Coach Of The Month: GM Avetik Grigoryan

Coach Of The Month: GM Avetik Grigoryan

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GM Avetik Grigoryan is an Armenian chess coach and content creator with an extensive range of experiences to draw from. Having coached individual students as well as national teams, his focus goes substantially beyond simply improving the Elo rating of his pupils. Find out more about Grigoryan's philosophy towards chess and life, discover what the 'Main Game' is, and find out how the Need For Speed video game series almost derailed the career of an aspiring young chess master! 

Readers seeking private instruction can contact Grigoryan via his profile and can find other skilled coaches at

At what age were you introduced to chess, and who introduced you?

I was four years old. My country was in a war, and when the motherland called, my dad answered. I didn’t see him for two years.  

Image of a young GM Avetik Grigoryan with his father.
"With Dad. I found this in my childhood album." Photo courtesy of Grigoryan.

Armenia was struggling not only on the border but inside too. The economic situation was very tough in the country. We had electricity and water just for a few hours a day. If, during the daytime, I managed to find something to do in the yard, in the evenings I would get bored. 

No TV (no electricity), no tablets or phones back then. 

To help me escape from boredom, my grandma introduced me to different board games. The first was chess. I don’t know how this happened, but after she taught me the rules of the game, I beat her in the very first game we played. Then I won the next one, and the next one too, and I got bored with it quite fast. 

But when my father came back from the war (he had such a big beard I didn’t recognize him at first), and learned I could play chess, it made him very happy. 

GM Avetik Grigoryan's father with a full beard and sunglasses alongside two other men, posing for a photo.
"My Dad is in the middle. How could I recognize him?" Photo courtesy of Grigoryan.

Chess was Dad’s unfulfilled dream. He learned chess at a late age, all by himself, through books and magazines, and became quite good (he is about 2400 on He loved the game very much, but life took over.

After missing him for so much of my childhood, this was the way to get close to my father. In the evenings, before getting my daily bedtime fairy tale, we would play chess. A month later, Dad asked me if I would like to go to chess school. It was the easiest and happiest “Yes” I’ve ever said!

What is your first vivid memory of chess?

When I played my first official tournament, an unpleasant surprise awaited me. It was in the historical chess house in Yerevan. I was going to play against professionally well-trained kids. I was six years old.

I was in the mood to beat everyone. And I got a punch in my face in the very first round. A kid, much smaller than me, was playing very fast and confidently. He got an advantage from the beginning (I didn’t know any openings back then) and launched an unstoppable attack. 

I was very badly beaten. 

That was the first electric shock and stress I felt on my journey. It was very unpleasant, and I remember that I didn’t eat anything later that day and couldn’t sleep. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.  

I finished the tournament somewhere in the middle and realized I was not the smartest and strongest kid in the room. Not to mention, I felt a huge desire to become better and beat all of them. 

Which coaches were helpful to you in your chess career, and what was the most useful knowledge they imparted to you?

After that disaster (that's how I viewed it), I asked my dad if he could take me to that specialized chess school—the one those kids attended.

It was a request my dad didn’t fulfill immediately. I had no idea that he spent quite an amount of time every day after that visiting that school, asking around, and meeting with different coaches. He did deep research for picking a coach for me, something very, very important; a step where unfortunately most parents make their first mistake, by simply picking the very first coach they meet.

My first real coach was CM Gagik Sargissian. He would do the classes in a fun and playful atmosphere. A year later, at 7.5 years old, I got my first official national rating (equivalent to FIDE rating): 2000!

And I wasn’t the fastest-growing kid. There were many others. Some became grandmasters, some International Masters. My training partner in the group was not nice when it came to playing. She would mostly beat me. It was future WGM Tatev Abrahamyan

I wasn’t that special to get to a 2000 rating that fast. Our coach was brilliant. The most important thing we learned from him is that chess is not just a game of skill. It’s also a game of character. I give him lots of credit for my fighting spirit.

At 12, I hit a plateau. I got my first computer. And I made a serious 'blunder'.  Of course, I installed many chess programs but… I also installed “Need For Speed”… And my 'driving' started improving faster than my chess. 

I would wake up early in the morning, at 6 a.m., and would play Need For Speed before going to school (while my parents were proud of me thinking that their son loved chess so much that he trained before school). 

One day I got caught. My parents were so disappointed. Apologies were not accepted, and I was not allowed to play chess for a year. Long story short, during that period I released my anger in a school for MMA (mixed martial arts), fighting with my arms and legs instead of using chess pieces. 

