Interview with GM Avetik Grigoryan

A few months ago I was contacted with GM Avetik Grigoryan, who was curious about me after discovering my blog. We chatted for a while and came to the idea of an interview. I thought it would be interesting for the wider public to know how a very strong Grandmaster who is not part of the elite conducts his coaching sessions, how his career went and similar questions I was personally interested in. Below is the interview and I hope you like it! (All images are courtesy of Avetik Grigoryan.)

To start with, I’d like to know why you stopped enjoying playing chess back in 2012 and how that happened? Was it a continuous process that led to saturation or an abrupt realisation? After all, you were 23 years old at the time with a rating over 2600 and to stop enjoying chess that early sounds strange! 

Yep, it was one of the toughest decisions that I’ve made in my life. I worked so hard to get on that level and then I decided to stop. 

Well, I didn’t stop enjoying chess. Even until now, I love it very much.

I just stopped enjoying playing in tournaments, home preparation, where it becomes important whose computer is stronger, who can remember more lines. 

I started to enjoy the competition not as much as I used to and helping others started to give me more joy.

I believe, we should try to live appropriate to our values’ hierarchy, which gives us happiness.

It was then when I started to work with some talented guys, and I felt that their success gave me so much joy. See them growing, reaching their goals, and having success gave me real pleasure. 

So, I decided to switch to a professional coach career as I enjoyed it very much. I have so much info in my head and deeply analyzed material in my computer, which I could share with more talented students than me, who can achieve in chess more than I did. 

Never in mind I regret playing 16 years of professional chess and then stopping it. These are not lost years, as many may think. Chess gave me so much knowledge that I use in my life, and without it, I would not be here where I am now.

You mentioned that you started to practice Kung Fu and changed your lifestyle after stopping professional chess. Can you describe this in more detail, how did your new lifestyle look like? 

When I was playing professional chess, I used to work from early morning until late night. There was big pressure on me. To wake up very early and work till late night, six days a week was not easy.

When I stopped, I felt so much peace. I started to appreciate each day of my life more: fruits became tastier than before, the smell of flowers became better. I had time to read books, spend time with people I love. 

Then, one sunny day I just took a pen and wrote down what kind of person I should become and what kind of steps I should take. 

I started everything step-by-step. 

One of the things in my list was to be strong physically and mentally. And I thought what can be better than Kung-Fu 😊 In Armenia we have a very good Kung Fu school. 

Armenian Kung Fu Federation

I started to practice it seriously, and there were even days when I had three training. The first one started at 5 am! 

I was balancing my working time with the students and my personal time very well. 

You told me that you enjoy coaching. Can you describe your own coaching that led you to become a 2600-player? 

Well, I was very lazy until 13 years passed from my life. 

Spain 2002

Then one thing happened in my life which changed everything. 

If it’s interesting, I can tell the story. 

Yes, of course.

It was a late-night, with our family we were in a taxi, coming home.

The driver was very sleepy, and he was driving very badly.

My father asked him why he was driving when he was so tired, and the driver’s words changed my life. He said he had to. He had a family, and he should take care of his family. Every day he woke up at 7am and drove till 1am.

I remember I got goosebumps. That was the moment when I realized that I didn’t want to have such life, and for not having such life, I needed to work very hard now. I realized that if now I did things that were easy to do, I would have a hard life in the future, and if I did things that were hard to do now, later, I would have an easy life.

After that, I started to work on chess very seriously. I analyzed all the books of classics, starting from Capablanca.

Now in my database, I have around 1000 games, which I’ve analyzed and saved.

I worked with coaches, studied in the chess academy of Armenia. Then I started to work with GM Zaven Andriasian.  There were weeks when he came to my place, we practiced all day and started again in the morning.

Very fast, both of us became GMs, Zaven even became the World Junior Champion at 17!

By the way, I advise everyone to have sparring partners, a friend with whom you can work on chess.

And it’s best when your styles are different.

In our case, Zaven was a very sharp player, and I was positional.

Then you don’t notice how you “absorb” the strong skills from your friend and give yours to him.

Also, in my career, I had a few good coaches, but two of them have an irreplaceable impact on my chess career. GM Chibukhyan Artur, who believed in me and my goal from IM to become a GM in 1 year, and then GM Akopian Vladimir, who helped me to get from 2500 to 2600 level. These are the people that I’ll never forget what they’ve done for me.

