Harikrishna nursing hopes of realising his goal

Long back, five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand predicted both Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy as potential champions. But, almost a decade later, a pensive Harikrishna, after what he believes to be one of his best years — 2015 — still nurses the hope of realising the ultimate goal, to be a world champion.

Pentyala Harikrishnam, the former World junior champion, says that he has to make some real big moves to be a world champion.   -  V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM

For long, he has been the king-in-waiting but never really moved too close to becoming one. That is Pentyala Harikrishna for you. Long back, five-time World champion Viswanathan Anand predicted both Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy as potential champions.

But, almost a decade later, a pensive Harikrishna, after what he believes to be one of his best years — 2015 — still nurses the hope of realising the ultimate goal, to be a world champion.

“If you have noticed, I have done really well in some of the toughest events. For instance, after the disappointing second round loss in the World Cup (knock-out format) in September, within 10 days I won the Open category title. So, it is not that there is something seriously wrong with my game,” says the 29-year-old Harikrishna in an exclusive chat, on his return from the European circuit for a brief holiday, at his residence in Hyderabad.

The former World junior champion says that he has to make some real big moves to be a world champion. “The next big thing is to do well in the Grand Prix series, as the top two there will be eligible to take part in the Candidates matches.”

Currently, rated the second highest in India after Anand, with an ELO of 2743, Hari is not naive to talk big, but keeps reminding that it is never going to be easy. “The dynamics in chess have changed dramatically, thanks to the technological advances and the emergence of an immensely talented group of players in the big league,” he says.

The soft-spoken Indian Grandmaster, who confines himself to the European circuit, playing in the German, French and Spanish leagues for most part of the year, recalls that the Word Cup loss was primarily because of the amount of pressure he put on himself for different reasons. “And, unlike in Open events, the event, being a knock-out format which demanded an all-out approach, did not give you a chance to come back. Frankly, I lost objectivity in my game then,” he said.

But it has been a highly satisfying year so far and Hari, the 2011 Asian championship winner, is confident of stepping into the next level.

“There is no doubt you need to focus more on your game. Gone were the days when you call a particular line as your favourite strategy. What starts off initially as your strength turns out to be a weakness if you continuously look for that line of opening or attack. So, I have started a mix now, playing e4 more often and interspersing the c4 and d4 lines to ensure that element of surprise,” says the senior officer in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.

Analysing the fact that he got stuck somewhere after promising so much early, Hari, a veteran of six Chess Olympiads, points out: “Yes, it is true. For instance, between 2006-2010, I was stuck somewhere around 2660-80 ELO points. Things were not going my way. I think the pressure of expectations too has something to do with that.

“There is no doubt that Humpy and I came up in the league very rapidly. But one must realise it is a different ball game when you are up against the top 10 players in the world,” says Hari, currently ranked World No. 19.

“Nothing changes the next day. However, after 2010, I picked up my game in the next couple of years. I consciously made some changes in my preparations and in my game, too, to be a much stronger player now,” reveals Hari.

The gifted youngster, who rates the 2011 Asian championship and the 2013 Biel Open title wins as some of his most memorable ones, is now preparing for the Qatar Open which has a very formidable line-up including reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen, Vladimir Kramnik and the mercurial Anish Giri.

 

“It would be interesting to remind you that Giri and I are team-mates for the German club, Solingen. His knowledge of chess is really vast. He doesn’t make too many positional mistakes on the board. He is very ambitious and always wants to win even with black pieces, which is his biggest trait,” says Hari, in praise of another potential world champion.

He looks at what exactly is the biggest hurdle for him to overcome, before he can realise the ultimate goal to be a world champion. “I need to play in big events and win them besides picking valuable ELO points. Ideally, if India were to host at least a couple of strong Open events, it would help the Indian chess players a lot. For instance, all the five players who won gold in the recent World Youth Championship need to get the exposure to big events, to keep looking ahead. Not many of them can afford to travel abroad and compete,” Hari says.

He is not really worried about his game now. “The fact that I am enjoying my game is proof of that. There are no areas of concern. I think I am at the most critical phase of my career and doing well too as there is no fear of expectations now,” says Hari.

Hari will also compete in the Gibraltar Open next January, along with Anand. He is currently on a mission to keep improving his game by interacting with some of the best Grandmasters (whom he doesn’t want to reveal for obvious reasons).

Commenting on Anand, Hari says it is amazing that the great champion is still so passionate about the game. “Even now after playing 10 blitz games, he continues to analyse them with so much ease. Age may have caught up with him, but there is his unbridled love for the game which is some sort of a lesson to all of us,” he remarked. “Yes, it will be a very tough Candidates event (to decide Carlsen’s challenger) for Anand also. The field is going to be very strong and everyone, for that matter, has to be exceptionally brilliant to emerge winner.”