At 13 I asked for forgiveness again and this time it worked! I came back to chess. I lost one year during which I could have improved my chess. But I gained more from MMA school than I lost. The fighter I became was going to compensate for the missed year.

My next coach was GM Arsen Yeghiazaryan. Another right coach for that moment. He opened my eyes to how much I didn’t know about chess, and how much I needed to learn to become a grandmaster. Probably it was because of that previous lack of awareness that I was lazy and thought that despite playing Need For Speed, one day I’d become a GM anyway. In five years he took me to my IM title.  

IM Chibukhchyan, my next coach, took me from IM to GM in one year! He polished all my vivid weak spots and deepened my chess understanding.

My road from 2500  to 2600 was with GM Vladimir Akopian. It was also eye-opening. How else could it be, when you work with an elite grandmaster who fought with all the top players at his peak? My feeling of initiative and dynamic play skyrocketed. And if before that my strongest part was positional play, now I was absolutely a multi-style player. 

Also, from him, I learned how to defend worse positions. During his professional career, he played with the most elite top players. As he would often get into bad positions, life made him a very good defender. Luckily, life gave me a chance to learn from him.

I worked with other coaches too, but those four people I was blessed to work with had the biggest impact on my chess career.

Thank you, universe! 

What is your favorite or best game you ever played?

It was probably the game played against the strong Russian GM Boris Grachev. I was an IM then, and I don’t think I played that game alone—Morphy’s soul was inside me, I was just moving the pieces. 

How would you describe your approach to chess coaching?

I have helped many students achieve the GM, IM, and FM titles and many have gained hundreds of rating points, depending on their specific chess goals. I have coached individuals as well as national teams, and have been coaching for over ten years. 

But my approach to chess coaching is very comprehensive and goes beyond chess. 

I try to do two things with my students: 

1) Help them win the 'Main Game'

During my professional career, I met many grandmasters who have lots of fans, get lots of applause, and people praise them. But inside, they feel miserable. I don’t want any of my students to fall into the society trap. And I want them to differentiate professional success from life success. 

What people often don’t realize is that chess is a part of the many games we play in our lives.  
The career game, finance game, marriage game, family game, hobby game, parent game, etc… 

All of them are a part of the biggest game we try to win. Some call it happiness, some peace, some finding a purpose. That’s the game I try to help my students to win. Often through chess. Often both together. I often see people thinking that by winning the “chess” game, be it a hobby or career game, they’ll win the main game. But it’s an illusion. 

And I see lots of people, who hide themselves in the chess game, trying to avoid playing the main game. I really like Jim Carrey’s quote: "I hope everybody could get rich and famous and will have everything they ever dreamed of, so they will know that it’s not the answer." 

Of course, I can take advantage of it, make them work on chess harder and harder, and help them achieve high professional results. Then the word about me will spread, and I can be known as the best coach ever. My ego will be satisfied. But not me; I’m not interested in this. 

“Coaching” and “helping others” are just two of the many games I play too. And betraying my values will not help me to win my own 'Main Game'.

It warms my heart to recall how many of my students achieved their dreams, got their titles, became masters and grandmasters, or raised their ratings by hundreds of points. But what really makes my heart smile is the people who through our lessons became better, happier, and got closer to winning their 'Main Game'.

During my professional career, I met many grandmasters who have lots of fans, get lots of applause, and people praise them. But inside, they feel miserable. 
— GM Grigoryan

2) Unlock their full potential 

I believe that almost everyone underperforms at points in their lives and careers, including me. We’re capable of doing more, achieving more, and getting to our goals much faster!

Most of the time our potential isn’t unlocked. This is what I’m doing with myself. I’m working with some of the best peak performance coaches. I’m trying to win this game and help my students to realize their full potential and unlock it as well. 

Sometimes the barrier is psychological and sometimes it’s technical/chess-specific. A good chess coach should be like a chess doctor. Figure out the reasons/barriers (often hidden), and then heal them. One step at a time. 

Here is the difference between the best coaches and amateur coaches: The best coaches diagnose better and faster, and they have lots of prepared medicine for all kinds of different “sicknesses.” They have hundreds of prepared medicines (files/examples) for every possible sickness (bad calculation, weak tactics, converting winning positions, saving lost positions, endgames, not feeling the initiative, and hundreds of others…) 

Preparing all of this medicine takes dozens of years. And it’s a process that never ends. 

What do you consider your responsibility as a coach, and which responsibilities fall on a student?

