British girl, 8, crowned best female player at European chess tournament

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Dec 20, 2023, 23:36

ABritish schoolgirl who made chess history after she beat a master more than 30 years her senior at an international competition got into chess “accidentally”, her father has revealed

Bodhana Sivanandan, eight, from Harrow, north-west London, was crowned best female player at the European rapid and blitz championship in Zagreb, Croatia at the weekend.

She won 8.5/13 against a field of highly rated and experienced grandmasters, international masters and experts, and came 73rd in a round of 555 players.

In an interview on BBC Today programme, she said felt proud. “I was very proud of myself when I got top girl in the European blitz.”

Bodhana’s father, Sivanandan Velayutham, said she started out “accidentally” and that she was trying her best in the face of other great players. “She’s trying her best. And it worked in favour of her [in the tournament].

“So it was a good thing that happened in the Zagreb when we went for the European rapid and Blitz event.

“Accidentally she started chess. She was curious and interested, so I started taking her around the English Chess Federation and the people in England who play chess and support chess; they are very friendly and very supportive,” he told Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Dominic Lawson, the president of the English Chess Federation, told the Times the performance at the speed chess event was “completely remarkable but not that surprising, because she is a phenomenon”.

In Zagreb she delivered an impressive 5/11 result with a 2056 performance in the rapid round, but her performance in the 13-round blitz is being hailed by fellow players as phenomenal.

Bodhana beat her first international master, the England women’s coach, Lorin D’Costa, 39, in the penultimate round.

The eight-year-old also drew with the two-time Romanian champion, grandmaster Vladislav Nevednichy, 54, in the final round, and in doing so became the youngest player to avoid defeat against a grandmaster in a competitive game.

She was awarded the under-12 prize, as well as finishing top of the English contingent but 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.

Asked if she went into the tournament expecting to win, she replied: “I always try my best to win all the tournaments, all the games. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Lawson added: “It’s an extraordinary result for an eight-year-old and something we’ve certainly never seen in this country.

“She has a remarkably mature playing style, it’s strategic and patient. She has what you might describe as a long game.”

Bodhana, who started playing chess at the age of five during the coronavirus pandemic after she found a chessboard and pieces in a bag given by her father’s friend, has said she is “not sure” of her chances are for the upcoming International Chess Congress in Hastings, East Sussex on 28 December.

She has spoken of her ambition to become a grandmaster and England’s youngest Olympic gold medallist, and eventually to win a world title.

This summer she was invited to 10 Downing Street and played chess with Rishi Sunak, before the government announced it was to invest £1m in the game to increase the number of English grandmasters.

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