Does any country have as many GM's per capita as Armenia?

If not which country is the closest? What are the some of the reasons for Armenian success in the chess world with its relatively small population?

Are there best practices from chess education in Armenia that can be utilized in other countries hoping to raise more strong Grandmasters?

  • 8
    Surely Iceland with 13 grandmasters out of a population of 320 000 beats Armenia who "only" have 37 grandmasters out of 3 million people, Jun 24, 2016 at 22:44
  • Add explosions to chess and the USA would have more GMs than anyone, by any measure!
    – Tony Ennis
    Jun 26, 2016 at 15:30

2 Answers 2


It's from 2010 but you might look at


where as expected Iceland is number 1, and Armenia is number 3. Number 2 might surprise you!

  • Hmmm, that said I can't see the country I come from (UK) listed which suggests it isn't complete. Or maybe we voted ourselves out of it, idiots that we are.
    – Ian Bush
    Jun 25, 2016 at 8:33
  • I have no idea why I forgot Iceland! Thanks for the list. What factors help make Iceland so successful?
    – David
    Jun 25, 2016 at 15:57
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    @IanBush There is no UK FIDE-affiliated federation and never has been. Instead there are separate federations for England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Guernsey, Jersey, etc. I find it a little bit shocking that somebody with an ECF (English Chess Federation) grading of 142 in their late 40's is so ignorant of whom they pay their £22 a year to. I'm also rather shocked that such virtue-signalling ignorance should be entrusted with teaching at Magdalen College School, one of England's better public schools. (Public school = private school, for the benefit of Americans)
    – Brian Towers
    Jun 25, 2016 at 18:24
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    I couldn't find England either, and I don 't teach at MCS! Rather I dispense ignorance to graduates at the local university. But I take your point :)
    – Ian Bush
    Jun 25, 2016 at 20:13
  • @David What makes Iceland successful? The legacy of Fischer v. Spassky, Reykjavík, 1972. It's also why I learnt chess in the first place.
    – Ian Bush
    Jun 26, 2016 at 7:06

NationMaster compiled a list of countries in order of GMs per capita, in 2006. In their study, Iceland and Andorra top Armenia.

This is still the case, as Iceland currently boasts 13 GMs, and a population totaling a mere 332,529 as of January 1. Per capita 0.0000391.

Andorra still holds its place above Armenia as well; its population is 78,014 as of 2015, and it boasts two GMs, David Norwood and Oscar De La Riva Aguado. That results in a per capita of 0.0000256 GMs.

These countries are successful in this stat just because the population is so low. In a small country, one GM makes a very big statistical difference.

Armenia estimates it has 3,013,900 inhabitants as of 2014, and FIDE shows 36 GMS, which puts their per capita at 0.0000119, less than half Andorra's per capita total.

I checked into the top ten countries in NationMaster's list, to find whether any other country had crept above Armenia within the 10 years since NationMaster's study, but it appears that Armenia holds its 3rd place position pretty securely.

I wouldn't read too much into these data. Iceland actually has fewer IMs than GMs (11 vs. 13), and so does Armenia (29 vs. 36). (Andorra has 2 IMs). Also, Armenia places 7th in NationMaster's IM study. There are, on average, 2.31 IMs per GM (3519/1522), so Iceland, Andorra, and Armenia's combined total of 42 IMs (instead of the expected average of 118) indicates a very large margin of error. I guess most of the influx of GMs is a statistical fluctuation that will resolve somewhat over time (say, in a generation).

That said, chess is a mandatory school subject in Armenia as of 2011. Rather than a cause (as no current GMs would have been affected by this ruling), this move might be a symptom of chess proclivity in Armenia's culture, which would explain its popularity in the country. As far as I could tell, Iceland has no special chess program, but when you take a random sample as small as 300,000, some samples will contain no GMs and some will have 13 (or more). That kind of statistical "noise" doesn't necessarily mean anything.

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