CSUN student strategizes for chess success

Haig Amloyan plays chess outside of Manzanita Hall on May 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

David Olvera, Reporter

Amid the campus’ quiet buzz lies a challenger presenting a game. The sun’s warm glow washes over Haig Amloyan as he presents a chessboard to anyone looking for a match. Seated between the CSUN Campus Store Complex and Santa Susana Hall, the chessboard, all 32 pieces and Amloyan wait for a worthy opponent.

Amloyan knew what it meant to be a competitor early in his life. He played soccer from when he was 5 years old, and went on to participate in the California Cup twice as a teenager. Eventually, he took up swimming and started competing in both sports until he was around 15 years old.

He continued to play competitive sports until he was injured in a diving accident, when a teammate dove into the pool and landed on top of him. The impact shattered his collarbone and shoulder blade.

Both of Amloyan’s brothers are athletes, and his family values sports and competitiveness, so he still wanted to compete regardless of his injury.

Then, he found chess.

“I think the only difference between swimming and chess is the creativity,” Amloyan said. “Chess really does bring out a creative side that I had to learn. That was something that I grasped really heavily, and it’s paying off well in chess.”

Amloyan often plays chess online for fun using a website called Chess.com, where people can choose to start a chess game with customizable training robots or other online players. The website also allows visitors to watch livestreams of online chess matches, similar to Twitch, and learn how to play the game.

However, chess is something far more serious to Amloyan. It is ingrained in his culture and, as an Armenian, chess is an important part of his identity. Chess is taught as a subject, considered an elective and played as a sport in Armenia, according to Amloyan.

Although he looks up to various Armenian chess players, Amloyan’s role model is Tigran Petrosian, who held the chess world champion title from 1963 to 1969.

“I want to be like that guy. I want to represent my country like that,” Amloyan said. “That’s why my name on Chess.com is ‘armenianfalcon.’”

Haig Amloyan plays chess outside of Manzanita Hall on May 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (David Olvera)

Amloyan’s current goal for his chess career is to become a master-ranked player, a title that can only be earned during in-person competitions.

Chess rankings work in a straightforward system and are given to players by the International Chess Federation, also known as FIDE. The higher the rating, the better a player is. The general bracket for rankings goes from 100 to 3,000.

Amloyan’s current ranking ranges between 1,775 and 1,800 online. Because he has not participated in a lot of in-person tournaments yet, his position offline is around 1,100.

The candidate master title is achieved when a player is ranked around 2,200, and it stays with you for life, according to Amloyan. Despite this, the professional scene for chess is rather small and exclusive, with grandmaster players only existing in the thousands.

“It does come at a price,” Amloyan said. “I’m going to be studying a lot, but that’s something I’m willing to do, and I am prepared to go through that journey because it’s something that I love.”

As the CSUN Matador Chess Club’s president and captain of the competitive team, Amloyan’s drive to improve is well known.

“Amloyan is obsessed with the game, and won’t put it down,” said Liana Zorabian, the chess club’s first member since Amloyan revived it at the start of the spring 2022 semester.

In her eyes, he has a strong ambition to become a candidate master.

“Haig, I think, breathes and lives chess,” Zorabian said. “I think he took something and just ran with it.”

Jeanne Nersesian, Amloyan’s girlfriend, says he is determined to play and grow, but not for money or fun. She thinks Amloyan is “growing his mind,” and has become generally smarter because of chess.

The game has become such a big part of his identity, and despite being busy with work and school, he always finds a way to indulge in his passion.

“He’s so stressed out, but he still loves the game,” Nersesian said. “He has a job, [and he is a] double major, and on top of that he still has time for chess, I don’t know [how].”

Nersesian said that once Amloyan sets his mind on a goal, he’ll work as hard as he can to make it happen. To reach his goal of obtaining a master title, Amloyan even hired Minh Tran Tuan, a grandmaster from Vietnam, as a coach to help Amloyan strengthen his plays.

He studies the variations that he can play with his own openings, refines them, and analyzes the possible responses opponents can play. He also memorizes general tactics to make sure he is able to identify key moments in gameplay. He wants to have this information drilled into his head so he misses nothing.

“It’s about how to capitalize on mistakes and why you’re identifying those mistakes and why they are happening,” Amloyan said.

This June, Amloyan will be participating in the 2022 National Open, an annual tournament held in Las Vegas where he will compete against many aspiring masters traveling there to receive their titles and possibly win up to $100,000.

“I think I’ll for sure be winning that one,” Amloyan said. “Or, I’ll be in contention.”

Mikah Sadighi and Haig Amloyan play chess outside of Manzanita Hall on May 2, 2022, in Northridge, Calif. (David Olvera)

As for his playing career at CSUN, Amloyan aspires to grow the chess club by recruiting more members. He wants to make it as strong as other California powerhouses, such as University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles.

Amloyan believes that every university, including CSUN, has strong players, but he just needs to find them.

Amloyan is also recruiting those that are inexperienced or have never played chess before. His goal is to improve the environment of the club and help everyone learn through a communal effort.

“Let’s say a guy rated 600 will help a guy rated 400, and then a guy rated 1,000 will help a guy rated 600,” said Amloyan. “It just kind of goes up the ladder, just that kind of bond of helping people in a small community would be amazing.”