Harikrishna: ‘I need to start winning titles’

India’s second highest-rated chess player, P. Harikrishna, after former world champion Viswanathan Anand, is pleased that he booked a slot for the first time in his career at the prestigious four-match Grand Prix series.

P. Harikrishna is based in Serbia because it cuts down his travelling time and lets him train more.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

India’s second highest-rated chess player, P. Harikrishna, after former world champion Viswanathan Anand, is pleased that he booked a slot for the first time in his career at the prestigious four-match Grand Prix series where the top-two finishers earn the right to play in the Candidates Matches.

“Each player can compete only in three of the four Grand Prix Series scheduled to be held from May this year and the top two finishers based on the aggregate scores will be eligible for the Candidates Matches which will again identify the challenger to the reigning world champion,” the 30-year-old Harikrishna informed Sportstar in an exclusive interview here on Saturday on returning home from the European circuit.

“The other route to enter the World championship is to figure in the World Cup held in knock-out format, in which I don’t have the desired experience. This I found to be very challenging and very special. So, I am confident of doing well in the Grand Prix Series and realise my goal of moving closer to the World championship,” he says.

“I am aware that playing well is not just enough. You have to keep winning major titles. And, I am confident of picking a couple of big titles this year as the preparations have been really good. Yes, the ultimate dream is to be a world champion. I know it is a long journey still but it is not all over for me. I am working hard to stay in the hunt and hope for the big breaks to realise that goal.”

“It is a pity that in India we don’t have any major events which can be helpful to the Grandmasters to prepare themselves for bigger challenges at the highest level,” he said to a query. “And, you know the strongest tournament is the Petroleum tournament (which is going to be held in Chennai next week) featuring the best of the Indian players in men and women’s sections,” he remarked.

“I would put it this way. No player can just bank on his strengths or keep working on weaknesses. There has to be a constant effort to keep improving in all areas of the game. It is an on-going process which needs hours of preparations. That is why I am really happy to have my base in Serbia where after five days of training I can play with quality players during weekends to test my preparations,” the champion chess player remarked. “Frankly, I am a much better player in Openings now,” he says with a smile.

But why Serbia? “It cuts down a lot on travelling and lets me train more. And importantly, all my playing partners are nearby,” he said.

Productive 2016

“If you look back at 2016, it was not a disappointing one. I feel it is a great thing to move into the top-15 in world rankings. And, also given the fact that I have had some fabulous results including wins over the gifted Anish Giri, holding World champion Carlsen and also Viswanathan Anand to another draw. The high-point obviously being reaching my career-best rating of ELO 2770 in December last,” Harikrishna commented.

“Yes some of the big events include the one in China featuring the top-six players engaged in a double round-robin league this month-end which will also see Anish Giri, Peter Svidler, Adams and the host team’s Ding Liren and Yu Yangyi. It should be a huge experience and gives me a feel of what I need to do ahead of the Grand Prix Series,” he pointed out.

Harikrishna admitted that it is time he started winning major titles. “I am aware that playing well is not just enough. You have to keep winning major titles. And, I am confident of picking a couple of big titles this year as the preparations have been really good,” says the former World junior champion even while being grateful to BPCL where he is the Deputy Manager.

“Yes, the ultimate dream is to be a world champion. I know it is a long journey still but it is not all over for me. I am working hard to stay in the hunt and hope for the big breaks to realise that goal,” signed off Harikrishna.