An interview with Dronavalli Harika (2/2)

by Priyadarshan Banjan
12/3/2015 – In the second part of her in-depth interview Dronavalli Harika, India's number two women player, who recently became the first Women World Champion in Online-Blitz, talks about her repertoire, her love of chess books, psychology in chess, how she would pay tribute to her coach, and her ambition to become number one on the women's ranking list.

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GM Dronavalli Harika (Courtesy: Amruta Mokal)

PB: Let’s talk about your chess. A look at your repertoire with White suggests that you have always preferred to play closed openings. You seem to have a relatively narrow repertoire - do you only rarely feel the need to confuse your opponents a bit more?

Harika: I don't think I have a narrow repertoire. In fact, when I wanted to surprise my opponents, I have often tried offbeat setups. Of course, there is always room for improvement – and I am working on it.

PB: Preparing good lines and moves is one thing, remembering all the openings and lines another. Do you have blackouts occasionally?

Harika: In my career I have had some lapses, but very few. My memory is not perfect, but fair enough.

PB: Do you do anything specific to keep your memory skills top-notch?

Harika: No, I have never done anything specific, but I think chess is enough of an exercise to keep my mind sharp!

Mind over matter. (Courtesy: Amruta Mokal)

PB: Which is the best game of your career so far?

Harika: I really don't know! I have always tried to find out which mistakes I make to avoid them in future games. But I can say that my recent win over the Hungarian grandmaster Misa Pap felt like a good game.

PB: Does your playing style reflect your admiration for certain players? You have again and again said how you admire Judit Polgar, but your playing style is different to hers.

Harika: I don't even dare to associate my style with the big names! If others think that my style is similar to the great chessplayers that feels fine, but I do not believe in drawing parallels.

PB: What do you think about psychology in chess? For instance, do you sometimes feel an emotional shift occurs during the game which helps you decide on your moves?

Harika: Psychology plays the most important role in chess and I think that's the beauty of the game. But to explain in brief how my mind works during the game is difficult. Subconsciously, however, memory, experience and the knowledge of positions play a major role in my decisions. At the board you may not always play the objectively best moves but you play them because you feel that a certain move gives you better chances to be successful.

Fischer liked to, ‘See ‘em squirm’

PB: What is your motivation to win? Bobby Fischer, for example, said he liked to ‘see ‘em squirm…’

Harika: I don't have such feelings. My main motivation is just to get a good result.

PB: You once confessed that you are a fan of TV-serials. Any favorites?

Harika: I generally try to watch only happy moments and I try avoid the sad parts, and so I don't have any particular favorite. They keep changing!

PB: What kind of music do you listen to?

Harika: I only listen to Indian Music (Hindi, Telugu). But no particular genre – it all depends on my mood.

PB: Do you read chess books?

Harika: Since my childhood days studying games and analyses from books with my coach has been a part of my daily routine. And I still like to study and read chess books.

Not so long ago: Harika with her personal coach Mr. N. V. S. Ramaraju

A more recent picture of coach and student

PB: Is Mr. N.V.S. Raju still your coach? Apparently, he has been more than just a coach for you, and has been standing by you all these years, while you went from milestone to milestone.

Harika: You are right! He is more than a coach and more like a part of our family. We don't have time to sit at the board and work as we used to because he is also training a lot of other students and I travel a lot. But no matter in which part of the world I happen to be we still talk to each other every day and discuss my plans.

PB: What would you like to say to pay tribute to him?

Harika: I want to pay tribute to him but not in words. I want to reach great heights and live up to what he has seen in me. I want him to win the Dronacharya award, because I know that he is one of the best, sincere, talented and hardworking coaches around.

PB: Did you know that your name—Harika – means wonderful/miraculous in Turkish?

Harika: Yeah, I heard that my name has different meanings in other languages. However, I only figured out recently what it means in India! A couple of years ago, I consulted many books of names and meanings but found nothing. But when the topic came up again recently, I made a search on google and got my answer in one minute!

(Harika is a name given to people of the female sex, both in India and Turkey. In India, Harika is a Hindu name, associated with the goddess Parvati. There are multiple meanings, one of them being "of the lord." Harika is also a name given to females in Turkey, meaning beautiful and wonderful.)

PB: You have travelled a lot and visited many different countries. How does that feel?

Harika: Yes, all in all I have been in 40 or 50 countries approximately. Now I am addicted to travel. Today I find it difficult to be in one place for long.

PB: Do you still take your rice cooker with you when you travel?

Harika: Of course, a rice cooker is the first thing I pack. Without it, I cannot survive. I am still not used to eat western food for long periods.

PB: Has it been the same rice cooker all these years?

Harika: Of course not!

Her Majesty’s humble aide at work, cooking more than just rice:
this time it is a popular Indian dish called Bhindi Fry!

PB: You are fan of Judit Polgar. But who is your favorite among the current top players?

Harika: I really admire the way Judit broke the gender barrier and made a path of her own. Among the current top players, Kramnik is my favorite. But all the top players have different skills and I respect them for the hard work they put in to entertain viewers with beautiful games.

PB: Talking about entertaining viewers – does it ever cross your mind that thousands might be following your moves online when you are playing in a tournament? How does that feel?

Harika: No, not at all. I like it that chess enthusiasts cannot only watch my games, but also have live-videos. For example, after I drew the crucial game in the semifinals of the Women’s World Championship by playing Qe3?, many people came to me and said that they were upset. This shows that tournaments appeal to chess fans and help them to understand chess better – which is a good sign.

PB: How important is your rating for you? Currently you are number 13 on the women’s rating list.

Harika: Being number 13 in the world sounds good, but when you set your goals much higher, it won't satisfy you at all. For me ratings and rankings are just numbers, which show me that I am going in a positive direction and motivate me to work harder.

Hou Yifan, Dronavalli Harika, Anastasiya Kharlovich

PB: Recently there was a lot of discussion when Hou Yifan surpassed Judit Polgar, who retired from tournament chess, on the ranking list, and became the new number one. Do you want to be number one in the world one time?

Harika: Of course, I have always wanted and still aspire to reach the number one spot, but it requires a lot more hard work, skills, etc. Therefore, I just focus on improving my game. But I hope I will make it one day.

PB: Thank you for the interview!

Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.


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