GM Dronavalli Harika was plotting the moves against her likely opponents at home here far away from Chennai, where her teammates have been training for the forthcoming Chess Olympiad.
With days to go to become a mother, Harika has been in touch with her teammates and the coaches and has ensured that the preparations didn’t suffer given her present condition.
In an interview, the soft-spoken Harika shared her thoughts ahead of the Olympiad starting from July 28.
Q: How are the preparations for the Olympiad?
Preparations are going well. Finally, the Olympiad is back after four years, everyone is eagerly waiting.
Q: How difficult is it mentally and physically given your current state?
To be honest, I don’t know how it will turn out to be. Mentally it is not so different, but physically it is different, and I am hoping to overcome it.
Q: How different and difficult are they when the other members are training in Chennai?
It is not so difficult as work can be done from any place. I a mworking from home, but it feels a little different not being able to do many things normally.
Q: How are you interacting with the other members and the coaches?
I am in touch with most of them, and we have all known each other for many years so it’s not difficult.
Q: What have been the areas of focus in the run-up to the Olympiad?
Focus is just to give our best off the board and during the tournament.
Q: How do you rate the team’s chances?
We are top seeds, but there are many other equally strong teams and given my current condition, it’s going to be a totally different situation for the team than normal circumstances, so I am not thinking about the chances but just focusing on doing our best.
Q; What do you feel are the strong points of this Indian team?
One of the strong points is the team is highly focussed and motivated to do our best. There are more strong points, but I don’t want to boast about them.
Q; What are the toughest teams likely?
Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Poland to name a few, but more teams are strong enough and who might have lesser ratings but are stronger as a team.
Q: What has been your best Olympiad performance, and how many appearances have you had so far?
I played my first Olympiad when I was 13 in 2004, and so far played eight and two online editions.
Q; What do you feel are your strong points?
As I said before, I don’t like to boast about myself but definitely ,there are some strengths in general, but this time it is going to b edifferent as I am going to play in totally new circumstances.
Q; How important is playing the Olympiad in your home country?
It is very encouraging that we got the Olympiad at home, which is one of the top tournaments in the chess fraternity. This will increase the popularity of the sport in India, but it will be better if we can win medals for the country and inspire more people to take up chess.
Q; Does it also mean some sort of pressure?
No, I don’t think so. Yes, there will be many more people following, expecting us to do well and watching us playing closely, but we all are professionals, and we understand that success and failure both are part of the sport. We just need to focus on giving our best.
Q: What is the likely impact of hosting the Olympiad on the sport in India?
For the first time, they will be watching the top most tournament in chess so closely so definitely more, and more people will get connected to the sport and the players which will automatically help the sport to grow bigger in the country.
Q; If you look back, what has been the high point of your career?
There are a few high points like when I won my first world youth championship in 2004 when I won the world juniors and the Arjuna award in 2008 when I won a bronze medal in the Asian Games in 2010. When I won three bronze medals in the World women's championships and when I received the Padma Shri award in 2019.
Q; What are the goals you are chasing?
To become a world women’s champion and to become World no.1
Q; How is the employer’s support and also any corporate support you are getting?
I have been employed in the Indian Oil company for the past six years. They are extremely supportive and encourage sportspersons a lot. Which is one of my strongest support systems.
Q: How is the support from your family, any thoughts on how long you are going to play?
Thankfully, I have amazing family support because of which, I can play chess without any burden for as long as I want. Luckily in chess, age wouldn’t matter too much to continue the sport as long as you are motivated and willing to work hard. So, I will play as long as I feel I am giving my best.