Pendyala Harikrishna: Online chess tournaments are here to stay

“Chess has become even more popular during the lockdown. I think the online chess tournaments will continue to be played even after the pandemic,” says Harikrishna.

GM Pendyala Harikrishna with his wife and former Serbian chess player Nadezda Stojanovic. The The India No. 2 is disappointed with the results at Chessable tourney, but not with the quality of his chess.   -  V. V. Subrahmanyam

June proved to be a month of mixed fortunes for Pendyala Harikrishna. He took the second place at the Sharjah World Stars online tournament, but finished last at Chessable Masters, one of the strongest chess events in the digital space.

The India No. 2 is disappointed with the results at the Chessable tourney, yes — but not with the quality of his chess. With some luck, he reckons, he would have even had a crack at a knockout berth in the tournament, a part of the $1 million Magnus Carlsen Tour that has ensured the coronavirus-induced lockdown around the world did not impact competitive chess at the highest level.

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Harikrishna was placed in the tougher of the two pools at the Chessable Masters. Carlsen, American Hikaru Nakamura and the Russian trio of Daniil Dubov, Alexander Grischuk and Vladislav Artemiev were his opponents in Group A.

His campaign got off the wrong foot, losing in the opening round to Artemiev, the 22-year-old who is a rising star in world chess. But he had a chance to more than make up for that poor start in the second round encounter, that too against Carlsen.

A tactical oversight proved costly, however. “I somehow missed the winning sequence of moves, which were there for everyone to see,” he says. “I should not have lost that game.”

He believes the event would have turned out much different for him, had he won that encounter. After all, nothing in world chess matters more than a victory over Carlsen.

“No doubt I would have played the rest of the tournament in a much better frame of mind had I beaten the world champion,” the India No. 2 told Sportstar over phone from Prague, where he moved to from Hyderabad after marrying Serbian chess player Nadezda Stojanovic.

Harikrishna slumped to another defeat in the third round — to Dubov — and then drew with Nakamura in the fourth. He, however, managed to end the day with at least one win. He defeated Grischuk in the fifth round.

It was always going to be difficult to comeback after such a terrible opening day, though he had another five games left (the format was all-play-all, twice). In the return leg of the games, he lost to Artemiev and drew with Carlsen, Dubov and Nakamura in successive games before going down to Grischuk in the final round.

“The second day was much better for me than the first,” he says. “But I missed some crucial moves, otherwise I would have still had some outside chances to qualify for the quarterfinals.”

“I think what Magnus Carslen has done is remarkable. He did not have to do something like this. Nobody expected him to come up with a series of top quality tournaments at a time when chess — and all others sports — was stopped by the coronavirus,” says Harikrishna.   -  FILE PHOTO/RAJEEV BHATT

 

The Sharjah tournament was held a week before Chessable Masters. He was the second seed behind Shakhryar Mamedyarov of Azerbaijan, who went on to justify the billing by winning the tournament by a point.

“Though I couldn’t end up as the champion, I thought I did well,” he says. “It was a pretty strong tournament too, with an average Elo rating of 2709.”

The Chessable Masters was, of course, much stronger. “I was glad when I got the invitation to play,” he says. “I had been following the Carlsen Tour closely. I began badly and it is very important to get a good start when you play in such big tournaments. When you slip to the lower half of the field, you are always under pressure. When you are in good form, your opponents will not stretch themselves beyond a point, but when you struggle, they will push harder.”

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He, however, believes he played better than his results suggest. “My chess was satisfactory,” he says. “And I was unlucky to lose some games in which I was placed better.”

About the tournament’s double round-robin format, he says it was alright, but feels it would have been better if the 12 players were not split into groups. “Instead of two groups, I thought it would have been interesting if all the players were to meet each other once,” says the world No. 26. “The tour though is a great idea and we have to give credit to Carlsen.”

The tour organised by the Norwegian genius will have one more stop — Legends of Chess, to be held from July 21 to August 5 — before the grand finale, which will take place from August 9 to 20. The Magnus Carlsen Invitational and the Lindores Abbey Rapid Challenge were staged before the Chessable Masters.

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“I think what Carslen has done is remarkable,” says Harikrishna. “He did not have to do something like this. Nobody expected him to come up with a series of top quality tournaments at a time when chess — and all others sports — was stopped by the coronavirus.”

The Carlsen Tour is, of course, only one of the many, many online chess tournaments that are being conducted by organisers around the world. “No doubt chess has become even more popular during the lockdown,” he says. “I think the online chess tournaments will continue to be played even when normalcy returns to the world after the pandemic.”