Young chess player Bodhana Sivanandan at the board
Rising talent Bodhana Sivanandan, seven, finished second in the UK women’s blitz championship on Saturday © Dennis Dicen

Bodhana Sivanandan, a seven-year-old Harrow schoolgirl, achieved a historic performance on Saturday when she finished second in the UK women’s blitz championship at Leamington Spa. She was the top English player in this open competition, behind Elmira Mirzoeva, 41, a former Moscow women’s champion now resident in London and playing under a neutral Fide flag. “Blitz” was defined as three minutes per player for the entire game, plus an increment of two seconds per move.  

Sivanandan, who is already the world under-eight girl champion at rapid and blitz, added to her growing reputation by finishing well ahead of several England women internationals. She led for most of the final, reaching 8.5/9 before a blunder in a superior position against the chess broadcaster and writer Natasha Regan set her back. Her only other loss in her 11/14 total was to Mirzoeva. All 15 finalists had previously been first or second in regional qualifiers.

The global body Fide’s chief executive, GM Emil Sutovsky, described her result as “amazing”. Nigel Short, England’s most famous player, tweeted: “I don’t like to jinx young players by over-praising them, but she looks like a really big talent”.

Sivanandan’s overall performance was rated at 2076 Fide blitz points, master standard, and she gained 328 points, which might be a record for Fide rating improvement in a single day. Her best win was a fine example of active defence against an early attack.

In 1938, Elaine Saunders, then 12, went close to a draw with world champion Alexander Alekhine in his simultaneous display, while Akshaya Kalaiyalahan shared the British women’s title at 11, but Sivanandan’s result at seven has been surpassed only by Hungary’s legendary Polgár sisters. Judit Polgár, the all-time No1 woman, defeated a master at seven while playing blindfold. 

The ECF runs an accelerator programme for its best young talents, and Sivanandan hopes to be included in that for 2023. She has mentoring from International Master Ali Mortazavi and from Steven Coles of Harrow CC. More is needed to realise her full potential, but the ECF lacks government support so it can only occur in the unlikely event of a private or business sponsor coming forward to back her exceptional promise.

Jonathan Speelman, the former world semi-finalist, won the open blitz title on tie-break from Eldar Gasanov of Ukraine. Scotland’s top junior Freddy Gordon, 12, had a fine performance in fourth place.

Since the ECF launched its annual UK Blitz Championship in 2018, with qualifiers staged in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast as well as in major English cities, interest has steadily grown, and this week’s extra publicity for Sivanandan will provide a further boost. Speed events are increasingly popular in present-day chess, not least because of the rising costs to participants of traditional tournaments spread over a week or a fortnight.  

The latter still have the highest status, including Hastings, whose annual new year congress has continued for a century apart from the war years, and which will be back in action at the end of this month, with 12 grandmasters already entered for the main event.

Puzzle 2498

Gyula Breyer v Kornel Havasi, Budapest 1918. White to move and win. Both kings are exposed, but White can strike first.

Click here for solution

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