8-year-old chess prodigy crowned best female player at European tournament

Bodhana Sivanandan at the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championship in Zagreb, Croatia. Luka Rifelj via European Chess Union/Twitter

The chess world has turned its attention to Bodhana Sivanandan, an eight-year-old English schoolgirl who on Saturday was crowned the best female player at a European championship.

Bodhana isn’t yet old enough to join her school’s chess club, and yet she still beat chess masters more than 30 years older than her at the European Rapid and Blitz Championships in Zagreb, Croatia.

She faced several fierce and experienced opponents — some of whom were of grandmaster status, the highest title given to the world’s best chess players — and won 8.5/13. In the end, Bodhana finished 74th in the overall rankings of 550 players, according to the European Chess Union. She scored a performance rating of 2316.

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The eight-year-old ranked ahead of several well-known female chess players, including Irina Bulmaga of Romania and Laura Unuk of Slovenia.

Bulmaga, 30, celebrated Bodhana’s win on social media, writing that the girl achieved an “unbelievable result” and finished ahead of many experienced players.

“What a phenomenon she is!” Bulmaga wrote.

This weekend, Bodhana also played the two-time Romanian champion, grandmaster Vladislav Nevednichy. She achieved a final-round draw against the 54-year-old chess expert and became the youngest player to avoid defeat against a grandmaster in a competitive game.

Bodhana also won the under-12 prize in Zagreb. The tournament did, however, have a rule that stated competitors can only be awarded one prize, and so Bodhana chose to accept the women’s title over the junior one.

Bodhana, who is from London, England, in August told British politician Lucy Frazer she discovered chess when one of her dad’s friends threw away a chessboard during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was five years old at the time.

“I was curious about the pieces and so then I started playing,” Bodhana said.

Bodhana spoke to Frazer during a trip to 10 Downing Street, where she and other young chess protégés played against British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

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During her visit, Bodhana said she was not yet old enough to join her school’s chess club. The club, Bodhana explained, only accepts members in Grade 6 and above. She is only in Grade 4.

Still, Bodhana was confident she could beat the club’s current members in a match, despite the age gap.

Bodhana’s father, Sivanandan Velayutham, told BBC Radio 4’s Today program he began taking Bodhana to the English Chess Federation after she took an interest in the game. He said the players at the federation were “very friendly and very supportive” of Bodhana.

Bodhana hopes to one day become a grandmaster. She said she was “proud” of her performance at the European championship.

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“I always try my best to win, sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Setting the board for chess success with chess master Levy Rozman'
Setting the board for chess success with chess master Levy Rozman

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