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ONE OF the stronger teams in the European Team Championships just getting under way in Batumi in Georgia (of which a first report tomorrow) is the

quartet from neighbouring Armenia - Akopian, Lputian, Vaganian and Minasian: a country which, owing to both the vast experience of the perennial team members and their exceptional team spirit, has consistently done well in international competition.

The Armenians recently held their national championship in the capital Erevan. Running from 16 to 26 October this 12-player all-play-all didn't encompass all of their top players but the category 10 event (average 2,494) did emphasise the strength in depth of Armenian chess, as the top seed, Grandmaster Smbat Lputian, sank to just 4.5/11!

Meanwhile Grandmaster Karen Asrian and IM Levon Aronian were first equal on 7.5/11 with the former taking the title on tie-break: while the third Grandmaster (apart from Lputian and Asrian) Artashes Minasian, was third on 7.

Karen Asrian vs

Ara Minasian (to move)

The championship was decided by the outcome of this difficult knight ending in the last round. The game ended 49 ...Nc6 50 Kd5 g4 51 Kxc6 g3 52 Nxa6 g2 53 Nc7+ 1-0.

Black should have tried 49 ...g4! 50 Kf4 Nc6 51 Nxa6 Nxa5 with reasonable drawing chances for alternatives to 50 ...g4 were also bad eg 50 ...Nxa5 51 e6 g4 52 e7 g3 53 Ne6!; or 50 ...Nb4+ 51 Kd6 g4 52 e6 g3 53 e7 g2 54 Ne6! fxe6 55 Kxe6.

It isn't obvious, but at the end 53 ...Kf8 54 e6 fxe6 55 Nxe6+ Kg8 56 f7!+ Kxf7 57 Ng5+ Ke8 58 Nf3 stops the pawn.