The year 2016 was wonderful for women’s sports in India. PV Sindhu secured silver in badminton during the 2016 Rio Olympics while Sakshi Malik won bronze in wrestling. In women’s chess, 2016 was a year when Harika Dronavalli, India’s second woman Grand Master, made big strides.
Harika’s big achievement was beating women’s world No.1 Hou Yifan of China. She drew with men’s world No.2 Grand Master Wesley So and held former world champion Anatoly Karpov to a draw.
Harika won the Chengdu Grand Prix and her consistency enabled her reach No.5 in the rankings.
Learning new fun things, my first #Boomerang in #Delhi. More to come! pic.twitter.com/qo1ZKT4Zxc— Harika Dronavalli (@HarikaDronavali) February 7, 2017
After a glorious 2016, Harika aims to create history in the 2017 Women’s World Championship. In a chat with Hindustan Times, Harika states that becoming world champion is her main focus.
“My prime aim is to win the women’s World Championship. I want to learn from every game I play,” Harika said.
Setting the benchmark high
“My parents and coach are ambitious. When I finished second, my parents were not happy and they were crying.”
On a whirlwind trip to #delhi this morning to be part of #letspledgetoconservefuel @indianoil @raghuhock and many more talented atheletes. pic.twitter.com/FCbR6VU6cZ— Harika Dronavalli (@HarikaDronavali) February 6, 2017
This sums up Harika’s mindset to ‘Go for Gold’ every time. Her focus was so intense that when she won bronze in the World Women’s Chess Championship in 2012 in Khanty-Mansysk, she did not tell anyone.
“I was upset because I did not win gold. This is why I did not tell anybody. When I look back on it now, I should have highlighted it,” says Harika.
However, the Grand Prix title win in Chengdu gave Harika tremendous belief heading into the championship.
Vote in Chess Awards 2017. @HarikaDronavali nominated best female player, @kajasnare nominated for best journalist, https://t.co/AviRV7paQT— Chess Club Live (@ChessClubLive) January 21, 2017
“Winning the title in Chengdu was big. It was good for my confidence. I wanted to get gold on the big stage. This title is the starting point,” Harika added.
Judit Polgar and Koneru Humpy inspirations
Judit Polgar became the first woman Grand Master to take on the men. She defeated the likes of Magnus Carlsen, Viswanathan Anand, Vaselin Topalov and other champions.
When it comes to India, Koneru Humpy became the youngest woman Grand Master at the age of 15.
It’s not about how bad you want it but how hard you’re willing to work for it #1monthtogo for WorldChampionship pic.twitter.com/VN5v1I8juo— Harika Dronavalli (@HarikaDronavali) January 11, 2017
Harika calls Polgar her inspiration because she was the first to break the glass ceiling. “Judit broke the barrier and showed us that we can equally achieve what the men do. In her case, she took the bold step to play in the men’s circuit at that time,” she said.
When it comes to Humpy, she adds, “She has set the bar high. This has given me motivation to push the boundaries.”
The chess world has seen a technological revolution. Computers, social media play a huge part in moulding a player’s game. However, Harika has an ‘old-school’ take.
“I prefer the old days. The focus would be more on the board and on books. Today, one has to go through computers and I find it painful,” Harika said.
Although Harika has been performing consistently in the women’s circuit, she says competing with men will make her competitive.
“I wasted my time playing a lot of World Youth Championships. I wanted to win everything. Because of the stress, I used to fizzle out. When we are performing well in the women’s section, there will always be comparisons with men. We can perform well if we play against stronger opposition,” Harika said.