Person of day - 7 DECEMBER 2023
A lot in the life of Vladimir Akopian paralleled the fate of world champion Garry Kasparov: Vladimir was born and raised in Baku, was interested in football at a young age, liked to spend holidays in Zagulba and was invited to Botvinnik’s famous school when he was young. He was taught to play chess by his father, a teacher at a polytechnic university. The lessons with the Patriarch were not wasted - Vladimir won the World Juniors U16 and then U16 Championships.
Soon, Armenian television came to record the lessons of Botvinnik-Kasparov. Answering whether Akopian could become a world champion, Mikhail Moiseevich replied in the affirmative, but added that the young talent will have to work hard.
“There were 12 of us in the Kasparov-Botvinnik school, sessions were called twice a year. The school began to function, as far as I remember, in 1986, after Kasparov became the world champion. There were three girls: Sofiyeva, Velixanli (my countrymen- I lived in Baku at that time) and Dżandżgawa, later Galliamova. From the youth, there were Kramnik, Shirov, Serper, Alterman, Landa, Rublevsky, Sakaev, Oratovsky, I, later Ulybin. Basically, players who at that time were the strongest in the Union. Each performed in 4 matches: two victories, one draw and one defeat. We worked for 3 hours in the morning and 2,5 hours in the afternoon, and towards the end of the day we just chatted. All in all, we spend the whole day with chess. We analysed, Kasparov led sessions for hours- two groups with 6 people in each. Two training matches were also played, where players of similar strength were selected. In sessions, I played against Landa, Alterman, Serper and Ulybin; all the matches were later analysed.
At the end of the sessions, when it became obvious who need to work on what, we were given homework. For example, I was told to watch the Korchnoi-Geller match, since at that time I often used the King’s Indian Defence. Others were told to watch the performances of other players, ones that were better at positioning or more dynamic. Overall, I attended four sessions and they were very useful for me. The Patriarch considered his matches to be classic and thought that everyone should know them. He could say in a session “I played like that. Do you know who thought of this? Flor.” He often operated with these things and it was advisable to remember these games.” (V. Akopian)
In 1991, Vladimir became the prince of chess- the world champion among juniors. Vladimir Akopian managed to play in the last Soviet championship and, after the collapse of the Union, he emerged as one of the strongest grandmasters in his country with a rating above 2600.
He is the two-time winner of the Armenian championship, in whose team he won three gold medals in Olympiads. He is also a world champion and a European vice-champion. He is the winner of the European Cup as a member of team “Yerevan” and a silver medallist of the European League as a member of teams “Mika” and “Ural”.
In Armenia, he has been awarded with the Movses Khorinatsi Medal, a medal “For Service to the Motherland” first class and an Order of Honour. He is a recognised master of sports of the Republic of Armenia.
In 1999, Vladimir Akopian reached the final of FIDE’s knockout world championship without a single loss, consequentially beating Chiburdanidze, Bareev, Kir. Georgiev, Movsesyan and Adams, but losing to Khalifman in the final. He was a participant in the Match of the Century in 2001- Vladimir played just three matches, but beat Garry Kasparov in one of them. He was second to Peter Leko in the match against Vladimir Kramnik.
In 2005, he was mistakenly arrested at Dubai Airport as an identical namesake to a killer wanted by Interpol. The grandmaster was released only after the Armenian Foreign Ministry interfered. He was the winner of the largest tournament played according to the Swiss system in Gibraltar in 2007. The grandmaster’s maximum rating in the middle of the 2000s surpassed 2700.
In classical parties, he hold a score of 1,5:1,5 against Garry Kasparov, 3,5:3,5 against Vladimir Kramnik and 1,5:0,5 against Anatoly Karpov: the only world champion who managed to outweigh the Armenian grandmaster is Vishy Anand, with a score of 3:1.
In 2014, Akopian declined to play for Armenia at the Olympiad in Tromso, justifying it with a desire to move aside for the younger players. Vladimir synthesises his work with the junior national team; it is interesting that among young Armenian chess players, there is someone with the same surname, called Aram.
“Chess has changed enormously, not just since the last century, but over the last three hundred years. When I began to play, they were very different. Now there is a far greater need for dynamism, there is much more struggle. Of course, the computer has played an important role. Databases began to be accessible for everyone. In our time, one could play with an idea several tournaments before someone else discovers it, while now everything is in “live stream”. You have to train very hard if you want to “catch” your opponent during a debut. Now, every good idea is only good for one match. It is evident that you will not be able to use it twice. However, it takes a lot of time to think of one. Hence the computer databases, the chess engines. I don’t think this is bad- it is progress, the computer has shown that the game is far deeper than we imagined. The computer sees many possibilities: even in a position that seems hopeless, it turns out that there is so much that needs to be done. This shows that chess is an unusually vibrant game!” (V. Akopian)
Vladimir is married and has three sons.