I do my best to: 

1. Help them win the 'Main Game'.

2. Open their 'chess chakras' and unlock their potential.

3. Diagnose their chess weaknesses constantly so I can direct them on what to study, what to read, what to watch, what time control to play, etc…

4. Help them analyze the games where the engine can’t.

5. Answer every single question that arises. 

To maximize their lessons, they must: 

1. Be open-minded and listen. If they chose me, and I chose them, we have to trust each other and listen to each other.

2. Follow the improvement plan that we’ve designed (slight experiments are allowed)

3. Win the Main Game!

What is a piece of advice that you give your students that more chess players could benefit from?

I’ve written over a hundred articles, sharing my knowledge about chess improvement, mindset, and many other tips. This article on how to getter better at chess is the most important one. Improvement in chess, and in absolutely any area, consists of three main steps:

Study -> Practice -> Fix 

If you miss any of these steps, you won’t progress fast enough or you won’t progress at all. 
And most of the chess world misses one of those steps. Some study too much, and are afraid of playing and competitions. Some play too much and never study new things. Some study and play, but never fix their mistakes. As a result, they repeat them over and over again.  

Chess players who hit a plateau, 99% of the time failed in one of these steps. Once you start giving a decent amount of attention to all three, get ready to see your results skyrocket.

By the way, playing blitz games also counts as practice… If you briefly analyze your games! This is not common advice but has a deep idea in it. Here is a detailed article on it, including a game-changing lesson I learned from my poker career.

What is your favorite teaching game that users might not have seen?

After starting ChessMood and having seven titled players in the chess department, whose job is mainly to research material for our courses, I discovered that there are many games I was supposed to know, but didn’t. Even from classics! 

So on ChessMood we did a video analysis of the 300 most instructive classic games: 

1. 100 Classical Masterpieces 
2. 100 Classical Attacking Games 
3. 100 Classical Endgames

There will be many games that even the top players will not know.

To give an example, I unlocked one of the brilliant games played by GM Eduardas Rozentalis here so that the readers can watch it for free.

Why this one? Many chess players are focused mostly on tactics and openings. It’s true, they are very important. But chess players often forget about strategy and improving their chess understanding. Rozentalis’ game is a perfect example. He won the game without any tactics or calculations. Just pure understanding.

I hope chess lovers will enjoy the game and will spend at least a little time improving their chess understanding, and not just tactics. 

What puzzle that you give students tells you the most about how they think?

There isn’t a single puzzle that can show how the student thinks during the attack, defense, converting advantage, in calculation, and in all of the other hundreds of situations. 

Instead, I have a set of examples (20-50) for different levels that give me a more accurate idea of the student's weaknesses and strengths. 

Another thing I do with students is that I play with them and often pause the clock and ask them questions. Why did they do X or Y? 

During playing, I also can learn how good their time management and practical decision-making are, and I get a sense of their fighting spirit, and much more. 

Do you prefer to teach online or offline? 

Online has a few advantages. For example, you don’t spend time setting up positions on a physical board. You don’t spend time putting the pieces back after analyzing and often putting the wrong position. Online, it’s just a few clicks. So it saves time. 

You don’t drive 45 minutes to your coach, or fly to another country for chess lessons. So again, you save the most precious thing: time. But online has a big downside. No matter how much you try as a coach, you can’t bring into the room the energy that you can face-to-face. 

And that energy is very important. So, if possible, I prefer offline. 

What do you consider the most valuable training tool that the internet provides?

I wish, when I was a kid, there had been a place with 400+ hours of step-by-step courses made by grandmasters, covering all parts of the game, from opening to middlegame to endgame. I wish they would play the openings they teach and comment live. I wish I could ask them questions and get answers. I wish they would share the lessons they learned during their chess careers, and I could read and not repeat the same mistakes…

So I created ChessMood.

Maybe, because with our team we’ve worked so hard during these six years trying to create the best platform possible, I’m losing objectivity. But anyway, this is what I believe in. Let chess lovers judge our work. And when I go through our success stories pages, it warms my heart and tells me we’re going in the right direction. 

Which under-appreciated chess book should every chess player read?

I think there are many more over-appreciated and well-marketed chess books than under-appreciated. In other words, there are some less famous books that should have been more famous, and vice versa. Here is a page where chess lovers can find some books that they’ve never heard about.

However, I think non-chess books are very under-appreciated. There are some non-chess books that will boost chess performance much more than any single chess book. On the same recommendations page above, chess lovers can find such books to significantly boost their performance and get more value than if they read a chess book. 

And most importantly, they’ll improve not only their chess, but the quality of their life and will get closer to winning the Main Game they play. 

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