Toronto data scientist takes sabbatical to pursue chess ambitions

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Shiyam Thavandiran is taking a break from his career as a data scientist at RBC while trying to win the coveted chess grandmaster title.

“Life is short,” says the 29-year-old, who is currently one of Canada’s top international champions. “I realized that it would be good to focus on that for a full year.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Thavandiran had phenomenal success as a youngster, finishing fourth at the U10 World Championships alongside players who are now among the best in the world. He was also the youngest Canadian junior champion ever at the age of 12. He continued to play competitively even after his master’s degree in mathematics and his experience in the field of artificial intelligence.

Although he hasn’t played an over-the-board event in two years, he won’t rush back into competition until he’s ready. He likes to quote Abraham Lincoln to describe how he approaches his sabbatical.

“If you have six hours to chop down a tree, spend the first four sharpening the axe,” he says. For him, this includes an extensive study of chess openings as well as physical preparation.

As the pandemic eases in many parts of the world, he’s hoping his first serious in-person tournament will happen soon.

Shiyam Thavandiran vs Tatev Abrahamyan, St Louis, 2019
Black has just captured on d4 to restore material equality. What is White’s best move?

32.Qf6! Threatening mate if Black moves the rook. … Rcd8 33.Ra4 Rd1+ 34.Kh2 Kf8 35.Rf4 and White has won.

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