How Armenians excel in chess, and Georgians in Eurovision

The tiny Armenia, with a population of 3M, has 27 chess grandmasters (out of 1,200 in the whole world), proving repeated exposures to an activity will create the cluster of “geniuses”, as posited by Tyler Cowen here.

As for Armenia’s monopoly in chess, much of it can be attributed to a nation-wise obsession with the sport, connecting the sport with nationalistic pride, materialized by an outpour of both prestige and financial rewards for winners, and the infrastructure to replenish the stock.

A sophisticated structure is in place to develop the next generation of Aronians. Down the road from the match venue is a classroom where the country’s best juniors are brought to train. There’s a boy who won the European under-10s, another who was under-12 world champion. In fact, all the children have won medals in national or international competitions. In the afternoon they watch the grandmaster games. In the morning, after physical exercise, there are four or five hours of chess coaching: three-minute blitz games, opening theory, endgame technique and sessions on tactics. To inspire them, the floor is made up of 64 black-and-white squares.

The path to success sounds unsurprisingly formulaic, also applied in earnest by the Georgians in its attempt to capture Junior Eurovision. The key?  A psyched up nation with high expectations, combined with systemic training and ample resources.

Last year, Georgia stormed to victory with three children singing in an imaginary bee language. Eager to defend its title, Georgia put this year’s act through four months of training and arrived in Kiev with an entourage of 21 people, including two vocal coaches, a stage producer, a choreographer and a psychologist.

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