A lot more to come

MANUEL AARON

DRONAVALLI HARIKA played nine games on the third board for the Indian women's team at this year's Chess Olympiad. She drew all nine and they were against older and more famous women players of Europe. She was a rock that could not be budged. And she is only 13!

She arrived in New Delhi from the Olympiad and without taking any rest, on the same night she took off for Heraklio, Greece, with the Indian youth contingent to try and win a medal that had eluded her for four long years.

From 2000, Harika has been playing in the World youth chess festivals. That year she won a silver medal in the girls' under-10 category. The next year she won a silver again, but in a higher category, the girls' under-12. In 2002, again hoping to win a gold, she accomplished only a bronze in the U-12 girls.

Halkidiky, Greece, in 2003 was her most traumatic experience. In the U-14 girls, she returned without a medal for the first time. After the seventh round she had a clear one-point lead. She drew her eighth game. In the ninth, the position had repeated itself three times and all she had to do was claim the draw but waited for her opponent to do so. But her wily opponent chose not to repeat and eventually won. In the penultimate round she over-pressed in a drawn game, rejected a draw offer and lost. Thus from the eighth to 10th rounds, she scored only half a point. A last round victory only got her the fifth position.

In this background we can understand why a Woman Grandmaster (WGM) wanted to play in an event such as the World U-14 girls. Totally six Grandmasters and two Woman Grandmasters and countless International Masters participated in different categories of this festival. The only one among them to win the world title was Harika.

This year at Heraklio, Harika had expected Anna Muzychuk of Slovenia and China's Tan Zhongyi to be her close rivals for the gold medal. For the last four years these same players have been fighting for the same medals starting from the U-10 girls. The Chinese who had won three world titles did not turn up. And Muzychuk was in the same boat as Harika as she had played on top board for Slovenia in the just concluded Olympiad.

At the pre-Olympiad chess coaching camp at Kozhikode, Sherbakov had impressed on Harika, the need to play solid chess and not lose any game. She did exactly that, but she didn't win any games either. At Heraklio she tied for first with Muzychuk drawing four games but became champion via the tie-break.

Harika has completed three International Master (IM) norms and is waiting to be formally awarded the title of IM. The title of IM is a higher title than a WGM.

Immediately on arrival from Greece she was to play in the World junior championship at Kochi (she skipped this), then the National `A' for men in December to be followed by the National Women's `A'. In between, Diwali passed almost unnoticed in Greece.

In 2003 Harika finished second to Humpy in the Asian women's championship at Kozhikode. And in the World junior girls' championship at Azerbaijan, she did very well to finish fourth. This year in the National `B' she finished third with several creditable victories over stronger men players. At the Czech International Open at Olomouc and Pardubice this year, she won prizes for the best woman player and the best junior. Her playing strength has vaulted several notches as in the last 58 games she has lost only four, and two of those were to Grandmasters.

Born on January 12, 1991, Harika is a 10th standard student. But she may not write her examinations due to non-stop chess activities. She was sponsored by WIPRO for two years till last July. From the beginning, her coach has been N. V. S. Rama Raju.

After Harikrishna and Humpy, Harika has become the best-known Andhra player to hit the chess world's headlines. And we can expect many more achievements her.