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One of the strongest chess nations today is a tiny country with well-known grandmasters such as Tigran Petrosian or “Iron Tigran” — Armenia. How Armenia does it is by keeping the best chess traditions through one of the most ambitious school chess programmes in the world.

Today, Levon Aronian, Armenia’s top chess player, is World #6 in the FIDE ranking, having been a World Champion candidate on six occasions. Armenian chess teams are also amongst world’s strongest: the men’s chess team won the European Team Championship in 1999, the World Team Championship in 2011 and took first place several times in the Chess Olympiad.

While all children in Armenia learn chess at school, some of them have been thinking of ways to make the learning process easier. This is how “Chessify” was designed and then further developed into a world-quality chess application with the support of EU-SMEDA — Support to SME Development in Armenia, a project supported by the European Union under of the EU4Business initiative.

Designed for kids, used by pros

“My sons took chess classes at school and were spending a lot of time drawing with a pencil in a textbook,” recalls Gor Vardanyan, 38, the CEO and co-founder of Chessify.

“It would be great to just have the chess diagrams on your smartphone and solve the challenges,” said Gor’s sons when they approached their father, owner of a company focused on heavy algorithmic, mathematical models, chip design and engineering.

That is when the idea of a Chessify start-up occurred. “We decided to design an application that would make it possible to take chess puzzle photos from books and get a digitized version,” recalls Vardanyan. “We also added a feature for analysing positions and showing the solution or the best moves.”

Set up in 2017 for educational purposes and launched on Google Play, the application soon drew the attention of the international chess community, not just Armenian parents. It soon was up to 10,000 downloads a month.

Such global interest inspired the team for adding new features to the app: searching positions in chess-game databases, playing against the computer, saving and sharing games, watching top chess tournaments live, searching positions on YouTube, and more.

With its unique chessboard scanner tool, flexible cloud analysis service, AI engine, and the support of EU4Business, Chessify completely redesigned the Android app Play and launched its iOS version on Apple Store.

Going international with EU support

“The improved version of our app gave us even more downloads and better ratings,” says Vardanyan. “In addition to this, our team devised a 3D scanner prototype with plans to add it to our mobile app as a premium feature.”

Vardanyan adds that EU support was a real help in redesigning the Chessify’s website and establishing future goals, such as setting up an online platform for chess analysis and adding a YouTube video search tool, most of which have now been achieved.

A 12-month project with a €50,000 budget that started in January 2018 launched Chessify in the Apple Store with a few new app features, such as YouTube video search and livestreaming, and got more chess players registered for the Chessify cloud service as it became available for everyone, even for those who had no chess programme. This helped Chessify to expand by hiring seven new workers and setting up a main affiliate in Gyumri with five employees.

“By January 2019, our app downloads had doubled, from 100,000 to 200,000, in both Google Play and the Apple Store,” recalls Vardanyan. “As to the Cloud service, 40 professional chess players started using our cloud service for their training and tournament preparations.”

Chessify’s cloud service dramatically increases the effectiveness of professional chess training and saves 30% of overall training time. “A chessic Swiss knife” became the slogan of the application, since it includes almost everything related to chess. Today, the app has around 500,000 Android and iOS users.

Currently, Chessify is working to release a 3D scanner as a new premium app feature. The number of cloud service users continues to grow. Gor Vardanyan is confident about the future: “We plan to contact chess federations in different countries and offer them special deals for recommending our service to their players.”

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