Karen Asrian: The Departed Champion

Karen Asrian: The Departed Champion‎

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I met GM Karen Asrian during the 1995 Armenian Championship. Back then, Karen was 15, but his advanced endgame skills and positional understanding were already deeply impressive. Evidently, a new talented player was coming up. Indeed, in the next year, Karen achieved a phenomenal result (9 out of 11) and won a gold medal for the best performance on his board at the Yerevan Olympiad (1996). 

Later, he had great results in the world junior championships. In 1998 Karen became a grandmaster and defended the honor of the Armenian team at the Elista Olympiad (1998). While getting stronger over the years, Karen won several international tournaments as well as multiple Armenian championships. The historic victory by the Armenian team at the Turin Olympiad in 2006 turned out to be his crowning achievement. 

Akopian (left) and Asrian (right) at Turin in 2006. Photo: Courtesy of Akopian

Karen was certainly a versatile chess player. His deep opening knowledge, instant calculation, and advanced endgame technique made him a dangerous rival for any grandmaster. However, his lack of aggressive attitude and peacefulness kept him from getting more out of his potential.

I suppose that being a gentle person prevented Karen from going for a tough fight in some games. If Karen, for example, had a choice between two options: going to the nearest bar with his opponent or playing a game against him, he would definitely go for the first one. However, when he was at his best, he could create quite a crushing attack.

Still, Karen's greatest skill remained his high endgame technique. The game segment below was played during the crucial final stage of the Bled Olympiad (2002).

The next game was played in the 11th round of the Turin Olympiad, which turned out to be the last game won by the Armenian team in that competition.

Besides practical performances, Karen deeply engaged in coaching activities. Particularly, he worked with Iranian, Qatari, and Chinese leading chess players. Obviously, he assisted Armenian grandmasters and young talented players as well. On top of that, he was an excellent analyst. Quite often we found ourselves lingering till the late night over some interesting endgame.

At the end of May, 2008 Karen played in the French Team Championship and returned to Yerevan and then...

On June 9, 2008, while parking his car in front of the Chess House, Karen suddenly felt bad. The doctors arrived pretty soon just to record death from a brain hemorrhage. That happened just a couple of hours before the opening of the “Chess Giants” tournament. 

Karen Asrian
Asrian in 2007. Photo: Karpidis/Flickr, CC.

Although time has passed, a lot of people still experience shock from the tragedy. How could it happen that a young, handsome, cheerful guy with so many friends all over the world would just pass away in the prime of his life?

Karen was an extraordinarily bright man. He filled people with joy and happiness merely with his presence. When he was around, there were always jokes, laughter, and fun. He was always in a hurry as if he felt he had it coming. On top of that, he was a very kind person. He adored children and intended to get married eventually. Every year he set a wedding day on 30th December, but couldn’t find the right match.

Right after Armenians’ victory at the Turin Olympiad, Karen said a phrase that was meant to be ill-fated:

“So, I did not live in vain.”

He accomplished a lot during his short life, but there was so much more that he could have achieved. Karen will be missed by everyone who got the chance to know him. It’s hard to believe that we will never see his broad and charming smile, and we will never hear him answer the cell phone again with his usual “Hi, bro!”

Karen Asrian
Asrian in 2007. Photo: Karpidis/Flickr, CC.

Karen passed away at 28, as a reigning Olympic and Armenian champion. There were a lot of big plans coming up, such as defending the champion title at the Dresden Olympiad (2008). Still, everything Karen managed to do was more than enough to inscribe his name in gold letters in the rich history of Armenian chess.      

Karen like me enjoyed solving challenging problems and studies. The next beautiful monster he cracked faster than me.

And this is my study composed in 2005 and published the same year in "New in Chess" magazine. I showed it to Karen shortly after the study had been completed. After about five minutes of thinking, Karen said: "yeah, Kf7" and left. The great talent left...

Karen Asrian
Karen Asrian in 2006. Photo: Courtesy of Akopian.
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