The Kings and Queens of Chess

Project Type
  • Documentary
  • Film
Release Date 2024
Produced by:

Fort Greene Filmworks

Production Team:

Directors, Writers, Producers: Shareen Anderson & Sevan Naccashian
Director Of Photography: Shareen Anderson
Executive Producer: Levon Baghdassarian

Armenia, a tiny landlocked country nestled in the sub-Caucasus, has a long history with the game of chess, going as far back as the early Middle Ages. When Armenia became a Soviet republic, chess was institutionalized with the founding of the Armenian Chess Federation in 1927, creating a platform for tournaments and rankings. But it was in the 1960s, when Soviet Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrossian became the World Chess Champion, that chess became a national obsession and grew to become the country’s most popular mind sport. To date, Armenia has produced more grandmasters per capita than any other nation.

In an age where games on PlayStations and iPhones are ubiquitous, it is refreshing to walk the streets of Armenia’s cities and villages and see people of all ages playing chess. Chess, called “shakhmat” in Armenia, is more than a game; it’s a cultural tradition. In fact, World Champion Garry Kasparov compared the popularity of chess in Armenia with the popularity of football in Latin America.

Unlike games where luck is involved, such as the role of the dice in backgammon or the luck of the draw in a card game, chess is a game based purely on one’s mental abilities. Benjamin Franklin wrote of chess: “The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement; several very valuable qualities of the mind are to be acquired and strengthened by it, so as to become habits ready on all occasions, for life is a kind of chess.” The fact that chess helps people navigate life’s challenges is something Armenia has recognized. In 2002, under the initiative of grandmaster Smbat Lputian, the Chess Academy of Armenia opened its doors to become one of the leading chess-teaching institutions in the world. And most recently, Armenia became the first and only country in the world to make chess a compulsory part of school curriculum, thanks to a $3 million initiative passed in 2011. Chess is now mandatory in the third and fourth grades – students play chess two hours a week every week for two years. Part of the program’s goal is to improve children’s logic and reasoning skills and to build character. But it also aims to produce chess champions.

Our documentary film will explore Armenia’s passion and enthusiasm for the game, weaving interviews with chess historians and grandmasters together with archival and verité footage. We will also tell the stories of a handful of Armenian children, who are on track to become champions, following them as they navigate the challenging world of tournaments and pin their hopes and dreams on being good enough to compete at the annual World Youth Chess Championship. In a country where poverty is rife, how do their parents manage to raise the funds needed to travel to national and international competitions? What drives them to compete? What does the future promise for a grandmaster in Armenia? We will also get to know the current World Youth Chess Champion, thirteen-year-old Aram Hakopyan, who will travel to this year’s World Youth Chess Championship in South Africa to defend his title.

Finally, we will ask the question – are chess players really the smartest people in the world?

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