A studios-looking eight-year-old  girl at the chessboard
Bodhana Sivanandan, eight, was the top female player in the European blitz at Zagreb © Eyevine

Bodhana Sivanandan, aged eight, entered chess history on Saturday with a superlative performance in the European blitz championship at Zagreb, Croatia. The primary school pupil from Harrow, north-west London, totalled a remarkable 8.5/13 against a field of highly rated grandmasters, international masters and experts. The blitz had a mammoth entry of 555 players, including 48 GMs and 50 IMs. See this results table from chess-results.com

It was arguably the best-ever result by an under-10 girl, matching the all-time number 1 woman Judit Polgar’s international debut in the 1986 New York Open, when the then nine-year-old Hungarian won the unrated section with 7.5/8.

In the penultimate round, Sivanandan defeated an IM for the first time when she beat the England women’s coach Lorin D’Costa. Back in 1987, Polgar was 10 when she won against the Romanian IM Dolfi Drimer at Adelaide.  

Sivanandan’s win was, however, lucky. It came after D’Costa, Black in a French Defence 1 e4 e6, flagged in a winning position with knight and two pawns against a bishop. One of the IM’s black pawns was at h2, and the white bishop was at h1, giving the legal possibility of WK f3 and WB e4 vs BK h1 and BP h2 where 1 Kf2 is mate. Under the rules, this counted as a White win. 

By drawing with two-time Romanian champion GM Vladislav Nevednichy in the final round, Sivanandan became one of the youngest players to avoid defeat against a grandmaster in a competitive game, at six days younger than when future GM David Howell beat GM John Nunn at the 1999 Mind Sports Olympiad.

Sivanandan won both the women’s and under-12 prizes at Zagreb, as well as finishing top of the English contingent. There was a one-prize-per-player rule, so she chose the women’s award, Her overall tournament rating performance of 2316 was at woman grandmaster level.

The Harrow schoolgirl is no stranger to the record books. She tied for the English women’s open blitz title at seven, and was second in the UK women’s open blitz at eight. Her clean sweep of 33 games in the 2023 world under-eight girls classical, rapid and blitz championships can never be surpassed. Her memorable encounter with former British champion Peter Lee, aged 79, attracted thousands of chess.com viewers.

The John Robinson Youth Chess Trust helps to finance Sivanandan’s overseas tournaments, which have already included successes in Spain and Latvia. Her coaching by former world semi-finalist Jon Speelman is backed by biotech company e-therapeutics, whose chief executive Ali Mortazavi, an IM, mentored her when she was still unknown, and partnered her in this month’s Pro-Biz Cup where masters and amateurs made alternate moves.   

Sivanandan’s best results so far are in three-minute and five-minute blitz rather than in the slower classical game, but that follows the pattern of several great players, including the world champions José Capablanca, Mikhail Tal, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov, as well as the three Polgar sisters.

In the future, Sivanandan hopes to become a grandmaster and eventually to compete for the women’s world championship, which is currently dominated by Chinese players. High ambitions — but given what she has achieved so far, you would not bet against her. 

World number 1 Magnus Carlsen has won first prize, $200,000, in the Champions Tour for the third consecutive year. Carlsen defeated US champion and world number 2 Fabiano Caruana in the semi-final and the world number 6 Wesley So in the final, both by 2-0 in the best of three sets across the board in Toronto.

It was a rather one-sided final, as the Norwegian, 33, exploited a slightly passive approach in So’s strategy. Afterwards he explained that his strategy was “to hustle him, to use his lack of aggression against him”. The plan worked perfectly in the decisive third game of the first set, where So let slip a draw in an even rook and pawn ending, and in the final game of the second set, where Carlsen’s incisive finish concluded the match.

Next week Carlsen travels to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to defend the World Rapid and World Blitz titles he won last year. He is clearly in peak form at the moment, and well motivated for another strong performance. 

Puzzle 2551

White to move and win (by Josef Hasek, 1927), White is two pawns up, but Black threatens gxf2 or Rc2 with active counterplay. Can you find White’s only clear route to victory?

For solution, click here

This article has been amended to clarify that Sivanandan is one of the youngest players to avoid defeat against a grandmaster in a competitive game, not the youngest as originally stated

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