Harika: “Aim high and don’t give up on your dreams”

Next in our series we bring to you an interview with Harika Dronavalli, who has just won the Women’s Grand Prix at China. A very consistent and passionate Chess player, she is an inspiration for all of us. We are grateful to her for giving us her time, amidst her preparations for the next tournament.

(Courtesy: thenewsminute.com)
(Courtesy: thenewsminute.com)


Rucha Pujari: Congratulations Harika on your recent Grand Prix victory. Amazing performance! Can you share with us how you prepared for this tournament? What was your aim before you entered the field?

Harika: Thank you. I didn’t do any special preparation specially for the tournament, but in general I continuously work on chess. I aimed to win the tournament but I didn’t think about it much during the event.

RP: What were the crucial stages for you during the tournament? How do you handle these situations and pressure during important games?

Harika: Game against Humpy (Koneru) was the most crucial one and it changed the whole tournament scenario. But most important one was the last game. I try to stay positive and focused during crucial situations but I should admit it’s very difficult.

Winning Round 7 was crucial for Harika (Courtesy: chengdu2016.fide.com)
Winning Round 7 was crucial for Harika (Courtesy: chengdu2016.fide.com)


RP: There have been discussions going on about the Women’s World Championship cycle – how do you look at the current format and what are your views?

Harika: Current cycle is a bit complicated for the spectators and may be a bit unfair for the player who wins the World Championship Match. But personally for me it doesn’t make difference. I just try to concentrate on chess and try to prove in every opportunity that is given.

RP: You are one of the only two women in India to have become a Grand master. How was your journey, and can you share with us some of the defining moments of your career?

Harika: If I look back at the journey, it feels so beautiful now but I had my ups and downs like for everyone. I tried to learn from the failures and never gave up on my goals. Most memorable ones are when I won my first National title, World youth title, Commonwealth titles, Asian Women title, World Juniors title, Asian Games medal, World online championship and of course the most precious Bronze medals in the world championship. Above all the most special one was when I received the Arjuna award, the prestigious sports award in the country.

RP: What does Harika like to do besides Chess? 🙂

Spending time with family & best friends, watch movies & serials, cooking, reading books.

Living in the moment (Courtesy: @HarikaDronavali)
Living in the moment (Courtesy: @HarikaDronavali)


RP: Next question is on behalf of all Chess players. How do you work on Chess? How much importance do you give to other factors like diet, fitness and psychology?

All the other factors are very important and I try to work on chess and fitness everyday.

RP: A lot of people are following your games. They want to know where you are playing next.

Chinese league, Olympiad, Grandprix and World Blitz Rapid championships.

(Courtesy: Harika Facebook)
(Courtesy: Harika’s Facebook)


RP: What would be your piece of advice to aspiring players?

Believe yourself. Aim high and don’t give up on your dreams at any given situation.



RP: Do you have a favorite movie?

Harika: Chak de (India)

RP: Summer or winter?

Harika: Summer, Anyday 🙂

RP: The book you are currently reading is…?

Harika: Total Recall

RP: If you were to be a chess piece, which would you want to be and why?

Harika: Queen because very powerful and most important.

Anand: “I am sort of rediscovering Muhammad Ali a bit”

Starting with this post, we, at Follow Chess, will be kicking off our interview section, wherein we will bring across various interesting personalities from the chess world, be it the players, the organisers or other stalwarts from the chess fraternity. While the chess stuff will traditionally form the integral part, we will also be aiming to make the interviews as fun as possible. A set of offbeat questions, collectively named the ‘Blitzkrieg’, will deal with the non-chess aspects, with the idea of highlighting the lighter side of these well known personalities.

To kick start the series, we bring to you an interview with the man himself – Viswanathan Anand! Vishy, who recently won the Leon Tournament, was extremely kind and readily agreed for an interview!

Vishy Anand
(Courtesy: Lennart Ootes)

Asim Pereira/Shubham Kumthekar
: First of all, hearty congratulations on being awarded the honorary doctorate by IIT Kanpur. How good does it feel?

Viswanathan Anand:  It feels very good. It is a great honour (to be awarded the doctorate). I really enjoyed my trip to IIT Kanpur.

AP/SK: This comes on the back of a 4th place at Leuven and a victory at Leon. What do you make of your play in these events?

VA: I was happy with my play in Leon. With Leuven, I did not know what to expect. I generally tend to evaluate my performance based on my results against the Berlin and I wasn’t very optimistic.

During the Leuven tournament, I was doing very well. However, I ended up giving far too many chances. I could have secured a higher position. But again, I can’t really double guess as to what could have happened. Overall, yes, I would have liked to score more.

