The young Grandmaster talks of her passion for Chess, her interests and rigorous routines
At 26, she has already won the Grandmaster title (which is one of the highest world titles awarded to a Chess player), the Arjuna Award bestowed by the Government of India for outstanding performance in National sports, three bronze medals in a row in Women’s World Championship and is currently World No.9 on FIDE rankings! There is no stopping this determined young lady who is now aiming for the World No.1 title! RITZ is in conversation with the gifted sports star, Harika Dronavalli as she talks of her passion for Chess, her interests and rigorous routines even as she is leading the Indian women’s team at the World Team Chess Championship in Khanty, Mansiysk (Russia)!
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
Like any bubbly 7 year old, Harika cherished playing indoor games with her family and she fondly recalls cracking Sudoku puzzles with her siblings. But little did she know that her life is about to be transformed when she applied for her first National game of Chess! Harika worked hard for her big day. Her training sessions would start as early as 6am and would go on till 5pm for three months. Her hard work paid off when she won her first Nationals in 2009. As she started to win more medals, her parents and coach were convinced that Chess was her destiny and although she had to stop her schooling, she had set her heart on winning the World championship.
Tackling the Pressure
The game of Chess involves a lot of planning and strategy and the player needs to remain calm under pressure to think straight. “It takes a lot of experience to handle the pressure. There is no point getting worked up, for it will only affect your game adversely. You need to focus on your goal and I think the most important thing is to be confident and believe in yourself,” she says. Apart from Yoga, Harika stresses on physical exercise to keep the mind and body fit. “Physical exercise is equally important and every day, I try to work out for at least two hours and practise the game for 5-6 hours. When you are required to play for 6-7 hours at a stretch, we need to be physically and mentally fit to stay alert till the end of the game!”
On Winning Titles
“People have always been kind and supportive. Even when I won three Bronze medals in a row, there was no criticism that I hadn’t done better but it was always support as they understood the difficulties and pressures of the game. But personally, I am not satisfied!” she says openly. “I am happy that I have had so many achievements but I still feel I can do better and that I have a long way to go! My biggest critic would be my trainer, Shri. N V S Ramaraju who constantly guides me and challenges me to do better.” She is also a big fan of renowned Chess player Viswanathan Anand who has always tweeted for Harika and extended his support to her during world tournaments. “I have always been star struck by him and have a lot of respect for him. He’s always very supportive and has tweeted for me during the world championship. Whenever we meet at a tournament he’s very cordial and down to earth,” she says.
Professional Game of Chess
Although there is a lot of respect for the game, it is not as popular as other games. “Chess is not included in Olympics either. I think it is because it is not a very easy game for everyone to understand. There are a lot of rules and nitty-gritty to the game which you can master only with experience and practise. A professional game of chess is much deeper and one needs to acquire knowledge about the rules and the moves. You need to foresee the opponents move and trick your opponent which can be very stressful and tedious. Unfortunately, the effort and strain is not visible like in a physical game.” Support from the Government? “I have visited many countries during the tournament and I think we have one of the strongest support system from the Indian Government. Yes, decisions and approvals can be slow at times. We have achieved a lot at the world championship and I think it’s time to build an awareness about our achievements to bring more focus to the game.”
Outside the Chessboard
It’s not all practise and tournament for this champion who recently walked the ramp with Sushmita Sen for the launch of the label, Shashi Vangapalli. “I love reading, cooking, doing art and craft, watching movies and yes, playing with kids,” she rattles away. “I do have to travel a lot for my training camps and I think that is one thing that I hate about the game – the long training hours and travel. Sometimes I wish I had a private jet! It’s a fantasy but it would definitely make my travel much easier,” she sighs. One thing that you love the most about the game? “The beauty of the game – the concept and the strategy behind it!”
- My Idol: Judit Polgar from Hungary
- Best Compliment: That I am very down to earth
- Title closest to my heart: Arjuna Award and Grandmaster title
- Longest Game played: 7.5 hours
- I detest: Negativity
- I admire: Self-made people
- I can’t do without: The Internet