Delightful Delilah, the Chess Influencer (part 2)

by Diana Mihajlova
5/11/2023 – Delilah Sadvakassova is a 9-year-old girl from Kazakhstan who is not only a strong and talented player, but also a "chess influencer". Under the guidance of her parents, Delilah regularly posts videos about chess history and chess personalities on Facebook. In the second part of her portrait of Delilah, Diana Mihajlova tells how Delilah met Magnus Carlsen and talks about Delilah's family and how they make the young influencer's videos.

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In December of last year, when Magnus Carlsen participated at the World Rapid and Blitz Championships in Almaty, he was met at the airport by Delilah who presented him with flowers.

Delilah meets and greets Magnus | Photo: Kazinform

On the occasion, Delilah told journalists: 'I admire Magnus Carlsen’s career and I believe that his becoming a champion is the merit of his father. I also have the support of my family. Without their support there would be no success. I got an autograph not only from Magnus, but from his father, too'.

Magnus gives an autograph to his young fan | Photo: Kazinform

On Facebook, Delilah published a biographic story about Magnus and hoping to please him the translation subtitles are in Norwegian.

She made the video before the World Match between Ian Nepomniachtchi and Ding Liren. In her introduction she says: 'Everyone knows that Magnus Carlsen is the world champion (since 2013) but refused to defend the title. Ian and Ding will fight for this title. Who is the next Chess King? The answer is at hand. But we know who the true King is 😉 '.

Delilah and her parents, Zulfiya and Timur

Delilah is very proud when adults appreciate her stories, however, she says that she made the videos having in mind children as her main audience. 'It is more interesting for children to watch stories told by another child. They follow with more attention and learn better.'

How did all come about?

I first read the story about Wilhelm Steinitz. It was so interesting that it made me to want to know about other chess kings as well. And each next story turned out to be more fascinating than the previous one. I and my parents, we read everything we could find. If there were books about some chess personality, we read books. If there were films, we watched films.  I learnt how difficult it was for them to study games in the past, to keep everything on paper, in comparison to the easy way  masters have it today thanks to  computers.

I read that Botvinnik closed himself in the bathroom in order to study chess when everyone went to bed, so as not to disturb the family.

I learnt how FIDE was created, that there was a split and disagreements.  I learnt this when I read about world champions.

Delilah with FIDE President Arkady Dvorkovich, at the 2022 World Cadet Championship in Batumi, Georgia

'First we made stories about the chess kings. Then, as the 2022 was declared the year of women in chess, we concentrated on presenting women world champions. That is how the series 'Chess Kings and Queens' was born.'

The credit for the theatrical and artistic rendition of the videos goes to Zulfiya, Delilah's mother. She has an acting background and was a known, professional child actor. Her sister, Delilah's aunt,  was a famous actress, so it comes as no surprise that Delilah also shows a natural acting talent, as the art of drama and theater runs in the family.

Cheeky Delilah

In this video we can see the cheeky side of this wonderful influencer 

Zulfiya says:  'I choose and compose the content, make the outfits and find locations for filming. But Delilah's dad gives me a hand with everything. '

This lovely trio, Zulfiya, Timur and Delilah engage wholeheartedly into the making of the videos. It is a laborious and time consuming enterprise. It may take more than two weeks to put everything together for a single video. Delilah loves the whole procedure:

I study the text for several days. My father would check how well I had memorized the lines. All this process helped me to develop my creativity, memory and speech. While preparing a story, I read books or watch films, if any, about the biography of the hero of the story. I liked very much  "White Snow of Russia",  the film about Alekhine and "Luzhin's Defense". I read a complete book about Maya Chiburdanidze. The more you know about the character, the faster it is remembered and the better it is recounted.

It may be a family affair, however, the merit for these videos being 'influential' is entirely Delilah's who's charm, confidence and acting skills are truly captivating.

