Before embarking on her journey to the 2017 World Chess Championship, India woman Grand Master Harika Dronavalli had attended a motivational session. In that session, the discussion was how Tehran was the place where an Indian world champion was born. In 2000, Viswanathan Anand created history as he became India’s first world champion when he defeated Alexei Shirov at that venue.
Following that feat, 17 years later, Harika had the chance to create history as she aimed to become India’s first woman world chess champion. In her mind, she had thought that this would be the place where she could create history. She kept on saying, “This is Tehran, This is Tehran.”
However, after four gritty tie-break matches and a heart-breaking semifinal loss to the tournament’s eventual winner Tan Zhongyi, Harika’s dream was crushed. But, the support and encouragement she received for her efforts made her feel that she had achieved something.
Speaking exclusively to HT, Harika said, “I just could not believe I had lost. In the Armageddon, I still could not figure out what exactly happened.”
After entering the semifinal, she encountered the Chinese in an epic contest. After losing the first game, she stayed alive in dramatic style by winning the second game in an epic 162-move battle. After drawing the rapid and blitz games, the match went into the Armageddon tie-break where she lost out on time after 99 moves to be eliminated.
The Indian Grandmaster described the emotions after the match had ended. “I came out. I told my grandmother that I was out. I stood near the stairs. I did not understand. I went to the room and I could not control my tears. I started crying because it was so stressful. After 10 minutes, I accepted it and I became normal,” she said.
Dramatic match ever
The 162-move epic in the second game of the semifinal tested the limits of Harika’s skills and concentration. “It was the most dramatic tie-break I had ever played. Every moment and situation was new for me and for my opponent. When we went to Armageddon, it could have been either way. I still cannot get over it.”
Harika added that Tan’s focus proved to be the clincher. “At the back on my mind, there was a thought that I wanted to go into the final. My focus was just on the game. The only mistake I did was I did not think about my knowledge and I allowed negative emotions to distract me. I could not finish the game quickly because there was so much going on”
In all the games during the 2017 World Championship, Harika had to go through the tie-breaker to advance. Her success gave her the nickname “Tie-break Queen”. The Indian Grand Master stated that she was prepared to fight it out regardless of the situation.
“People enjoyed the tie-breaks. I had made the tie-break very interesting. Everyone in Tehran did not have a rest day because I was the only one playing the tie-break. After some time, the tournament officials felt bad for me. They all supported me in the semifinal. I got plenty of love as the tournament progressed,” she said.
Grandmother’s support motivated me
In Harika’s journey, her grandmother, Sudeshna Devi, has played a pivotal role. She accompanies her to most of her tournaments, and, in her social handles, Harika has tagged as her No.1 fan. She added that her grandmother is her ultimate pillar of strength.
“She makes me feel so special. She pampers me. She takes care of everything. She wants to see me win. This kind of motivation helps me,” Harika added.