Chess star, 9, becomes youngest to play for England

A nine-year-old chess prodigy is set to make history as the youngest person ever to represent England internationally in any sport.

Bodhana Sivanandan, from Harrow, north-west London, will join the England Women’s Team at the Chess Olympiad in Hungary later this year.

She is almost 15 years younger than the next-youngest teammate, 23-year-old Lan Yao.

"I found out yesterday after I came back from school, when my dad told me," Bodhana told the BBC. "I was happy. I hope I’ll do well, and I’ll get another title."

Malcolm Pein, manager of the England chess team, says the schoolgirl is the most remarkable prodigy British Chess has ever seen.

"It’s exciting - she’s on course to be one of the best British players ever," he said.

However the nine-year-old's father, Siva, says he is mystified as to where his daughter got her talent from.

"I’m an engineering graduate, as is my wife, but I’m not good at chess,” he told the BBC. "I tried a couple of league games, but I was very poor."

Bodhana first picked up a pawn during the pandemic.

"When one of my dad’s friends was going back to India, he gave us a few bags [of possessions],” Bodhana said. "There was a chess board, and I was interested in the pieces so I started playing."

She says chess makes her feel "good" and helps her with "lots of other things like maths, how to calculate".

Bodhana Sivanandan with her father during a Zoom call with the BBC
Bodhana Sivanandan told the BBC that she practices for at least an hour a day [BBC]

Two years ago, Bodhana won all three chess world championships for the under eight age group - in the classical game, where a match lasts several hours, the rapid game, which lasts up to an hour, and the blitz game, which can be as short as three minutes.

As for preparation for Hungary, Bodhana is taking it very seriously.

"On school days I practice for around one hour every day,” she said. "On the weekends, I usually play tournaments, but when I don’t I practice for more than an hour."

While some of her teammates are old enough to be her grandparents, Bodhana is not the only upcoming young talent.

The game is seeing a surge of interest among young people, according to Mr Pein, which he attributes to two factors - the legacy of the lockdowns and the impact of smash-hit Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit, which is about a gifted female chess player.

Mr Pein says he feels "very confident" that his prodigy will achieve her ultimate goal and become a grandmaster, the highest title in international chess.

Abhimanyu Mishra, from the US, holds the record for the youngest person to reach grandmaster in 2021, when he was just 12.

But Bodhana says she intends to clinch the title at the tender age of 10. One year, she is keen to point out, before she finishes primary school.