2023’s Female European Blitz Chess Champion is an 8-Year-Old

The incredible journey of an elementary chess prodigy.



(Nina Lishchuk / Shutterstock.com)

London native, Bodhana Sivanandan first became interested in chess to beat back boredom during the COVID-19 lockdowns, The Telegraph reported. The then-five year old quickly surpassed her father’s chess playing ability and began playing, and winning, in online chess games. Three years later, Sivanandan made history as the top female chess player in Europe after she defeated grandmasters many times her age at the European Rapid & Blitz Chess Championship in December 2023.

Is chess just a hobby for this charismatic and intelligent third-grader, or is this the beginning of an exciting and competitive career for Sivanandan?

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A self-taught prodigy
Sivanandan Velayutham, Bodhana’s father, told The Telegram that his daughter first got bit by the chess bug at age five, when her father brought home a dusty secondhand chess set. Bodhana happened to see the knight lying around and it caught her interest. “I want the horsey,” she told her father. 

Bodhana’s father was happy to oblige and he taught her the chess basics that he’d learned back in India. But it didn’t take long for his preschool daughter to surpass him. 

At the start, I might have won one or two games, but she soon knew the rules better than me and the tables quickly turned,” Velayutham told The Telegram. 

From the beginning, Bodhana augmented what her father was teaching her with games and strategies that she learned from YouTube videos. But, when it became clear that she had a persistent interest and unusual talent, her father enrolled in a local chess club, where she soon fell into the habit of practicing daily for an hour or more.  

“She never says I don’t want to go,” Velayutham explained. “The only question she asks is ‘where is the tournament?’. Now she knows: the more far, the more fun. She learns violin in school and she occasionally plays the piano. She’s a curious girl who wants to learn.”

Becoming a champion
At one of Bodhana’s first ever tournament experiences, this one hosted by the English Chess Federation, last year she defeated a number of grandmasters, eventually facing off against Keith Arkell, a 62-year old British grandmaster, nearly nine times her age, The Guardian reported.

Although Arkell won the match, Bodhana’s gameplay left an impression on him, “One day, as with Magnus [Carlsen], it will be something to brag about that I have a 1-0 score against her,” he shared with The Guardian, referencing Carlsen, who started as a child prodigy and is now ranked as the world’s top chess player.

A year later, The Telegraph reports, Bodhana won the World Youth Chess Championship in the Under-8 Girls category. After emerging victorious against children her age, a few months later she went back to beating adults. 

BBC shared Bodhana’s win at the European Blitz Chess Championship in December of 2023. There, she earned the title of best female player, scoring 8.5/13, and earning widespread praise from other game masters. 

Dominic Lawson, the president of the English Chess Federation describes her style to the BBC as “remarkably mature” and “strategic and patient.” He said her win was an "extraordin­ary result for an eight-year-old and something we've certainly never seen in this country".

Lawrence Trent, another international master took to social media to laud the young prodigy’s performance, "The maturity of her play, her sublime touch, it's truly breathtaking," he wrote.

"I have no doubt she will be England's greatest player and most likely one of the greatest the game has ever seen.”

Bodhana herself, however, didn’t let the praise go to her head. She told BBC’s Radio program that  "I always try my best to win, sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't.” "I was very proud of myself when I got top girl in the European blitz,” she added.

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