Harika addresses GP debacle: “We understood it was just wrong”

by ChessBase
4/7/2023 – The third leg of the Women’s Grand Prix was marred by the early withdrawal of two players. Zhansaya Abdumalik decided to leave due to organizational issues, and her withdrawal triggered other players to bring up further issues related to previous events. Harika Dronavalli was one of three Indian players in the field, and found herself struggling to decide how to react to the situation. Only after the tournament finished, she spoke up about the New Delhi debacle in a 13-minute video produced by ChessBase India. | Photo: FIDE / Ismael Nieto

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Emotional turmoil

A tumultuous start led to a somewhat underwhelming atmosphere at the third leg of the Women’s Grand Prix series in New Delhi. Organizational issues prompted Zhansaya Abdumalik’s withdrawal from the tournament, while the ensuing handling of the conflict led to Elisabeth Paehtz also deciding to withdraw.

Ten players agreed to participate despite the circumstances, albeit not in balanced conditions, as the pairings were not rearranged to secure a fair balance of colour allocations — i.e. two players had 6 whites and 3 blacks in the event, while two players, inversely, had to play 6 times with black.

FIDE President Arkadiy Dvorkovich did take some of the blame, but his apology does not take away from the fact that this was a major blow to the Women’s World Championship cycle. The series grants two places for the next edition of the Candidates Tournament, the prelude to the all-important match for the world title. Not only did the withdrawals left Abdumalik and Paehtz fully out of contention, but also affected the participants who had to play a disproportionate number of games with black in New Delhi.

Read the full final report...

Harika speaks up

One of the three Indian participants in the field, Harika Dronavalli, shared her experience in New Delhi with ChessBase India. She and Humpy Koneru found themselves agreeing to a number of conditions to keep things together, as they realized this might reflect badly on the Indian organizers — Vaishali Rameshbabu, the third Indian in the field, is only 21 years old.

In a 13-minute video, Harika talks about what went on behind the scenes: why the tournament got delayed, the reason behind Zhansaya leaving the tournament, what happened at the technical meeting, the mention of a potential colour imbalance, who stood by her words, who threatened to walk away if the pairings were changed, how the whole situation affected the players, and more.

Then we started realizing the heat of the decision. We understood it was just wrong for many of us to accept these conditions because it was our decision to say okay. Yes, I learned many lessons from this tournament. 

Watch the video or read the transcript presented below.



“When I was asked on day one, I thought that I should share on the last day but as the tournament didn’t go well, I don’t know how it will be taken. First I thought, I should play well and then address what all I thought during the tournament. Nevertheless I want to share because at least I want people to know what exactly happened here. Maybe I won’t go into details because that could be like not so good for other players, but I will just try to make as short as possible.

So first in the opening ceremony, we got to know about Zhansaya, that she wanted to leave and her reasons. I was trying to understand. Before I could understand, there were all like (talk) about the reserve player and everything. Many things started being discussed. Already in the opening ceremony, it was a little weird on what’s happening. Then we understood, not everyone is happy with the few things of having a reserved player and other things. So then after the opening ceremony, we went to have a meeting with everyone. Our All India Chess Federation, everyone came there and asked for apology — if they think that something is wrong, they are ready to do everything to make the stay comfortable. Then suddenly things started going somewhere else and players started getting emotional [noting] they have gone through so many things before, like be it in the Candidates’ conditions and all this. They felt like this is the time to speak.

Myself and Humpy requested a lot that if at all there are so many things of additional baggage, why here. It can go in some other direction in India if we hold, and the soul goes on the organization. They said, ‘Look, it’s not about India or organization’. There are many things and we want to address it. This is the last thing we want to happen. Now we really want to address this to FIDE.

Firstly, the Zhansaya part is different and the fight after that is different. So Zhansaya left without even saying or discussing with anyone. She decided to quit, she gave her reasons and she left. What happened after that is Elisabeth, Lagno, Shuvalova, Goryachkina and at least on the first day, as much as I can see, Bibisara, were there together. Firstly, they didn’t want a reserve player because it felt unfair for them to have four Indians. We said that in that case, because we were just like... I was telling the organization that, okay, if they are not happy with it, we agree that let’s not have a reserve player. After that, they thought, first they want to speak FIDE and then get back to this. They clearly mentioned that it is not just about the organization here, and they want to address many things.

We just didn’t even realize how it became so big. The next day we were waiting for FIDE. So already the one game got postponed, which we didn’t even understand because we were arguing I think until 1 or 12:30 a.m. on the first day. It was supposed to be a technical meeting. It didn’t happen and all this. So, finally we were waiting for FIDE’s decision. The next day, everything started around like 3 p.m. the discussion and everything with FIDE. As far as I can see, it is not just, nothing about organization, all other topics were discussed. FIDE did what they asked for. They gave an open letter. Then we had a technical meeting at 10:30. I think people who were not at all involved in (this) — me, Humpy, Nana, Nino, Zhu Jiner, Vaishali — we were just waiting for the answer of FIDE and also the players because we were unaware what is happening. They wanted the tournament to be postponed.

