Grandmaster Melikset Khachiyan is a genuinely great conversation partner and a tough chess player, something former world champion Boris Spassky got to experience over a bottle of whisky in Teherean in 1992. Born in Aserbadsjan, Khachiyan left for Europe as Russia collapsed, and got a position living with world number two player Levon Aronian's family, as the future Super-Gm's first chess trainer.
Name: Melikset Khachiyan
Date of birth: July 6 1970
FIDE rating: 2502
Chess.com username: GMMelik
How are you doing?
I'm doing great!
What, if push comes to shove, is your all-time favorite movie?
A tough question, I have several.The Godfather, I like serious movies, movies that makes sense. Coppola is one of the best directors. I also like Leon, Gladiator, The Departed, The Matrix, The whole Kill Bill-series. And Kingdom of Heaven and A Beautiful Mind, Schindler' s List. I could mention a lot of Russian movies, but people wouldn't know about them, so...
What kind of food and drink do you prefer?
As I grow older it's changing. I like seafood, I like sushi. I like all cuisines, but I can't eat spicy food like Mexican or Indian – I like some of it, but if it's way too spicy, I can't take it. When it comes to what I drink I'm looking forward to the nice stuff – a nice cognac, a nice wine.
BORIS SPASSKY FORMER WORLD CHAMPION never offered a draw twice, except in his game against Khachiyan...
What music are you currently grooving to?
I like Sting a lot. Nice, smooth music. I can listen to rock – Aerosmith, Santana, Ray Charles, Guns N' Roses. I like Sinatra, Eric Clapton, Johnny Cash. I actually learned English from listening to the Beatles, yeah.
Tell me a chess secret?
You know for people it's always important to find motivation for doing something. In order for you to succeed in chess, you must have effort, motivation and focus in order to be a better chess player. It's a short answer, but I think it's deep, you know. And you must be a workaholic, or you'll never succeed.
ARONIAN'S TEACHER: Melikset Khachiyan with his student Levon Aronian. Melikset was Aronian's first teacher and basically laid the foundation for the world's no. 2 player.
What chess hero had the most influence on your chess development?
Petrosian. I have so much respect for him, I knew him in person. Secondly as a kid I loved Fischers' My 60 Most Memorable Games. My favorite player is still my student Aronian, and I love to watch the games of Carlsen, the guy is just amazing. It's nonsense, no one is able to do what he can do, I think he's going to be world champion. I know Anand and have so much respect for him, but I hope Carlsen will win. We need some changes, and if a young man like Carlsen is World Champion I hope we're gonna have some changes – not on paper, but for real. He can create a more fair competition, so it's really important, you know.
"Spassky told me many stories, but most of them are still classified..."
What is your best chess memory?
Clearly by learning from my tutor World Champion Tigran Petrosian. That made a huge influence, even today. That's number one. My second best chess memory is training Levon Aronian, the world number two player. I stayed with his family, I was a refugee and had no place to stay and they offered me a place, it was a good part of my life.
He was a kid from the local chess club, he was a nobody, a D or C-class player, he was nine years old. When we broke up he was an International Master with a higher rating than me. As a funny memory is the time when I spent the whole night with Spassky, the former World Champion. We played in 1992 in Teheran, and the story is funny because of the way Spassky proposed me a draw. What happened was Spassky offered me a draw after the opening and he had white pieces, and I said to myself: "If we're going to make a draw, what the heck, it's good, but how cool would it be if I'm going to refuse his proposal and play on?".
I had a slightly better position, and Petrosian always told us, if you have a better position, just keep playing. So I said "I'm sorry, your Majesty, he he, but I have to say no". So we kept playing, and he got mad, he almost killed me, and at the very last time control, I think we played five hours +, and when he had like five minutes left and I had around eight, he looked at me and said: "Young man, I have never ever in my life done this, but I am going to propose you a draw for the second time. But you owe me a bottle of whisky. So you go and get it, and come to my room". He gave me his room number and I took a bottle of Grant whisky back to his room, and we drank slowly and had a conversation all night, he told me so many stories about Soviet union chess, it was a good experience. He told me many stories, but most of them are still classified. Stories about well known players . He was very mad at Botvinnik and the Soviet union school of chess in general – how they pushed each other, how they broke some souls in chess, it was tough.
WORLD CHAMPION: Khachiyan's first trainer Tigran Petrosian was recognised as the hardest player to beat in the history of chess according to Wikipedia.
How old were you when you began to play chess?
Let's see, I think I was about eight. My mother taught me, and my first teacher was my dad.
Do you have a family?
From my first marriage I have two kids, from my second marriage I have a stepson, so you can say I have three kids.
What was your childhood like?
I was born in Aserbadsjan, then a part of Russia, so my upbringing was very influenced by Russia. When I was a kid I was happy, it was one country, but when I was grown it fell apart and eventually I left. Now I live in Los Angeles in the USA.
What is your all time favorite chess game?
This game is called "Kasparov's Immortal game", the game where Kasparov sacrifices everything. It is one of the most commented chessgames ever.
What is your inner being?
Someone who shows guidance... A teacher, it's more me.
"In Russia they say if a fish goes bad, it smells from the head"
What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the chess world?
If we're going to change something, we need to make people respect each other in chess. Like old people who used to be very strong, who mused to be very famous and very well known, they struggle to pay their bills, so I think the chess community must figure out a way to pay them back for their greatness, for their influence on chess. Also what I would do would be to present this game as a more royal game... I would definitely change the dress code for chess players. Especially on the high stage. Every chess player like to have their freedom, to be flexible, we're all like primadonnas, but that has to change. Especially in America, kids look for us, they come to the game, they eat and they play, they drink and they play, it's not nice, not as it's supposed to be.The image needs to be changed. It must come from the top, like a chain reaction. In Russia they say if a fish goes bad, it smells from the head.
Is there any chess books that has had a deep and lasting influence on you?
My System by Nimzowich. But the book that had most influence on me as a kid was Alekhine's My 300 Most Memorable Games. I like the book of Capablanca Last Lectures, very well written. Millions of books! The books by Jacob Aagaard. I order my books from qualitychess.co.uk.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in chess?
Believe and have confidence, and things will go well in your life and in your play. If you believe in something you'll be ok, but without belief there is no confidence.
What is your favorite chess piece?
The pawn. Like in life everyone can transform themselves, from being a soldier in chess you can become general, you can be king, so... The point is from the smallest piece to like, huge in the game.
Do you have any thoughts on how Chess.com can get even better?
Chess.com is already doing great.We need to work more to popularize our playing venue, and reduce the number of cheating there. Also we need to have more interactive classes with audience to help them improve, like live sessions with GMs. But overall we are doing great!