Achievements of Pendyala Harikrishna, India's youngest GM

Published : Sep 15, 2001 00:00 IST

P. K. AJITH KUMARScene 1.Kozhikode. Hotel Asma Tower.

August 4. Afternoon. Cloudy. Smell of rain in the air.

Mood: Expectancy.

Pendyala Harikrishna is watching the compact disc of the Hindi movie 'Chori Chori Chupke Chupke' on his laptop, sitting on his bed. Neeraj Kumar Mishra, who too is attending the on-going coaching camp, also watches the movie which shows actresses Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee vying for Salman Khan's attention with sweet songs and sweeter smiles on the flat little screen.

"Who is your favourite actress, Hari?"

"Preity Zinta. But please don't write that in The Sportstar," he requests.

Thirty-two-year-old Mishra, who has seen life more, doesn't approve of the idea. "If he is not going to write about it, how is Preity going to know that you like her?" he wonders.

"Okay, then you can write," the 15-year-old relents as he settles down for the interview. He will leave for Kolkata the next day to play in the Asian chess championship. He hopes to complete his final Grandmaster norm there and to become India's youngest GM.

Scene 2.Kolkata. Hotel Taj Bengal.August 17. Night.Mood: Dejection.

Harikrishna is in GM Abhijit Kunte's room. They are preparing to fly to London early next morning for the Commonwealth championship.

" 'Ek minute,' " says the Pune youngster, and the boyish voice of the Guntur prodigy comes on the line. That voice doesn't hide the excitement at qualifying for the World chess championship, as the youngest Indian though he sounds a bit unhappy. It is understandable, because he has missed, during the day, his final norm by just half-a-point. At least so he thinks.

Scene 3.Bangalore. Wipro's corporate office.

August 29. Late in the afternoon. Warm. Pleasant.

Mood: Jubilation.

Harikrishna is with the senior officials of Wipro, his sponsor. He has just attended the function to honour him on becoming India's youngest GM and the youngest champion in the history of Commonwealth championship.

"Hari is here with me," says P. Anirudh, Head - Human Resources, Wipro, on his mobile phone. "He's been waiting for your call."

From a distance of more than 200 miles, you can feel the kid's sheer joy. "Thank you," he gushes. "Yes, it was just wonderful, getting the GM title, winning the Commonwealth and the MSO tournament," he says.

The interview, edited from three chats of varying lengths:

Question: You sounded so disappointed that night in Kolkata?

Answer: Yes, I felt very bad after failing to beat (Ehsan Ghaem) Maghami in the final round. As you know if I had won, I would have got a 11-game norm.

Of course you did not have to because the nine-game norm you made in Kolkata turned out to be enough. So, when did Stewart Reuben (the tournament director) tell you the great news?

Three or four days after we reached London, I had a chat with him. I told him about my three previous norms, and when I mentioned the Olympiad norm I made in Istanbul, he said I had completed the requirements of my GM title.

So, that must have taken a lot of pressure off you.

Yes, it did. It was a huge relief to know that I did not have to wait any longer for the norm.

You had a splendid start to your campaign, but when did you get the feeling that you could actually come first in the event?

It was after the sixth round, I should say. Earlier, though I was doing well, I did not think of winning the tournament. But I was playing well and was confident, till that loss to Greame Buckley in the eighth round.

That meant you had to win your last round to come in the medal list.

Not only that (laughs). (Daniel) Gormally had to win his game, if I were to become the champion. Fortunately he won after I beat Dimitri Anagnostopoulos. It was also my best win in the tournament. I had to play very well to get the full point.

This is the strongest tournament you've won, isn't it?

Yes, of course. It ranks a lot higher than all the age-group tournaments I had won earlier.

The last two years have been truly remarkable for you. You graduated from the age-groups to the senior ranks with ease. The turning point was the Sushila Devi Thipsay International Master tournament you won, ahead of three IMs, wasn't it?

Yes. Beating IMs Ramesh, Mithrakanth and Murugan in one tournament boosted my self-confidence. The funny thing is that I had not planned to play in the tournament. Nor had I thought of playing in the Cusat tournament in Kochi, another tournament which I won, just before the IM event. It just happened.

From there you went straight to Mumbai for the National 'B', and duly qualified for the National 'A' and then you found a place in the Indian team for the Olympiad. They were the toughest domestic tournaments in India.

I learnt one aspect from National 'B': You should not lose a game; it is very important. With white you can try for a win, but with the black, you should be happy with a draw. But still I lost one game, against Konguvel. I was, however, happy with my performance. Though I came fifth in the National 'A', I thought I could have done better.

The Olympiad must have been special.

Yes, it was nice to meet some of the big names in chess in Istanbul. I also liked it very much when I played at Wijk aan Zee this year. It gave me a high sitting in the same hall as (Viswanathan) Anand and (Garry) Kasparov.

How helpful has been your sponsor Wipro?

Very much. Without their support I couldn't have achieved this much in such a short time. Talent alone is not enough to do well; you need sponsorship also. They take care of my entire expenses of the tournaments and travelling and I have been given full freedom to choose the tournaments to play anywhere in the world. They have also arranged (Evgeny) Vladimirov as my coach.

I have learnt a lot from his training. We work on every department of the game, but I have benefited particularly in the end-game from him. As you know, he is a master in ending. We also discuss classic games.

Of late, you have not been able to win the age-group tournaments, like the Asian junior championship in Teheran, whereas you are doing very well in the senior events.

I have noticed that myself too, but I don't know why it is so.

Who are the Indian players you respect most?

Anand, of course, is my favourite player. I like the style of Abhijit (Kunte), not just for his tactics, but for the way he fights back from an inferior position. In chess, I think it is very important to fight back from a bad position, and not many people do that; they lose interest when they think they are losing, but Abhijit is not like that. I like (Krishnan) Sasikiran also, for the way he looks for win all the time.

What next?

I would like to cross 2600 Elo points and continue to improve my game. There is of course the World championship coming up.

What is your other favourite pastime, besides watching Preity Zinta's movies? Well, there is a movie starring her, showing at a theatre here.

I also like to watch Telugu movies on television at home. I am hardly at home these days, though. Coming to the Preity Zinta movie you are talking about, I have seen that already.

* World under-10 championship, 1996, Menorca (Spain), Gold.

* World under-12 rapid championship, 1996, Paris, Silver.

* Children's Olympiad, 1998, Istanbul, Gold.

* Commonwealth championship, 2000, Sangli, Gold (under-18).

* India's youngest International Master, 2000.

* Asian under-14 championship, 2000, Teheran, 2000-01, Gold.

* National 'A' championship, 2000, Mumbai, Fifth.

* Asian junior championship, 2000, Mumbai, Silver.

* Chess Olympiad, 2000, Istanbul, First Grandmaster (GM) norm.

* Corus tournament, 2001, Wijk Aan Zee, Second GM norm.

* National 'A' championship, 2000, New Delhi, Fifth.

* Asian junior championship, 2001, Teheran, Silver.

* Asian championship, 2001, Kolkata, Tenth; Qualified for World championship; Final GM norm.

* India's youngest GM, 2001.

* Ron Banwell MSO Masters tournament, 2001, London, Gold.

* Commonwealth championship, 2001, London, Gold.

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