YOUNG LIKE US Dronavalli Harika has been winning laurels for the country regularly, gaining respect from her peers and critics alike. V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM
Dronavalli Harika always gave an impression since childhood that she is destined to achieve big in chess, an activity she started after watching her father and elder sister Anusha dabble on the board. Proof of this rare trait was evident when she shocked the former world champion Maya Chiburdanidze in a third round game of the 2002 World Cup in Ramoji Film City (where India’s best known face in chess world, Viswanathan Anand, emerged champion).
It was a stunning display from the Guntur girl against a world champion for 18 years. The intensity and the cool-like-cucumber attitude of Harika stood out even as the focus was on the bigger names like Anand and Humpy from that World Cup.
That this gifted chess player achieved at the age of 12 against such an experienced campaigner was perhaps the first big indication of things to come. Amidst this backdrop, when the 20-year-old Harika has become only the second Indian woman after Koneru Humpy to win the Grandmaster title in men’s category to join about 20-member elite group in the world it was, perhaps, not a big surprise.
A product of the Sri Venkateswara Bala Kuteer School, Harika is always known in chess circles as the ‘silent killer’. One vividly remembers how composed she was, for Standard VIII student then, to down Maya in that World Cup. The way she seized on a blunder from the famous rival on the 33rd move to gain an exchange was the spark of a genius in the making as it saw Maya’s rook trapped and force her to resign after 53 moves. Interestingly, Harika, now a Business Management student, is still coached by Narahari Venkata Sita Rama Raju. “I owe a lot to him. He, like my family members, has been a great source of strength and inspiration,” acknowledges the champion player.
No big talk
For someone who was the youngest Indian girl to win the National ‘B’ championship, Harika never really talked big. She preferred to let her performances on the 64 squares speak even as she cornered the best of the opponents with her amazing repertoire. If Harika has developed some sort of a knack of winning big titles just when critics were trying to raise their heads, it is purely because of her commitment and hard work. “In chess, you don’t get results immediately. It is a totally different world altogether where you have to keep improving with each game,” she says. Some of the big achievements of Harika include the silver in the Commonwealth chess championship in Mumbai, winning three World youth chess championship titles—in 2004, she won the girls under 14 in Greece, in 2006 she won the girls Under 18 in Georgia and in 2008 the World juniors.
“Yes, Arjuna Award is something special. It gives you a rare feeling that your efforts and sacrifices are recognised,” recalls Harika about the award she got in 2007. “Definitely, the award and the Grandmaster men’s title are two of the most memorable achievements for me,” says Harika, who loves to watch entertainment movies and cooking if she has the time.
For the record, Harika has been on a different plane in the last 12 months, winning bronze in the 2010 Asian Games women’s individual event, being a quarter-finalist in the prestigious 2010 Women’s world championship, a silver medallist in the 2011 Commonwealth chess championship in South Africa, winning the 2011 Asian women’s individual title.
“I am enjoying the sport. The ultimate dream is to be a world champion. I will play the game till I achieve that. There is no deadline for that,” she says. Thankfully for Harika, with Airports Authority of India and Pune-based Lakshya supporting her in a big way she is not overtly bothered on the financial front.
“It is like this. Thanks to these two organisations, I can focus on my game more,” she says. Interestingly, Wipro supported her and this helped to take part in some of the big events then.
Dronavalli Ramesh, Deputy Executive Engineer in Panchayat Raj (Amaravati), and mother Swarna agree that Humpy and Harikrishna have had a major influence on their daughter. “She is very keen to reach their levels of excellence,” say the proud parents. But, it is obvious that Harika is now clearly stepping out of the shadows of the two more familiar names of Indian chess, keen to script her own piece of history.
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