Mark Dvoretsky said that coaches should also play from time to time in order not to lose the “taste” for the game. When you play nowadays, how do you approach the tournaments? Do you dedicate time to prepare beforehand, are you ambitious to win them? Do you update your opening repertoire with the latest games?

Yeah, I absolutely agree.

I play a lot of training games with my students.

We often play certain openings or certain kinds of positions, where the student is weak.

Recently I also participated in St. Louis Fall Classic tournament after not having pressed the chess clock for three years!

The reason I participated was to show my students on my own example, what our mindset can do! Right Mindset! That right mood and the inner energy can do magic.

About updating the opening repertoire, I check all the latest games, not for my opening repertoire but for my students.

As most of them are high-level players, and everybody plays different openings, working with them automatically makes my knowledge in the openings deeper.

In St. Louis, a fascinating thing happened.

I had a novelty in one of my favorite lines – English opening with four knights and with 5.e4 line, which recently Carlsen and other top Grandmasters also started to play. In that line, I had a novelty, which I found around ten years ago, but never had the luck to play it. Then when I stopped playing professionally, I showed it to my students. Unfortunately, they also didn’t have a chance to play it.

A few months ago, in St. Louis tournament GM Petrosian Manuel bumped to that novelty, which we had so long time ago.

You coached the national team of Thailand. How does coaching a national team differ from coaching individuals? Did you devise any team strategy?

It was a very interesting and unforgettable experience.

Interesting – because as a coach, you face different challenges. Now your task is not only to help them to grow their chess skills or strengthen their weak points in the game but to create a real team where everyone helps each other, where they become brothers no matter what happened between them before. 

Unforgettable – because we spiritually became connected very much, and even now, I am in touch with most of them. 

You have also been Director at Yerevan Arabkir Children and Youth Chess School. Armenia is well-known for its chess program and exceptional chess players. What does the training program for children consist of that it develops such marvellous players?

Yep, I wanted to do something good for my country. When I accepted the offer, I invited a few other Grandmasters and professional coaches to work together and create a chess school about which I had always dreamt when I was a kid.

Well, we have chess in school as a subject, and we have professional chess schools in each of the districts of Yerevan.

Chess is very popular in Armenia since we have World Champion Tigran Petrosian, Levon Aronian, and we won a few Olympiads and the team world championship. Many parents want to see their children reach such success.

I believe the main reason of Armenian players’ success is character. During the whole history, Armenians fought, and the fighting spirit is in our blood. We do not give up and continue the fight after blunders, bad games, or tournaments.

You have helped many amateurs and chess lovers to improve. While I understand that each individual case is different, can you still single out the one most important thing that must be done in order to improve?

I give lots of attention to psychology.

There should be a very strong ANSWER to the question “WHY”?

Why do you want to get the 2000 level? Why you want to become a GM.

If the answer is strong, very strong, nothing will stop you. You’ll find motivation when it’s tough; you’ll find resources instead of excuses; you will set up plans on how to improve and start the action. That strong energy will open many doors.

I know many people who want to become grandmasters, but at the same time, they spend countless hours in social platforms scrolling FB, and I know people who have the same dream but are very goal-oriented. They work with coaches, work with chess books, and when they are online, most of the time, they learn in some chess educational websites, read some chess articles or solve chess puzzles.

That is the difference that makes the difference.

I believe desire, a burning desire, is the 1st essential “ingredient.” I have even written an article in our blog in the series “How to become a Grandmaster or achieve any goal”.

When you decided to open your website you wanted to make something different, to offer online instruction with theoretical, practical and interactive parts. How is that different from individual one-on-one lessons? What are the benefits you are offering?

Many of our students say that the educational system of ChessMood is just a dream.

I understand them very well.

Myself, in my life, I learned lots of different stuff, and when I learned them from the Internet, my biggest challenge was this: I watched the course – the theoretical part, but then I didn’t know how to put the knowledge in practice or to whom give my questions.

ChessMood consists of all that three parts!

1. Theoretical part- courses. All of them are created by our Grandmasters, and behind each 1-hour material there are countless hours of hard work.