One [full day] we were waiting to understand whether this tournament is going to take place or not, because if half the people are going out then obviously it will get postponed. So we were just waiting for the answer of the players and FIDE. And then once they discussed and FIDE gave an open letter at 10:30 next day, which means after one day, the next night we had was a technical meeting at 10:30. There the discussion came about pairings. because (of) the colours. I even asked the arbiter, if they are not happy with the reserve player, what difference it makes. Then I was told that we will get six blacks and four whites for a few players. I am one of them but (at) that moment, I was only thinking... because [this is the] first time we are holding such an event in India. Myself and Humpy, we didn’t want any kind of problems. We thought, let’s make everyone happy who is in India. We wanted a peaceful tournament.

So, in the technical meeting, when the discussion started about pairing change, (Kateryna) Lagno and Elisabeth Paehtz proposed [that] they thought it would be fair to have equal number of (colours) — for ten rounds, five whites and five blacks for everyone. Fair enough, we said, yes, let’s change the pairings. Everyone said yes, but already we were a little bit upset by then because it was taking too long. We don’t know whether we have to prepare or we don’t need to prepare and what’s happening.

We said, okay, let’s start. Somehow, let’s start the tournament. Then everyone said yes, but Goryachkina didn’t want the pairings to be changed. So we informed FIDE about it. We were waiting for their response. Aleksandra (Goryachkina) just walked off from the technical meeting. She said, if the pairings get changed, then she wouldn’t play. Then immediately the arbiter started taking for new pairings — the numbers and everything. Then Lagno got a bit emotional that we can’t leave a player like this, and then we said, look, no one wants to do it, but it’s the decision of each other. If that is the case, then each of you have to discuss and decide on something, because the other six, we are okay with everything — whatever they were saying, we are just saying yes for everything.

So they had a discussion, and by then, Elisabeth said, it’s unfair to have different colours, different white and different blacks, although she was getting more whites. By then it was not just tournament or colours or anything. It was just about somehow the tournament should happen without problems, and especially when we are doing it in India.

After all this, I think [that] Elisabeth clearly mentioned, if this is the case, she will walk out of the tournament but in all this confusion no one understood what is happening because so many people were wanting to walk out of the tournament — be it Goryachkina; Elisabeth, who was standing (firm) that this is not fair and she will walk out of this; and, in between, Shuvalova felt like, it’s too much and she has to walk out because there is no FIDE delegation. There was so much of confusion we didn't understand. I kept saying, it is just a tournament, let’s all go happily back home. Just let’s play and it’s just a tournament.

Then FIDE gave the decision — I think because they also didn’t understand what exactly is happening. So because Goryachkina wanted to walk out, they just spoke with her, and they wanted to somehow control it. They asked if whoever is playing blacks is okay with it, and none of us said like... okay, because at that moment it’s already not about tournament anymore for all of us, and we said fine in any case. By then FIDE said, okay, let’s just go with the same pairings if it’s okay, but Elisabeth said very clearly that she would walk out. Then I was trying to convince her that at least, like, you know, just let's start the tournament and finish it off. Let’s not mess it up further. Then she got upset that this is not fair, and she walked out of the game as she mentioned before.

I felt bad in many ways when I saw a player not turning up because she was right in her own way. She was right, she was fair. She was telling in general for the tournament, and none of us could stand strongly there because (at) that moment we didn't see it as a tournament, but just an emotional turmoil of everyone, [one] we were trying to solve.

After she left, everyone played and someone having six blacks, six whites. Then we started realizing the heat of the decision. We understood it was just wrong on many of us to accept these conditions because it was our decision to say okay. Yes, I learned many lessons from this tournament. At least I think this will be useful further to see a tournament as a tournament and as a player but not be too emotional about it. Or when you witness all these things, to be strong enough not to care and to play your own tournament better.

So definitely I think, with all these and like lot of colour changes, different rest days, it has gone like completely unplanned. I think this will be a lifetime lesson for me on many terms. In the beginning, I was wondering if I should share now or not because I didn’t do too well and I don’t know how it would be taken, but then I thought if it is not even addressed, people won’t even know what exactly happened and there will be always like assumptions about this tournament. That is the reason I thought I will at least tell what I feel is right or wrong, [with] so many things happening outside, like attacking on social media.

There is one thing that I want to say: Zhansaya never said lies or anything. She never said, you know, let’s all stop the tournament. She just stood by her words, she left. Even if I appreciate her decision or not, it’s my perspective, it’s her choice. It was never about her, she never said to stop the tournament. She just went off. It was her decision, right or wrong, it was her decision. What happened later on is just a complete mess, and, I don’t know, which never happened in our entire lives. We never saw a tournament happen in this way. Definitely I think this makes us stronger in the future. When you come to a tournament, it is just a tournament and nothing else, you have to be strong for it.

Initially I was wondering if I am the only one who got affected or if at all I got affected and maybe I just played bad tournament, but then I saw the standings where who all witnessed this for two days until 1 p.m. [when] they call the Technical Meeting, we all are in the bottom standings — be it Humpy, Nino, Nana, Vaishali, all of us. I think Zhu Jiner was lucky enough. She didn’t come to meetings, she said whatever is okay with her. So she is the only one who played fine. It maybe impacted everyone, not just me.” 


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