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June 07, 2017

Feisty Achievers: Dronavalli Harika

Text by Tina Dastur

For becoming the second Indian woman to affix the prestigious Grandmaster title to her name and breaking into the top five in the world

Michael Jackson famously sang, ‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white,’ but Dronavalli Harika — who has been strategically moving her kings, queens, rooks and knights around on a board since the early 2000s — obviously knows better. Over her two decade-long career, she has leveraged the power of her mind and gone on to win myriad championships and pin the esteemed Grandmaster title to her name in the process. After checkmating her Chinese opponent Tan Zhongyi in an epic 162 moves to clinch the bronze at the World Chess Championship in Iran earlier this year, it’s safe to say that the Hyderabad sportswoman is on her way to the top of the ranking charts.

The power of concentration
When I sit at the table, I have to calculate well in advance what my opponent is trying to do and what I should therefore do; so in my mind, I am already plotting multiple moves. I have to anticipate positions after three, five or maybe even 10 moves, so you can imagine how much concentration is needed to calculate so many moves blindly!

Unfinished business
Chess can be played in nine or 11 rounds, so you can’t afford to think about just one game. All you have to do is train yourself to fight every day. Once the game on a given day is over, irrespective of the result, you just have to forget it, clear your head and go in fresh on the following day.

Role model
It would be Judit Polgár from Hungary because she broke the barrier for female players when she made her way into the top 10 players in the world.

Life without chess?
Impossible! I’ve been playing chess for 18 to 19 years, so needless to say, it’s become a part of me! I have a lot of milestones I still want to achieve, which include becoming world number one.

On being crowned GrandMaster
It remains one of the most cherished moments of my career. Only about 30 to 40 female players have won this title, and only two women from India have become Grandmasters — Humpy Koneru and I. It is satisfying to know that you can prove yourself equal to your male counterparts by achieving the highest recognition.

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