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Next two years will be crucial for women's chess in India – GM Harika Dronavalli

Harika Dronavalli throws light on her recent exploits, the future of Indian chess and more in an exclusive interaction with The Bridge.

Harika Dronavalli sexual abuse mails

Harika Dronavalli  (Source: Times of India)


Abhijit Nair

Updated: 10 Oct 2021 11:53 AM GMT

Ever since the covid-19 pandemic broke out in India last year, chess has been booming in the country. While all the other sporting activities across the world came to a standstill due to the raging pandemic, people took up chess.

The strategy game has since grown leaps and bounds in terms of popularity in India and has also been backed up with some terrific performance in various tournaments by the country's top players.

One of those names which have stood out for India in chess with some consistent performances recently is Grand Master Harika Dronavalli.

Hailing from the state of Andhra Pradesh, Harika played a crucial part in India's campaign at the recently concluded FIDE Online Chess Olympiad and Women's World Championships where the country won bronze and silver respectively. This was besides her runners up finish in the Women's Speed Chess Championships earlier in July 2021.

Speaking to The Bridge, in an exclusive conversation, the 30-year-old threw light on her recent performances, the future of Indian chess and much more.

On her recent performances

I do not think there is any particular reason behind my consistency this year. I have been enjoying my game a lot more, getting to play over the board after a long time. I have been working on improving my game for long, even online for that matter. So, probably everything has just started to come together, I feel. To be honest, even I do not know the exact reason nor do I think it has been some very amazing performance or anything, just very satisfied with the way things have been going for me.

On her experience leading the team at Women's World Championships

I have led the team before and played on the top board, but it was different this time around because we won the silver medal. This is the first time ever that India has won a medal in the World Championships. It is certainly a very good feeling when I think that people will recognise our efforts now and that our win will go down in the history of Indian sports. So very happy and proud of the effort we put in at Sitges.

On switching from online to over the board

There is definitely a difference between playing over the board and online. Both are completely different challenges. The main challenge in over the board is the fact that you have to play with the opponent's mind. You can analyse your opponent from his or her body language and then decide what you want to do. Online, on the other hand, is a lot more mechanical. You need to have an eye out for the internet while also making sure that you are fast with your moves and have a good grip over your mouse.

On chess being considered as an esport and then being pushed for the Olympics

As a player, I hope the inclusion in the Olympics happens soon. I know chess is complicated and tough for viewers to understand, but it is also hard on us when people do not really encourage the sport. All of it might change if FIDE somehow manages to get it into the Olympics. It was a part of the 2006 and 2010 Asian Games and will be played at 2022 Hangzhou as well, so you never know we might have it in the Olympics soon. It would not happen overnight but as and when it happens it can only be good for chess as a sport.

On mental preparation before a match or a tournament

The preparation varies if it is online compared to over the board. Similarly, it varies when it is a knockout or a long tournament. In a long tournament, your focus is mainly on being at your best physically and keeping your mind focused and relaxed for a long duration which in turn will help you perform better in the end. While, on contrary, in a knock out styled event it is more about preparing your mind to give it your all in each and every match and making sure that you do not commit even a single error because even one slight mistake can throw you out of the tournament. Likewise, when I played the speed championships where I had to play match after match, my mindset was different. It was more about forgetting what happened in the last game and focusing on the present one.

On the chess boom in past one and a half year

Definitely, chess has seen a very big boom. People were stuck at home due to the pandemic and they did not have any other sport to play other than chess. This coupled with all these streamers making chess friendly for viewers meant that more and more people were attracted towards it. It is surely a good sign for someone like me and I am quite excited to see this happen. And I truly believe this is just the beginning and there is a lot more potential for chess to grow in India.

On the future of women's chess in India

In the boys' section, we have some very strong juniors and we have a lot of them. The same cannot really be said about the girls' section; I do not know the reason behind it but it is what it is. We only have two female Grand Masters – Humpy and me. To think that it has been 10 years since I became a GM and there has been none since then; it is disappointing. The next couple of years, I believe, will be crucial for women's chess in India because the sport is anyways on the rise and our performance at the World Championships will inspire more girls to take up the sport. Even if we can get two three strong players in the next few years, it will do women's chess in India a world of good.

On the Chess Super League

The Chess Super League, I thought, started as a fun thing. But believe me, there are a lot of emotions attached to it, and the tournament has not even begun. The following the event has on social media is insane and I am quite stoked to be a part of it. All the teams, I feel, are on an equal level rating level and it is going to be quite exciting.

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