Thinking Away: The Madras Tiger finished 4th at Leuven, which featured ten of the strongest current players. (Courtesy: Lennart Ootes Twitter)
Thinking Away: The Madras Tiger finished 4th at Leuven, which featured ten of the strongest current players. (Courtesy: Lennart Ootes Twitter)

: You have now won the Ciudad de Leon tournament a record nine times. What is it about Leon that brings the best out of you?

VA: I like Leon. It is a nice and short tournament – usually lasting about 4 days. I also like the town a lot and have plenty of friends there. All in all, it feels really good.

This victory at Leon was my first in 5 years.  I’m happy to have overcome Wei Yi in the final round.

By beating Wei Yi 2.5-1.5 in the Finals, Anand racked up yet another victory at Leon. (Courtesy: www.advancedchessleon.com)
By beating Wei Yi 2.5-1.5 in the Finals, Anand racked up yet another victory at Leon. (Courtesy: www.advancedchessleon.com)

: How was your post-game interaction with Wei Yi?

VA: It was quite limited. We briefly discussed a couple of variations … but couldn’t quite hang out with him…

AP/SK: You always seem to bounce back after a crucial loss, be it the World Championship match against Topalov, or Gelfand or the second match against Magnus. What is your secret? How do you ensure being in the best frame of mind before every game?

VA: (Laughs) Well, you are being very kind! I don’t think it’s always.
I will like to agree with you more, but let’s say you try to put it behind, you get a good night’s sleep and you start the next game. I mean, sometimes you just have to go through the motions as well and hope that it pays off. I don’t really think there is much of a secret!

AP/SK: Which events will you be playing next?

VA: I am playing St. Louis and then London after that.

AP: And then perhaps the Candidates directly? 😛

VA: Well, I will have to qualify again, so that will have to take place sometime next year. I don’t have to deal with that right now, but next year I will have to figure out how to qualify.

AP/SK: Let’s move to the hot topic – Brexit. You have been in Europe for a very long time, so how do you see it? Does this come as a surprise to you? How will it impact the Chess scene in Europe?

VA: I don’t know if it will affect Chess more that it will anything else. But for me it’s remarkable. For me it’s bizarre what they have done to themselves. Winning side didn’t expect to win at all. So they did not bother planning anything. And the losing side did not really plan on losing, they tried to be confident. At least from the outside, it looks like complete shambles and I get the impression that they were completely on their own. But maybe, on the inside, they are confident and they are not letting on, I don’t know. Anyway, it doesn’t make a very good impression.

AP/SK: You have been associated with the Olympic Gold Quest for quite some time and Rio Olympics are just around the corner. What do you think about India’s chances?

VA: I hope we will get more medals this time. All the athletes have put in a lot of efforts and they are quite promising in many of the categories. But from my own experience, when you play you always go there hoping for the best and you really don’t know what’s going to happen. But hopefully enough of our guys will do well. Any improvement on the last time will be good news.

The Olympic Gold Quest family, of which Anand is a key member. (Courtesy: OGQ Twitter)
The Olympic Gold Quest family, of which Anand is a key member. (Courtesy: OGQ Twitter)

AP: Will you be cheering them in Brazil?

VA: I don’t think so. I will be in St. Louis at least for some part of it (checks his dates) .. Yes, I will be unable to attend.

AP/SK: Away from Chess, what do you enjoy doing ?

VA: Generally, I chill.. I play with Akhil.. I do some Astronomy…

AP: (interrupts) busy watching your planet through the telescope?

VA: Yeah, right now it’s a very good view. You get Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, quite a nice sky!

I am also fond of movies. I liked Bridge of Spies very much. I also watched Kung Fu Panda 3 with Akhil (laughs). It’s a good movie. Then there is Angry Birds as well, but I was in Belgium at the time of its release, so I will have to catch up!


AP/SK: Do you cook?

VA: I can’t do any serious cooking. I can make ready-made pasta and stuff like that. I can manage!

AP/SK: Tea or coffee?

VA: Coffee in the morning and tea during the rest of the day.

AP/SK: Early bird or night owl?

VA: Bit of both actually. At tournaments, my schedule is pretty much midnight to nine in the morning. But in India, I wake up by 6.30-7, whenever Akhil wakes up!

AP/SK: If you could be a fictional character for a day, who would you like to be?

VA: (thinking)

AP/SK: Kung Fu Panda?

VA: (laughs) I don’t know, lets say it’s Kung Fu Panda! Will be of some use for me!

AP/SK: Vishy, obviously you have a massive fan following. But whom are you a big fan of?

VA: Lot of people. Right now, I am sort of rediscovering Muhammad Ali a bit. He was very impressive. I knew he was great, but recently when he passed, I have been watching all the YouTube videos and enjoying.

There are also those people you read about, you admire. Honestly, too many to name.