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12-year-old Leon Mendonca creates history by scoring three IM norms in 17 days!

by Sagar Shah - 17/02/2019

12-year-old Leon Mendonca had been close to an IM norm on numerous occasions, missing it by a whisker. The strength was always there, but the results weren't coming. The boy kept working hard and in 17 days everything changed! From 31st January to 16th February, Leon played three events in Serbia and scored three IM norms, pumping his rating to 2446 and becoming India's latest International Master at the age of 12 years, 11 months and 3 days! We tell you all about Leon's three fantastic events and how he managed to pull off this amazing achievement of scoring 18.5 points out of 27 rounds against average Elo opposition of 2320. Leon has also sent us an annotated game which we share with you. Read on and be amazed!

Goa's youngster Leon Mendonca had always shown great promise and talent. But the results weren't coming for the lad. Many of the talents in Indian chess, who were born in 2006 and with whom Leon had competed on equal footing at various age group nationals had moved ahead of him. But there is something unique about Leon - he never lets competition get the better of him. Leon knew that IM norms were due since a long time, but rather than focusing on the results, he focused on his chess. There were things that needed to be fixed in his game. The 12-year-old worked on fixing his time pressure issues, fine-tuning his opening repertoire, improving his calculation and results started to come!

When you aim big and work hard, results are bound to come! Leon with the great Garry at the ASEAN Championship 2014

Leon's trip to Serbia:

Leon's rating graph from 2012 to 2019

Leon's Elo graph had shown quite some ups and downs throughout the year 2018. From a rating of 2286, he had slumped down to 1998 in March 2018. But then he started performing well and with a series of excellent results, he had pumped up his rating to 2350 by the time the year 2018 came to an end. Although Leon had gained nearly 350 Elo points in the last nine months, his IM norms were not coming. In fact he was close to a norm on so many occasions, only to squander it right at the very end.


In January 2019 after playing the Rilton Cup, Leon decided to play four events in Serbia. The first one was the Third Saturday at Novi Sad, Serbia from the 14th to the 19th of January 2019. Leon gained precious 21.6 Elo points but once again missed his IM norm by half a point.

Fighting the cold outside and demons in his head! 

"Am I ever going to make my norms?" It's natural to get doubts about one's capabilities when you have been close to a norm on numerous occasions and have squandered the chances. But there were three more events to play and if everything went well, Leon could well score all his three norms! At this point it seemed like a distant dream!

Paracin GM Round Robin 2019

Leon began the Paracin GM Round Robin 2019 with an Elo of 2376

The Paracin GM Round Robin was held from the 31st January to the 6th of February 2019. And finally Leon broke the glass ceiling. He played a fine tournament and scored his first IM norm.

Leon gained 32 Elo points and scored his first IM norm

The first IM norm held additional importance for Leon because he was in a must-win situation in the last round against fellow Indian Fenil Shah. Leon managed to do it, and quite admirably, sacrificing a piece and playing highly imaginative chess in such a high pressure situation.


Leon Mendonca - Fenil Shah, Round 9

Fenil has just played his knight to f6, what did Leon play?

Leon realized the need to spice up the play as he was in a must-win situation. He sacrificed his knight on f7 for just a pawn and got excellent compensation for the piece. Here's the entire game annotated by the youngster himself. Don't miss out on his instructive notes.

"It's not about the size, it's always the attitude that decides your success."

Leon not only scored his maiden IM norm, but also pumped up his rating above 2400 for the first time in his chess career -2408

Third Saturday 105, Novi Sad, Serbia

The next tournament Leon took part in is the IM norm Round Robin in Novi Sad, Serbia from 7th to 11th of February 2019. Playing at this event Leon was a changed man. He had scored his maiden IM norm and had started to believe in his abilities to a greater extent. He played some fine chess in Novi Sad, scored 7.0/9 and achieved his second IM norm!

No matter who was his opponent, Leon fought until the very end!

Final Ranking after 9 Rounds

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 nwweKrtg+/-
GMSavic Miodrag RSRB24867,50,0630,2597,57,15103,5
CMMendonca Leon LukeIND23767,00,5625,00976,012019,8
FMSai Agni Jeevitesh JIND23257,00,5526,00975,421015,8
FMJovanovic Bojan PSRB22705,00,0318,00954,73205,4
Shao WenbinCHN21534,50,0315,2594,53,302024,0
IMSredojevic IvanSRB22824,01,0310,75944,8810-8,8
Zhang LanlinCHN21894,00,0313,50943,74205,2
IMRunic ZoranBIH23463,00,028,75935,6710-26,7
Hu ZhihengCHN20972,50,019,0092,52,6420-2,8
WFMYanjinlkham BayarsaikhanMGL19680,50,001,5090,51,4620-19,2

Within nearly 12 days, Leon had scored two IM norms!

Leon Mendonca's 2nd IM norm performance

The other norm maker at this tournament was Sai Agni Jeevitesh, who also scored 7.0/9, achieved his final IM norm and became an IM

With this 19.8 Elo increase, Leon's Elo had now moved to 2428.

Mixed tournament, Novi Sad, Serbia

Leon's final event in Serbia was a mixed norm event with 22 players. This was also held in Novi Sad from the 12th to the 16th of February 2019.

Some of the participants at the tournament

Both Sreeshwan and Aditya had scored two back to back norms. But Leon went on step further and scored his third and final IM norm as well!

Leon had to fight against four Chinese opponents to get his final IM norm!

Gaining 18 Elo points and scoring his 3rd consecutive IM norm

Here's Leon's favourite game from the tournament against Chinese Peng Xiongjian:

Leon added another 18 Elo points to his rating and took his live rating to 2446! What a phenomenal trip to Serbia it was for him. In 17 days he scored three IM norms in three consecutive events. Such feats are extremely rare. But it just goes to show that once you have the strength, sooner or later the results are bound to come. All you have to do is just keep working on your game and always keep thinking about how you can become a stronger player. Leon's IM norms came in 17 days, but his result was the culmination of over two years of struggle and hard work.

Leon's family has been his biggest support. | Photo: Sagar Shah at Goa GM 2018

Leon's family has made innumerable sacrifices and bold decisions to support Leon's chess career. Just to give you ane example - the boy lives in Goa, but has been enrolled in Velammal Vidyalaya in Chennai, because the institute supports chess.

Leon's coaches. The boys first coach was Akash Thakur (left) who laid the foundation, R.B. Ramesh (right) built up on it and made Leon a strong player. And since April 2018 Leon has been working with GM Vishnu Prasanna (centre) who has made the critical improvements in his game that have led to such amazing results.

What makes Leon special? ChessBase India asked his coach Vishnu Prasanna, "Leon is a confident young kid and is quite creative in his problem solving abilities. There is a mix of dynamism and technical chess in his play and his calculation is excellent."


Leon's trip to Serbia was a big success. He played four consecutive events. Time to come back home? Not yet, he is travelling to the Aeroflot Open which begins from the 18th of February. It will be interesting to track the youngster's performance there!

Tree of variations around him, but Leon knows his way!

Is Leon a cat lover?...

...or a dog lover?

Maybe a bear lover?!

Enjoying the music on the streets of Novi Sad. Leon is an accomplished violinist who is currently preparing for his Grade 5 Trinity College-London Music Examination.

It turns out that the singer is quite a popular man in the city!

Born on 13th March 2006, Leon has achieved his IM title at the age of 12 years, 11 months and 3 days. We wish him the best for his journey towards the GM title!

Read more:

Interview with Leon by Avathanshu Bhat

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