Harsha Bharathakoti - The Humble Powerhouse
MPL 41st National Team Chess Championship 2022 got over a few days ago. India's 56th GM Harsha Bharathakoti won the tournament for his team, Airports Authority of India. He also won an individual Silver medal on Board no.3. Last month, he tied for the first place at 19th Delhi International GM Open 2022. He beat Richard Rapport, Kirill Shevchenko, Radoslaw Wojtaszek, David Anton Guijarro, drew with Nodribek Abdusattorov at World Blitz 2021 and won against Rauf Mamedov, Vladislav Kovalev, Volodymyr Onyshchuk, drew with Vladislav Artemiev, Maxim Matlakov and Sergei Movsesian at World Rapid 2021. He was the best Indian performer at World Blitz 2019. Get to know about this 21-year-old youngster from Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: Aditya Sur Roy
Taking the Family Legacy Forward
N V S Ramaraju is one of the best Chess coaches in India. He is most famously known for working with GM Harika Dronavalli, but he also trained others like GM Arjun Erigaisi, WGM Pratyusha Bodda etc. Coach Ramaraju always dreamt of training a family member and wanted one of his own kinsmen to become a great chess player. This search for someone in the family led him to train his nephew and today that nephew, Harsha Bharathakoti is a Grandmaster.
Talking about his uncle, Harsha says, “He’s my inspiration from the beginning. So, I started when I was around six years old and played my first tournament at the age of 7. From the starting itself he has been my coach and he even used to accompany me to tournaments when I was younger.” This decade and a half long partnership is going strong till today.
The bond between the coach and student is immense and they have spent many-many hours in each other’s company for years now. The uncle-nephew relationship has ensured that their connection on the board is equally strong.
The support from his family has been immense and Harsha notes how whenever there is a tense situation, his parents help him calm down and relax. He also mentions how his father has always been encouraging and even if tournaments wouldn’t go well, he has helped Harsha look at the positive side and focus on the next tournament.
His sister, Sneha is also a good chess player and she even finished fifth in the Nationals once. The siblings share a very close bond, and she is able to understand Harsha well since she has been a competitive sportsperson, herself. Sneha is a major source of emotional support for Harsha.
Style and Inspiration
What is Harsha’s Style? “Generally, I like to play original positions and I enjoy complicated positions. Many times, I have even played f4 as my first move because (this way) I would get would new-new positions which are not part of theory. I love to play original positions which both sides don’t know.” He does also enjoy positional play, but Harsha is at his best when he gets into positions that are not common.
When asked about his inspirations, the Hyderabad based GM recollects, “When I was a kid. I used to love Kasparov a lot. I mean because of his aggressive style and I believe I like complicated positions and attacking play. Now, Magnus is my favourite because he changed everything in the game. Till he came, (focus on) end game was not that much, but after he came, everyone started to focus on it. He's my favourite player because he takes on challenges and competes at every stage.”
Another aspect of Harsha’s career that has been influenced by Magnus Carlsen is his focus on physical strength. “I read many times that he takes lots of care about his Fitness and that's why he is able to play very long games.” Harsha opines that in many games, Magnus Carlsen has beaten his opponents simply because he has had a much higher fitness level.
Coming back to the board, Harsha practices with GM Harika Dronavilli regularly since they both train with the same coach. In 2019 at the World Rapid and Blitz Championship he feels that he did well since they both were practising together. Their partnership has been a long one too. Harsha says that Harika knows him from the time he was born!
One, off the board memory that Harsha remembers is when he had dinner in London with Viswanathan Anand, Surya Sekhar Ganguly and one of his friends, Siddhant. He tells me, “Actually, that was very awkward, that was the first time I was sitting next to him (Anand) and I didn't even say a single word during the dinner and afterwards when we went for a walk. I was just listening to what they all were talking about.”
Routines and Relaxation
A typical day in the Grandmaster’s life starts at 5:30/6 a.m. In the morning, he spends about 90 minutes at the gym, and he says that he is refreshed once he finishes his fitness routines. Post this he gets ready to hone his craft.
In his own words, “First, I will look at the latest games and tournaments since it is very important to keep following these, to check our openings, and to see if there are any new ideas.” Through the rest of the day, he works on his chess while taking breaks for food and shorter breaks when necessary. When he has his exams, he usually studies during the morning half of the day and practices in the evening. On some days he may even dedicate the full day to his academics.
Harsha is a 1st year B Com student at Spoorthi Degree College in Hyderabad which is affiliated to Osmania University. Throughout his career he has gotten support from his school (Brilliant Grammar High School) and college. They have given him leaves/ half days whenever he has wanted and have thus enabled him to play at many tournaments over the years.
Going to the Gym is one of Harsha’s favourite pastimes and whenever he gets a chance, he trains. Harsha also listens to music, while he is working or if he needs a change. Music helps him quickly get back into the right frame of mind. The young GM loves rock music, but his playlist includes songs in various Indian languages too.
