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Friday, July 12, 2013

Indian Chess Profile: Harika Dronavalli

Alexandra Kosteniuk's Chess Blog for Daily Chess News and Trivia (c) 2013

Hi everyone, 

Indian chess is defined by two outstanding names. One is of course World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand, and the other is World No. 2 among women, Koneru Humpy. Another Indian chess girl, D Harika, has done quite well in the recent past. Here's a nice profile that appeared in Sportstar recently. The profile is by P.K. Ajith Kumar. 

At the women’s World Championship at Khanty Mansiysk in Russia last November, much of India’s focus was on Koneru Humpy. Though the highest rated in the field of 64 and one of the strongest favourites, she was knocked out in the second round. That left another Andhra Pradesh girl to carry the Indian hopes forward.

That girl, Dronavalli Harika, didn’t disappoint. She reached the semifinals, surprising quite a few. The semifinal berth in the World Championship was not just a morale booster, it also fetched her a ticket to the 2013-2014 Women’s Grand Prix series, which FIDE (the world chess governing body) is conducting to identify the challenger for the 2015 World championship.

The 22-year-old from Hyderabad had made her Grand Prix debut at Dilijan, Armenia, recently. She is only the second Indian to appear in the Grand Prix; Humpy, of course, was the first and she won the title in Dilijan too.

Though it wasn’t exactly a dream debut, Harika didn’t do too badly, finishing sixth and garnering 60 Grand Prix points. “I could have done better, but for the winning positions I messed up in two of my games — against Humpy, in the very first round, and the current World champion Anna Ushenina later on,” says the World No. 20. “But the experience in Dilijan would help me prepare better for my three remaining Grand Prix tournaments – at Tashkent, Tbilisi and Erdenet.”

The Tashkent (Uzbekistan) leg will kick off on September 17. Before that, Harika will be playing in a couple of tournaments in Europe. “I would also play in the Chinese League this year,” she says.

She is already looking ahead to the World Championship of 2014. “I have qualified as one of the semifinalists at Khanty Mansiysk,” she says. “Yes, I could look back at the last World Championship with pride, but to be honest, I am not entirely pleased with my effort; I wanted to win the crown. But I could not give my best in the semifinal, against Bulgaria’s Antoaneta Stefanova, because I was too exhausted after the tie-breakers against Zhao Xue of China in the quarterfinals.”

In the 2010 World Championship in Turkey, she had reached the quarterfinals, where she had stretched China’s Ruan Lufei into the tiebreakers. Harika has indeed been India’s most consistent and successful female player after Humpy, her heroine on the 64 squares.

Like Humpy, she has also won the prestigious World junior chess championship, in 2008. She also lifted the World Under-18 (2006) and Under-14 (2004) titles. In 2011, she won the Asian individual championship, an achievement she rates highly. That year she also became a Grandmaster; Humpy is the only other Indian woman to hold that title.

Ever since announcing her arrival with the silver medal at the World Under-10 championship in 2000, Harika has been making all the right moves. Right from the beginning, as she played in the National age-group championships, she caught one’s attention with her single-minded dedication. Chess seemed to be the only thing that interested her. “I want to emulate Humpy’s feats,” she had told this writer, when she was 12.

She used to work on chess for as much as six hours a day even as a kid. “She has always been an extremely hard-working girl,” says N. V. S. Raju, who has been coaching her for the last 14 years. “She is very strong in positional chess and has sound opening knowledge too,” he says.

“I had found her middle game extremely good right from the time I began working with her. But I feel she has to fine-tune her ending a bit more still.”

One of Harika’s strongest points is that she is fearless. Reputations do not matter to her. No wonder, she has a plus score in her head-to-head meeting with Humpy. That is something not many top players in world chess can boast of.

Harika, who is sponsored by Lakshya Flame and the Airports Authority of India, doesn’t play much in India these days. “I played only in the National team championship in the last two years,” she says. “I wish there were stronger tournaments in India so that players like Humpy, Krishnan Sasikiran, Pendyala Harikrishna and me could participate. I am delighted though that we are hosting the World championship this year.”

She says she would be in Chennai in November for the match between Viswanathan Anand and Magnus Carlsen of Norway. “I would be playing in the Chinese League at that time, but I still would visit Chennai for a few days,” she says. “I want to cheer for Anand.”

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