Kazakh charm - Delilah at the 2023 Kazakhstan Youth Championship 

Delilah is a chess player as well. She is a regular winner in her age category in the championships of her native city of Almaty, a national champion in blitz in her age category and the winner of the Kyrgyzstan 2019 Karpov Cup for children. She remembers her first game of chess:

I was four and a half years old. I don’t know exactly how I stumbled upon the chess pieces on the Internet and began to ask my parents questions. They took me to my grandfather. My mother did not really believe that we would succeed, because I was a very restless child and she thought that after a maximum of 20 minutes I would get bored. But I came out only an hour and a half later with burning eyes. It was my grandfather  who got tired first.  My grandfather would go to the park to play chess with other grandfathers until his last day at the age of 87 years. Chess helped him to maintain good mind and memory.

Towards the end of a video dedicated to women world champions, from Vera Menchik to Ju Wenjun, Delilah asks: 'What is the status of women at the chess board today? There are lots of questions, lots of challenges. However, the stories of chess queens make us young chess players believe in ourselves!'

Delilah's most recent tournament was the Bibisara Assaubayeva Cup that was a side event during the World Match in Astana.

Delilah at the Bibisara Assaubayeva Cup

Apart from playing at the tournament, she was busy making videos and conducting interviews with the famous particpants in Astana.  

She quips at her main social media outlet, Facebook: 'How wonderful it is that world chess events are held in Kazakhstan! How else would I be able to realize my dream?! Thank you Kazakhstan Chess Federation and Darmen Sadvakasov for being a ray of hope! 🥰'

Delilah with Hou Yifan and Vladimir Kramnik during the tournament Satty Zhuldyz in Astana

Delilah's mother, Zulfiya, opens up about her talented daughter:

Delilah is a very vivacious child, loves to dance and sing. She also loves to shoot. Since she is very creative, her performance in chess tournaments depends very much on her emotional state. At the 'Bibisara Cup' she performed very badly because she was upset. A grandmaster is studying with her, and he notes a paradox - at times she plays very deeply and at other times it is as if she sees chess for the first time. He believes that she has a special mindset.

We do not expect her to become a chess player. But she can use chess skills as they are the basis for many professions.  We have started a new series about  Kazakh famous people, not chess players, of various professions  but who use chess in their every day life. We would like to show  that playing chess can  help children in their later professions.

Delilah and her mother, Zulfiya

Browsing through the many vidoes, I would single out these two as particularly interesting, in which, in her indomitable style, Delilah is reviving two famous, historical chess combinations: The 'Iron Cage of Tamerlane' by Carl Ferdinand von Jaenisch (the reconstruction of the combination starts at 1:37) and Petrov's 'Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow' (the reconstruction of the combination starts at 1:26).

The chess puzzle: the 'Iron Cage of Tamerlane' 

Delilah in the video 'Iron Cage of Tamerlane'  

In the fascinating composition by Alexander D. Petrov the white knights chase the black king all over the board with 13 moves and a final king-move to reveal the queen delivering the check-mate. It is dubbed 'Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow' or 'Napoleon's flight from Moscow to Paris'.

The 'Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow' starting position

From the starting position in the diagram above, the sequence of moves is the following: 

1.Nd2+ Ka2 2.Nc3+ Ka3 3.Ndb1+ Kb4 4.Na2+ Kb5 5.Na3+ (Nbc3+) Ka6 6.Nb4+ Ka7 7.Nb5+ Kb8 8.Na6+ Kc8 9.Na7+ Kd7 10.Nb8+ Ke7 11.Nc8+ Kf8 12.Nd7+ Kg8 13.Ne7+ Kh8 14.Kg2# (Kg3#)

Delilah in the video 'Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow'

A Kazakh national TV channel runs a public contest for various kinds of 'artistic compositions'. Delilah has entered her video on Petrov's 'Napoleon's Retreat from Moscow' but she received a short reply: 'This is sport'. Indignant, Delilah is raging: 'Chess is art, too!'.


Delightful Delilah, Chess Influencer (Part I)

A former university lecturer in Romance philology, she is currently a painter as well as a chess journalist, and reports regularly from the international tournament scene.