A momentous occasion for India

Success story… Pentyala Harikrishna (second from left) shows the medal and the trophy he won in Iran to his parents and sister at his home in Hyderabad.-Pics: V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM Success story… Pentyala Harikrishna (second from left) shows the medal and the trophy he won in Iran to his parents and sister at his home in Hyderabad.

Pentyala Harikrishna and Dronavalli Harika do India proud by winning the titles in the Asian Championship in Iran recently. V. V. Subrahmanyam in conversation with the champions.

Pentyala Harikrishna had to skip his 25th birthday celebrations as they clashed with the final round of the Asian Chess Championship (in Masshad, Iran, May 1-10). “That morning, my focus was on keeping my hopes alive to qualify for the next World Cup (in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, August 26-September 21). Only after the Closing Ceremony was over, did I have an informal cake-cutting in the presence of my fellow Indian players,” he said.

This, in a way, reflects the intensity that Harikrishna displayed to win his first-ever Asian men's title. And completing a ‘golden double' for India was Dronavalli Harika, who the women's singles title.

Eesha Karavade of India settled for the bronze medal in the women's section.

According to Harikrishna, this was the biggest victory for him at this point of his career. “It has come after a long gap and, more importantly, in a very tough event in which 30 Grandmasters took part. The cream of Indian men's chess, barring Viswanathan Anand, was there,” recalled the player from Hyderabad.

For the record, the Indian GM, Krishnan Sasikiran, was the second seed in the championship.

“Honestly, at the start of the event, I did not expect to win. All that I was hoping for was to qualify for the World Cup,” said Harikrishna, who remained unbeaten in the Asian Championship.

“By all means, it was a very tight finish as there was no guarantee who will finally qualify for the World Cup,” he added.

“Essentially, I was very relaxed even before the final round, for my focus was not on winning the title but on qualifying for the World Cup. This actually helped me stay focused and outwit Zhao Jun of China in the final round with black pieces to tie for the first place and eventually edge out Yu Yangyi of China in the tie-breaker,” Hari recalled.

“My opponent tried for a novelty in the opening which I could spot very early. Subsequently, his thought process was too long. This forced him to slip into time pressure which actually made things far easier (for me),” said the former World junior champion.

“The fact that I could win four games out of five with black pieces was a very satisfying experience even though it meant that I had to improve my winning record with the white too,” revealed Harikrishna, who was seeded fourth in the tournament.

“Considering that this Asian title is the biggest after the 2006 Doha Asian Games team event gold, it, naturally, provides a huge relief.

It is not always easy to win an event at this level; you always see vastly improved players up against you because of the intensity of preparations,” explained Harikrishna.

For this highly gifted player — he and Koneru Humpy were tipped by Viswanathan Anand as potential world champions — the focus now shifts to Chicago Open, New York Open and the World Open in the US Circuit, scheduled over the next two months. “There is no way I can relax despite this big win. After a couple of days break, it is business as usual,” he said.

Dronavalli Harika displays the trophy and the medal she won at the Asian Championship. “It is a very significant victory since it helped me qualify for the World Cup,” she says of her triumph.-

Meanwhile for Harika, her victory in the Asian Championship was a “dream come true”.

It was a memorable finish considering that she was playing the Asian women's championship after eight years. (She won a silver medal in the 2003 edition.)

“With the aim of getting the GM title in the men's section, I missed this event for long. So, winning the gold medal only in my second appearance is a great feeling — especially, clinching the title with a victory in the must-win final round against Tan Zhongyi of China,” said Harika.

“It is a very significant victory since it helped me to qualify for the World Cup,” said Harika.

The other two Indian women who have qualified for the World Cup are Koneru Humpy (by virtue of her world ranking) and Sowmya Swaminathan (by virtue of being the National ‘A' champion).

“Honestly, being the top seed, I was expected to win the title. But it is not all that easy once you enter the event,” said the champion, who is sponsored by the Airports Authority of India and Lakshya.

“It was also an event where I experimented rather unsuccessfully with my French Defence variations. I hope to improve a lot in the days to come by working with my coach N. V. S. Ramaraju,” she added.

“I dedicate this Asian title to my parents (Ramesh and Swarna), grandmother (Sudeshana) and my coach,” Harika said.

“Definitely, to become the World champion is my ultimate dream and I am really pleased that both Harikrishna and I have qualified for the Worlds by winning the Asian Championship titles,” she said.