is entirely government-funded. Dozens of young chess players, ages four and above, get advanced chess lessons.

Additionally, the government awards top players attractive salaries and perks. For example, Tigran Petrosian, part of the Olympiad team that won gold in 2012, drives a Mercedes S-550.

“We don’t have to worry about money,” said Petrosian, “although we have corporate sponsors for some events, it’s mainly the state that supports and helps us out.”

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