Harika: ‘Online title means a lot to me’

Dronavalli Harika had tied for the first place with Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze in the inaugural World women’s online blitz chess championship, but a superior tiebreak score gave the 24-year-old from Hyderabad the title.

Dronavalli Harika in action at the inaugural world online blitz championship.   -  Alina l'Ami

When she goes for tournaments, Dronavalli Harika always ensures that she packs one particularly beautiful piece of clothing, something like an ornate salwar or an evening gown. She would wear it if she won the tournament. For her recent trip to Rome, for the final of the inaugural World women’s online blitz chess championship, she carried a lovely sleeveless yellow gown.

She did get a chance to wear the gown. She won the 10-woman final, scoring 13.5 points out of 18. It was a double round-robin affair. She had tied for the first place with Georgia’s Nana Dzagnidze, but a superior tiebreak score gave the 24-year-old from Hyderabad the title.

“This title means a lot to me, as it is after all a World championship awarded by the world governing body FIDE,” Harika told Sportstar shortly after arriving in India from Rome. “It is also special because it is the first ever online championship. I believe there is a future for online events like this.”

Over 300 players from 39 countries took part in the event. The ladies could play the initial rounds from the comfort of their homes before the eight finalists — as well as two wild card entries — were identified.

“I played my games from my apartment in Hyderabad,” Harika said. “I had to ensure that there would be no power-breaks, so I asked the people in our building to switch off the power connection and use the generator instead.”

Aren’t there possibilities of cheating when you play online?

 

“There are, but FIDE had told us they had the anti-cheating system in place and that nobody had used chess software during the games,” Harika said. “But, there is this possibility that someone else might play for you. Still, if you look at the qualifiers, you could see that it was the strong players that qualified. Anyway, the final was played at one venue, in Rome. So I don’t think anyone can complain.”

Harika said she would not have been happy with anything less than the title in Rome, though she was seeded only third. “My ambition has always been to win the World championship,” she said. “I had come pretty close to the World championship earlier in the year in Russia, but messed it up in the semifinals against Mariya Muzychuk.”

Indeed. Harika was looking comfortably placed to win against the Ukrainian — who went on to win the World title — before she miscalculated and lost.

She had always given her best at the World championships though, often exceeding expectations. She was a semi-finalist in 2012 and had made it to the last eight two years earlier.

She had also excelled in World age-group championships, wining the title in the under-18 and under-14 categories as well as the prestigious World junior girls’ crown in 2008. She has also been the Asian and Commonwealth champion.

For all her achievements, Harika isn’t as well-known as many lesser achievers in other Indian sports. “Chess could do with more publicity,” she said. “You know, you are the only journalist to call me up after I won the World online championship in Rome. Our chess champions deserve more media space.”

Harika believes the World online championship would become bigger in the years to come. “There would be players from more countries, I am sure,” she said. “We had good participation from India this time, with players like Koneru Humpy, S. Vijayalakshmi, Padmini Rout, S. Meenakshi and Pratyusha Bodda. Humpy had qualified for the semi-finals but she pulled out, while Padmini was there in Rome with me for the finals.”

After her success in Italy, Harika will be travelling to China to play in the Chinese league. “I will be playing for Beijing in the league,” she said. “Then I have the tournaments coming up in Qatar and Gibraltar. I would also be training in Europe before the Grand Prix series begins later on in 2016.” Looks like Harika would have to hunt for many more pretty clothes.

The standings:

1. D. Harika (Ind), 2. Nana Dzagnidze (Geo), 3. Alexandr Kosteniuk (Rus), 4. Valentina Gunina (Rus), 5. Olga Zimina (Ita), 6. Irina Vasilevich (Rus), 7. Sabina Faisor (USA), 8. Adriana Nikolova, 9. Padmini Rout (Ind), 10. Sofio Gvetadze (Geo).