Many think that very high-quality courses are what differs us from the market, but in real, the next two parts are very unique in the chess world and has a big impact on our students’ successes:

2. Practical part – Streams and webinars based on the courses!

During the streams, we play and comment on the games, playing ONLY the openings we teach in our courses.

In this way, students not only memorize the lines, see how to punish the opponent, when he makes a wrong move in the opening, but also see the middlegame part, typical plans, and ideas of that opening in practice. 

Students can ask all their questions during streams, webinars, and also during the 3rd important step.

 3. Forum

Here, the students can give all their questions and get answers right from Grandmasters instead of searching the answer in random places. This is what students can’t find anywhere else.

Also, in the forum, our students help each other too, many have become sparring partners and friends in life.

There are 6 Armenian Grandmasters that are part of the Chessmood team – yourself, Melkumyan, Gabuzyan, Andriasian, Ter-Sahakyan and Hovhannisyan. How does the team work? Does everybody have a special area of expertise, are the tasks divided equally or perhaps the student asks for a particular coach?

Most of the material we create together. Everyone is an expert in some particular opening, so we share the knowledge and files with each other, analyze them in more depth, using cloud engines.

As all our Grandmasters are active players, the responsibility of sorting all the material, preparing files, finding and commenting model games, and then record videos I took on myself.

Recently, GM Gabuzyan plays not much, and he also started to record videos.

Well, I am absolutely open to working with other Grandmasters as well, who can keep our quality standards.

Many have tried, but it’s tough. I’ll ask to re-record the video if the explanation of the particular line or the idea is not very clear.

I understand, of course, that it’s harder work than they used to do for recording videos for other websites, and I am ready to reward more for that work.

But anyway, it’s very tough for anyone to keep that quality standard that we initially put with our Grandmasters.

Do you also provide coaching services to professionals (IMs, GMs)? Have you been approached by them and what can you offer to these players?

Hehe 😊 Well, now most of my private students are IMs and GMs, and only a few are not titled.

As I only work with students whose goals I believe, it becomes so enjoyable to work with talented and goal-oriented hard workers, to see their progress and eventually together celebrate all their successes.

There are 3 essential steps that I do with each student.

1. What’s the goal?

It is very important to have the right Big Goal, divide it into parts, and start to reach them step-by-step. If in this 1st step, something is wrong with motivation or mindset, we fix it first.

2. Identifying the weaknesses of the student.

In other words, finding out the “illness” even small ones, all of them!

3. Make a plan and start the action.

Start healing them with action, putting big effort.

I have a very big database in my computer, which I collected during my 20+ years of being in chess. Not just openings, but also collections of calculations, positional and attacking chess, defense, endgames… All the topics in chess.

I believe a good coach is like a doctor. The patient comes and has some problems, you find out the issue, and you begin to heal him with some therapies and, in a few cases with medicine.

Every student has very different weak points in chess and how precise is the coach’s therapy or medicine, as better.

It is also important to mention that each student has his language, and for the coach, it’s a must to find the right approach of teaching.

How does your usual day look like? How much time do you dedicate to coaching each day?

It may look very crazy, but almost every day with my wife we wake up at 6.30 am and work till late evening.

A part of the day goes on working with students and preparation for the lessons and the other part goes on developing ChessMood and on much work with ChessMood team which is now becoming bigger and bigger.

How can you manage to do so much?

There are three secrets.
1. I wake up early
2. I believe in my goal with 100%
3. My magic girl who covers my back and together we chase our dreams one by one.

What is your personal goal as a coach and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

I believe that in the next five years, all the chess educational platforms, which, instead of providing value put effort on selling with nice marketing words, will go down under the water (:D), and the best ones will become partners, sharing amazing value with the chess world.

My personal goal in ChessMood is to help as many chess lovers as possible to achieve their goals, to unlock their full potential.

In 2019, our students raised their ratings on average by 70 points!

This gives me full satisfaction in life and happiness.

In the next five years, I also am going to publish a few books which I think will make a big impact on many chess players’ careers.   

I’ll also start to travel in the world, and meet our community members in real life, make camps, and have a good time together.

We had already such experience this year in the USA when I was playing in St. Louis. Imagine, what does it mean for the coach, when your (his) students from different states fly to meet you.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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