Daniel Dardha, a Belgian champion at 13!

by Fabrice Wantiez
8/31/2019 – A promising young star is already leaving his mark in Belgian chess. 13-year-old Daniel Dardha won the 2019 national championship in Charleroi — a ten-player single round robin — finishing ahead of three grandmasters to become the youngest ever Belgian chess champion. FABRICE WANTIEZ tells us about Daniel's background, as chess has been part of his family for quite a while ago already.

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Chess runs in the family

The 18th Tournoi International du Pays de Charleroi (TIPC) was played from July 27th until August 3rd at the southern Belgian city located in the province of Hainaut. After winning the Expert group, Daniel Dardha became the new national champion at the age of 13 years and 10 months — the youngest in history. He tied in first place with GM Tanguy Ringoir on 6 out of 9, but was crowned champion due to his larger number of wins. His rating performance of 2483 gave him his fourth IM norm, and he is expected to receive the International Master title in September.

Two-time Belgian champion IM Geert van der Stricht (47) scored 4½ this year and talked with De Standaard about Daniel's performance. Van der Stricht pointed out that the youngster played a different opening in each of his games, which differentiates him from other young players. According to the veteran, given the experimentations done by Daniel, his triumph is even more impressive. Van der Stricht is sure Dardha will become the strongest player in Belgium.

Grandmaster Bart Michiels (32) is also impressed by Daniel's talent. Bart, who scored a number of strong results against top players, explained that he reached the new champion's Elo rating three years later than him, as he got to mid-2400 territory only at 17.

In 2017, Daniel won the U-12 Belgian Championship after scoring 8½ out of 9; the very next year, he won the U-14 category with a perfect 9 out of 9! He also got first place at the U-14 World Blitz Chess Championship in 2018. Currently, Daniel is the second highest rated U-14 player in Europe, and number 10 in the world.

Daniel Dardha

Daniel with his first IM norm — he'll get the title soon

Three generations of chess players

Daniel took over the passion for chess from his father and grandfather. His father, Arben Dardha, is a FIDE master and Daniel's current coach. Thanks to Marcel Roofthoofd and the "Go for Grandmaster" initiative, he and other Belgian talents are intermittently coached by renowned GM Ivan Sokolov (Chess Liga Antwerp and the Belgian Chess Federation also offer great support to Daniel and other young promising stars).

Sokolov sent us this comment on his pupil's achievement:

I have worked with Daniel for the last few years and he is the first Belgian-born player who has a real chance of becoming a 2600+ player.  Despite his young age, Daniel already has a "good hand", as he rarely makes positional mistakes. In order to develop further, Daniel will need a personal sponsor — so far the financial support has been mostly 'family effort'. I hope that the Belgian chess community helps Daniel on his journey.

Let us talk about his main trainer, though. Arben Dardha, his father, started to play chess at the age of 5. When he was 16, he became U-20 Albanian Champion; the dream to get the grandmaster title followed shortly, but college studies interrupted his progression. I'm sure he still has chances to progress further though — in one of his latest chess tournaments (Lille,  April 2019), he made a strong impression with a nice victory against 2504-rated GM Mhamal Anurag from India.

Daniel Dardha, Arben Dardha

Arben and Daniel Dardha

Daniel Dardha, Arben Dardha

At the Marshall Chess Club in 2015

The family's biography has a lot to do with the socio-political situation in its country of origin: Albania. Under a communist regime, it forbid people to travel abroad, which meant the Dardhas had no chess material at hand and had access to barely nine official games per year. It was very difficult to progress. 

Once a year, Arben's father used to borrow an Informator book for a couple of days — Arben manually copied all the games in a notebook before returning it. Arben's first international game was played against Miladin Palace in Chania, Crete (1989). He was 17. After getting an undergraduate and a Master's degree, he gave up chess for almost ten years. But chess did not give up on him completely — when he arrived in Belgium in 1997 without an Elo rating, he found a chess club in the 'yellow pages' and restarted playing official games. He would later decide to pass his dream on to Daniel.

Daniel Dardha, Arben Dardha, Bardhyl Dardha

Daniel playing his grandfather Bardhyl under the watch of his father

Arben also composes chess problems. The following creation of his looks easy but it is actually quite tricky. How many mates-in-three can you find in the following position?


Daniel's grandfather, Bardhyl Dardha, is the one that kicked off the chess tradition in the family. Chess is his life. He coached both the 'Tomori' chess club  (Berat, Albania) and Arben — he closely followed his son's participations in tournaments when he was still a little boy. And the habit continues: he is now 82 but still follows Daniel's games online. Furthermore, Bardhyl is still capable of playing online chess around eight hours a day!

A Tata Steel challenger in the making

Ever since he started playing chess at 7, Daniel had his mind set on his favourite tournament, the Tata Steel Chess played in Wijk aan Zee. In fact, as an 8-year-old, he attended the traditional event and met his idol, Magnus Carlsen. Some years later, in 2015, I organized — with the help of Daniel's father — a little meeting between Daniel and the world champion. Daniel was very happy to offer Magnus some Belgian chocolate pralines.

Daniel Dardha, Magnus Carlsen

Daniel got to meet World Champion Magnus Carlsen

But that is not the only legend the youngster has met in person. During his first World Championship Tournament, in Al Ain (he participated in the U-8 category), he got to meet none other than Garry Kasparov.

Daniel Dardha, Garry Kasparov

With living legend Garry Kasparov

Much like Magnus and other top grandmasters, Daniel likes sports: he enjoys skating, ping-pong and football. His favourite movies are "Fast and Furious" and "Mission: Impossible". He can fluently speak in English, Albanian and Dutch, and has already made some progress in French [Belgium's other main official language along with Dutch -Ed.]. 

Already well-known in Belgium, Daniel played three games against Bart De Wever, a famous politician who is currently the Mayor of Antwerp, during a simultaneous exhibition at the city's Opera House.

A great (team) result

Daniel plays for the club "Fontaine l'Évêque", the squad that won the latest First League of Belgium. This is his first year in the club, but that did not prevent him from leaving a strong impression — his penultimate round win from a rook and bishop versus rook endgame was essential to get the title! His opponent was Wachtebeke's Vincent Blom (2269). When Blom gave up his bishop to stop Black's strong passed pawn, things started to heat up.


This crucial victory helped Fontaine get their first national championship ever. The President of the club, Xavier Mastalerz, and his friend Jean Herman have worked hard to make the team's dream come true. They were proud for the accomplishment, which was partly achieved thanks to Dardha's 5½/7 performance.

Daniel Dardha annotates an important win from the Belgian Championship

Final standings - 2019 Belgian Championship

  Name Elo Points Dir. Enc. # wins Perf.
1. FM Dardha, Daniel 2420 6 ½ 4 2483
2. GM Ringoir, Tanguy 2503 6 ½ 3 2473
3. GM Dgebuadze, Alexandre 2495 5 ½ 3 2393
4. GM Hovhannisyan, Mher 2444 5 ½ 3 2399
5. Real, Thibault 2262 1 3 2383
6. FM Sterck, Arno 2316 1 3 2377
7. IM Van Der Stricht, Geert 2374 1 2 2371
8. FM Lenaerts, Lennert 2355 4 - 1 2330
9. FM Hamblok, Roel 2261 - 0 2296
10. FM Cools, Gorik 2280 2 - 1 2161

All games



Fabrice Wantiez has been playing chess since he was 15 and has earned the title of FIDE Master. He enjoys travelling to exotic countries and participate in chess tournaments. As part of the Belgian Armed Forces, he has won several NATO chess championships.


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