IA Sevan Muradian (1975-2016)
Chess.com asked Maret Thorpe, Chicago-area resident, to remember International Arbiter and International Organizer Sevan Muradian. Photo: Andi Rosen
Sevan Muradian, a prolific chess organizer who worked tirelessly to promote FIDE-rated chess in the U.S, died of a heart attack on February 17 at his Kildeer, Illinois, home. He was 40 years old.
The numbers reveal how vital a force Muradian was for chess in his home state, in the U.S., and internationally. In his 11-year career as an organizer and director, his U.S. Chess affiliate rated 266 events, and he was chief director of 245 U.S. Chess-rated tournaments.
But what set Muradian apart from other American promoters of the game was organizing FIDE tournaments in the U.S. and promoting internationally-rated chess.
Christopher Baumgartner, an Illinois player and friend of Muradian's, recalls, “In 2003-2005, no one was doing any kind of FIDE stuff at all. I actually went to Oklahoma to get my FIDE rating.” Baumgartner had decided to run some FIDE events of his own, when he met and got assistance from Muradian, who was also researching FIDE-rated chess.
“Sevan decided ‘I want to do this,’ so he started asking people, ‘How do I do this?’ He didn’t worry about failure, just tried as hard as he could to get something done. He was very determined,” Baumgartner recalls. “His vision was to make Chicago an international chess place. We could do world-level chess here like anywhere else. He was always about elevating the game.”
“When he looked for a mentor, he picked me,” said Tim Just, who in 2005 was already nationally known as an organizer, rulebook editor, tournament director (TD), and leader in TD certification for U.S. Chess.
Just continued, “We looked at what traditionally worked best for organizers and TDs. Sevan then did what he always did best; i.e., he took a look at what was and asked himself how he could make it better. Sevan put his own spin on things and raised the bar for organizing and directing. He saw the value in FIDE and sold it to all of us.”
Sevan Muradian during a simul with IM Angelo Young in Chicago, October, 2007.
He got the only draw against the master that day. (Photo: Tom Panelas)
So began a series of almost 200 FIDE events where Muradian served as arbiter. The vast majority of these he organized, first at rented venues, and eventually at his own chess center in Skokie, IL.
About 30 of these were FIDE norm tournaments, in which players attempted to earn FIDE titles by beating international masters and grandmasters. IM Eric Rosen, GM Ray Robson, IM Florin Felecan, Tansel Turgut, GM Pascal Charbonneau and many others earned norms at Muradian’s events.
“He wanted to run important events, and what’s more important than helping people earn a title?” Baumgartner pointed out.
Said Brad Rosen, father of IM Eric Rosen, “One of Sevan’s shining accomplishments is bringing norm events to U.S. shores, where players could earn international titles. He ran 31 such norm events, but importantly he inspired many others across the U.S. to do the same.” Thanks to the standard set by Muradian, the Chicago Open, the World Open in Philadelphia, and many more U.S. tournaments now offer norm opportunities.
After earning his FIDE International Organizer title in 2008 and his International Arbiter title in 2009, Muradian became secretary of the FIDE Rules Commission. In 2010, he convinced FIDE to start giving their arbiter certification seminar over the internet, making it much easier for others to get that title.
Working with FIDE gave Muradian many opportunities to travel, including to Lake Sevan in Armenia, the place his parents named him after. Baumgartner recalled, “Chess opened doors for him in that way; he had opportunities to go places he wouldn’t have otherwise have gone.”
Muradian’s chess interests were wide-ranging. In addition to FIDE-rated tournaments and norm events, he developed eNotate, a U.S. Chess-approved electronic scoresheet. His FIDE tournaments used increment instead of delay, and that became a more accepted practice in the Chicago area and elsewhere in the U.S. He helped promote this by marketing an increment-capable chess clock, and he frequently loaned dozens of these clocks and chess sets for Illinois state championships and other tournaments.
Muradian was the founder and owner of the Chicago Blaze franchise of the United States Chess League (USCL) from 2008-2011. His enthusiasm for the Blaze was so infectious that he gathered a sizable volunteer management and promotion team, and he filled his chess center with live spectators whenever the Blaze had a match. In their last season the Chicago team reached the league finals, where Blaze players GM Mesgen Amanov, GM Dmitry Gurevich, IM Angelo Young and NM Gopal Menon lost 1.5-2.5 to the New York Knights.
GM Dmitry Gurevich watches a teammate's game with Muradian during a Chicago Blaze USCL match. (photo: Andi Rosen)
Creating learning and playing opportunities for the strong young players was another area of interest. The chess center held many weekend classes and simuls. Muradian made sure to save seats for the best prospects both on the Chicago Blaze team and at his norm events. He also provided a free venue and helped run the Illinois qualifier events for the U.S. Chess Denker, Barber and Girls’ Invitational tournaments, and in the last year became the director of the Illinois Chess Association’s Warren Junior Scholars Program.
When Muradian died, he was two days away from beginning the US Amateur Team-North, which he was organizing along with his friend Glenn Panner, a national tournament director. The Chicago-area chess community immediately pulled together to replace the sets and clocks that Muradian would have brought to the event. Once the tournament started, players and kibitzers shared memories in the skittles room and at a bulletin board set up for that purpose.
Dozens posted memories on the Chicago Area Chess Facebook page and on the U.S. Chess forum. People ranging from youth players on up to U.S. Chess board members recalled Muradian’s wit, his determination, his love of playing devil’s advocate, the way he liked to tease and challenge others, but most of all his generosity.
Panner, his co-organizer, said, “He truly cared about people, spending hours discussing how to enter the work force with college students, and talking with many parents about how to give their kids the best chance to succeed. He poured time and money into endeavors without caring about what type of return came back.”
One of those young players, NM Michael Auger, said, “Apart from the incredible things he's done for the chess world, he's been a great life adviser for a lot of us. A number of big decisions in my life can be traced directly back to conversations with him. He was an incredible person, gone way too soon."
"By that point I was not sure which of us was the guru." Muradian and National Tournament Director Tim Just. (Photo: Andi Rosen)
In May of 2015, Muradian’s chess center lost its lease, and he closed it and posted plans for his next chess endeavors to his Facebook page. There would be two tournaments a month at a hotel, another chess center dedicated solely to teaching, a new website and “some now projects as well that I now have time for.”
Eleven years later after Muradian organized his first tournament, Just said, “My role as (his) mentor changed into that of a sounding board, and he tagged me his ‘guru.’ I tagged him as a friend. After he closed his brick and mortar club he aimed his focus on developing a website. Together we developed a column for that site (OK, he had the idea and found a way to motivate me to jump on board) that focused on sharing all of our TD and organizer Yoda-like wisdom… By that point I was not sure which of us was the guru. I think I had become the student and he had become the mentor. Sevan had a way of infusing energy into everyone around him. He always seemed to give more than he took.”
Sadly for us all, that “extra time” was not to be. It is our good fortune that Sevan Muradian accomplished so much for chess in 11 short years. Our condolences go out to his wife, his two daughters, the rest of his family and his many friends.
Maret Thorpe is the organizer of Evanston Chess Club, a scholastic chess organizer, a U.S. Chess Senior Tournament Director and (thanks to Sevan) a FIDE National Arbiter.