On a high after the Biel double

“Once you are in the big league (of Elo 2700-plus) the expectations are going to be very high. You are also expected to elevate your game to a new high,” says Pentyala Harikrishna. V. V. Subrahmanyam listens in.

Pentyala Harikrishna and Koneru Humpy were once tipped as potential world champions by none other than Grandmaster Viswanathan Anand, one of the all-time greats of chess. However, due to a variety of reasons the two talented players from Andhra Pradesh have not lived up to their reputation. They have had the odd title-triumphs, but when it came to the big events such as the World Championships and the World Cup, Harikrishna and Humpy have failed to come good.

Harikrishna, however, made news recently as he won two titles — the Masters and the Rapid — at the Biel International chess tournament.

The 27-year-old chess player from Hyderabad, who crossed the magical mark of 2700 in the Elo ratings recently to become only the second Super Grandmaster from India after Anand, has almost made Europe his second home, competing in the tough League and Club championships there in an attempt to improve his game.

Not content with the Super GM title, Harikrishna says he still has a long way to go.

“Once you are in the big league (of Elo 2700-plus) the expectations are going to be very high. You are also expected to elevate your game to a new high,” he says while speaking to Sportstar after the Biel ‘double’.

Ever since he won the World under-10 title in 1996, Harikrishna has been dreaming of becoming a world champion one day. “Everyone knows, it is not as easy as we talk about that ultimate dream of any sportsperson — to become a world champion. It requires consistent performances for a minimum of two years. My immediate target is to keep winning titles and move closer to my final objective,” says the soft-spoken player.

Losing from winning positions has been a serious problem for Harikrishna. With a ‘huge load’ off his mind now after having crossed the Elo 2700-mark, Harikrishna is determined to focus on this problem. “This (losing from winning positions) has been a real cause of concern for me of late. It has often led to losing 20 to 25 points in a major tournament, thereby forcing me to take at least five more events to make up for the loss (of points),” explains Harikrishna.

According to Harikrishna, the regular interactive sessions with GM Surya Sekhar Ganguly, with whom he shares a special bonding, have helped him a lot.

“Definitely, the key to my preparations for the next World Championships will be my performance in the Grand Prix Series,” he says. “It is always imperative to keep winning the events that have a very high Elo rating.

“In this context, I am really satisfied with my Biel performance. There were some tense games. I won the Rapid with a score of 7.5 out of nine and the Masters with a score of eight out of 11. The start was not certainly the way I wanted, but luckily, I recovered in time. I enjoyed playing in Biel and had a nice time too.

“I mostly play in leagues and round-robin tournaments and, in fact, Biel was the last Open tournament I played in 2012. Winning any title is very satisfying, and winning Biel was very important as it featured many strong Grandmasters. It gave me the opportunity to test my skills and preparations,” he adds.

Are there areas he needs to improve?

“There are many — it definitely cannot be only one area to focus on. However, at the moment, I am enjoying the game and hope to improve,” says Harikrishna.

Talking of his schedules in Europe, Harikrishna says, “Certainly, the major part is travel. Most of the players arrive just one day before an event, which, in my opinion, is a big disadvantage. Indians also play three to four tournaments at a stretch, as it is expensive to travel to just one tournament. This can be problematic, at least in the last event, as playing continuously for a long time without getting tired is quite tough.

“Food is a bit of concern for some Indians who are vegetarian; it’s not in all European countries that they have a wide choice of vegetarian food.”

Expressing his views on Indian chess, Harikrishna says, “We need to have a strong round robin event like the Linares, Tal or Dortmund. The Open tournaments cater to the players who are in pursuit of norms. For Indians who are close to 2700 they have to face the best of players in the world and get used to playing them regularly.”

Talking of his next big events, Harikrishna says he will be playing in the Spanish team championship in September. “I am taking it event by event, not thinking too far ahead right now,” adds the winner of the 2011 Asian Championship.

Has he set any goals for himself?

“Right now, I haven’t set any goals; I am only looking forward to playing good games and trying different permutations and combinations to become a much better player. Let us see how things shape up in the next few months,” says Harikrishna before leaving for the Netherlands for an Open tournament.