Nine-year-old Barnsbury chess champion on track to be teen grandmaster

Gazette reporter Tom Marshall challenges 24 time champ Lara Mallin to a match.

She is only nine years old and two decades my junior, but when we faced up over the 64 squares of the chess board, there was only ever going to be one victor.

Despite fancying myself as handy with the knights and bishops, it did not take long for little Lara Mallin to assert her superiority, as a swift and unexpected strike with her queen put paid to my challenge.

At least I could comfort myself that she is no ordinary nine-year-old – for in only her first 12 months of competition, talented Lara, of Hemingford Roard, Barnsbury, has already scooped a whopping 24 trophies and medals.

Not only is she the under-10 girls champion of Middlesex, her latest crown claimed on Sunday last week, but she also holds the Hertfordshire and Barnet titles for her age group.

Lara, who welcomed me to her house for a match on Monday, said: “My dad taught me when I was two and I have been playing tournaments for about a year now.

“I enjoy playing but it’s all about the winning! I like beating the boys at my club and I like winning trophies.”

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It’s been a sharp rise for the youngster, with the Middlesex win coming almost a year to the day after she entered her first tournament last November.

She still has some way to go before reaching her ambition of becoming a grandmaster in her teens, but this weekend she will vie for the London title at Olympia in Kensington, while next spring she is due to represent England in her first international tournament.

Her mother, Fiona Mallin, 43, notes that Lara is very fond of the silverware and no doubt there will plenty more to come.

Mrs Mallin, who runs a cake business from her Barnsbury home, said: “I’m very proud of Lara and I hope she carries on enjoying it. It’s not just about winning, it’s nice to win but you have to enjoy it. I’m too scared to play her now.”

She is keen for her daughter’s prowess to help inspire other Islington children to take up chess, especially girls. She says Lara has to travel to Barnet to play at a club, because there are none in Islington.

She said: “We need more girls to play and they need to be offered the chance to play. Although we’ve had some women coming to the fore with the Olympics, there still aren’t enough girls doing sport, especially as they get older.

“The facilities for young people are not that great in Islington to be honest, so it would be great to get more children playing chess in schools.

“It would be very beneficial because it improves academic performance and concentration skills. Chess clubs are very cheap and easy to run.”

With the numbers of girls entering tournaments dropping off when they get into their teens, it must also be a concern that young Lara will soon run out of worthy rivals. Maybe she will just have to stick to beating boys.