At tournaments, Harsha relaxes by travelling around the city/town in which he is playing or by going to a different place to eat, by taking walks etc. Thus, the GM tries to break the monotony of his routine. He adds, “When I go with friends, obviously I'll enjoy. Whatever the result might be, you will just have a lot of fun.”
Career Thus Far
One of Harsha’s most memorable events was the Isle of Man Chess tournament in 2017. He tells me, “I really enjoyed it because I think that was my first major tournament. It's a very big tournament where Magnus, Fabiano and all the top players played.” Harsha played very well and even beat GM Adhiban B in one of the rounds. At that time, GM Adhiban was ranked over 300 ELO points above Harsha, so it was a really big win. Harsha got to observe and watch the top players in action in Isle of Man and this made it even more special for him.
In 2013, Harsha Bharathakoti was the National Under-13 champion. In the tournament, he had finished on 8.5 out of 11 and edged out Abhimanyu Puranik and Mitrabha Guha on the virtue of his better tiebreak score.
At the National Junior Chess Championship in 2017, Harsha won the Gold Medal while his close friend Karthik Venkataraman won the silver medal. He says, “So, that tournament I had a lot of fun actually. I was sharing a room with my father and VAP Karthik. We (VAP Karthik & Harsha) both were totally dominating the field. We would have a lot of fun and whenever I am with that guy, I won't even think about it (the tournament/ results).” Both Karthik and Harsha finished on 9.5 points and since Harsha had beaten Karthik, he had the better tiebreak score and won the National Junior Chess Championship.
Harsha is also close friends with Karthikeyan Murali, and he fondly remembers the time he had shared a room with Karthik and Karthikeyan. The GM from Hyderabad is friends with a lot of players whom he has met over the years at tournaments. This includes sportsmen such as Arjun Erigaisi, Dhulipala Chandra Prasad, Rithvik Raja etc.
Heartbreak in Spain
One of the most heart-breaking moments of Harsha’s career came at the Sants International Chess tournament in 2019. Harsha had finished on top of the standings and thought he had won the event. What he didn’t realise was that this tournament had the playoff system and inbuilt tiebreakers scores weren’t considered to decide the winner. Harsha’s opponent won by walkover since the GM from Hyderabad didn’t show up at the playoff.
Here’s what Harsha has to say about that incident: “I didn't expect it at all. I was just shocked. I had just won a tournament in Poland. Obviously, I was very upset because throughout, I was thinking I was the champion. I don't know what kind of experience it was but yes, it was hard for some days. But I thought I played well, and this was just bad luck.”
Harsha remembers how many things coincided to produce this poor luck. First, the translated website didn’t have accurate tournament details. Second, even the arbiter who came to his table to pick up the papers after the last round didn’t mention the playoff. And finally, one of the Indian players wanted to come and wish him luck for the playoffs but by the time he could walk to Harsha, his opponent played a move. Before the next move was played, Harsha had left the tournament hall.
Harsha has since been extremely careful about finding out the rules and regulations of tournaments and has moved on from this incident after converting it into a learning experience.
The GM from Telangana is itching to get back to over-the-board chess. The second wave of COVID-19 in India has resulted in the Nationals being postponed. So, he will have to wait a little longer before he has the chance to play an OTB tournament. Harsha is currently practicing and trying to keep himself game ready. He used to play a lot of Bullet Chess but is now trying to do more board work as preparation for events. The interview was conducted last year before he resumed playing over-the-board tournaments.
The pandemic year has also been very difficult for him and his family and they have been facing some financial trouble. Due to this, he isn’t able to take as many classes as he would want to. Throughout his career, he has been supported in terms of finance too by his family and he hasn’t received much sponsorship. The one time he did receive sponsorship, there were some issues and the deal fell through. Harsha hopes to get good support soon so that he can focus all his attention on his game.
When asked what his favourite format, he says that it is blitz. Harsha goes on to add that he likes classical chess too but, in his opinion, blitz is the most fun format.
What is Harsha’s target? "From a long time, my goal is to reach a rating of 2700. There have been ups and downs, but my main goal is to reach 2700 and I'm practicing hard for that. He concludes by saying, “I have to work a lot harder actually because it’s obviously not that easy (to get a 2700 rating).” To put this into context, only four Indian players have ever achieved a peak rating of 2700+.
Harsha with the support of his uncle and legendary coach, N Ramaraju has the chance to be a very great player. Here’s hoping that he is able to get the right financial help and reach his target of being a 2700+ player. If he does reach this level, Harsha Bharathakoti is a name that Indian sports fans will remember for a long time.
About the Author
Saishyam Srikanth is a journalism student who is currently studying in the final year of his bachelor’s programme at St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. He has been a sports fan from the time he can remember and one day, aspires to translate this love for sport into a career as a media professional.
Previous coverage of Harsha on ChessBase India