"Collecting those trophies made no real difference" - Harika
Harika Dronavalli is one of the strongest woman players in the world of chess. After Humpy Koneru, she is only the second Indian female player who has achieved the GM title. A lot can be learnt from Harika's life and experiences. Sagar Shah met Harika at the pre-olympiad camp in Delhi and asked her questions ranging from her beginnings in chess to her ambitions and also covering the personal side of her life, her parents, coach and fiance Karteek Chandra. But two of the most important things that we would like our readers to get acquainted with are Harika's views on education and on why India has only two female players who are full-fledged GMs. These two sections have been transcribed in the article while the rest you can enjoy in the video interview.
"I didn't study from books, but I studied life!" - D.Harika
At the Pre-Olympiad training camp that took place in Delhi from the 3rd to 9th of July, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a few hours of the training with some of the top women players of India. Among them was one of India's finest woman players - Harika Dronavalli. The session ended somewhere around 6 p.m. and the dinner was scheduled at 8.30 p.m. I asked Harika if she would have time to do a short interview. In spite of the hectic schedule and the gruelling training, she obliged. I didn't prepare much for the interview, because I had some genuine questions about Harika's life and chess beginnings about which I had no idea. Although Harika and I are roughly the same age (she is one year younger to me!), when I began playing chess Harika was already a WIM, and soon became a WGM! Her rise in the world of chess was meteoric.
I would recommend all the readers to play the video (at the end of the article) and listen to 25 minutes of Harika's life. There are topics covered from her early beginnings, to her rise to the top, to her parent's role in chess career, to her coach, her future plans and much more. And yes, not to forget Karteek Chandra - fiancee, and the man who will play a big role in Harika's life in the years to come. But there are two topics that fascinated me. These are the ones that I would like to share in words here, because it's a perspective towards life and chess that I want you to know. You may or may not agree with Harika's thoughts, but it is worth knowing that a successful chess player has these opinions.
Harika on education:
"In 2004 I completed my WGM and IM title. I was around 13 years old then. So I never took the time off for education. My dream was to make it very very big in chess as early as I could and so I just gave up everything and focused all my energy on chess. I was obsessed with becoming a grandmaster, even now I am obsessed with the idea of becoming a World Champion and this gave me absolutely no time to pursue my education."
On how she developed a well rounded personality even by not going to school:
"Experience and travelling are the best educators. You will meet a lot of people, you will speak to them, learn about their cultures, way of life and so much more. Education is good if you are looking for knowledge. But if you are looking for certificates then it's not of any use. I started travelling alone from the age of 13. I have visited nearly 40-50 countries. I have seen many different people with different ideologies and this is where I have learnt everything. I didn't study from books but I studied life!
If I would get time I would really like to learn a few of the things that are on my list, but for now I do not regret my decision of not going to school. I learnt everything that I needed to from my experience and I don't need a certificate for that."
On why India has only two woman players who are grandmasters:
"It all depends upon what your aims are and how serious you are to achieve it. If your aim is high, one day or the other you will achieve that. Nothing is impossible, I believe in that. When I became a WGM at the age of 13 I never really bothered about it. I was obsessed about becoming a GM and that's what helped me. So two things: 1.Your aim has to be really high and 2. You have to believe in yourself."
Harika's advice to the young girls of Indian chess:
"Once you realize your potential in youth events by having won some of the age group titles, I think you should give it up. You should think about bigger things on how you can improve your strength as a chess player and play in the strongest possible tournaments. Maybe they can play in the open section/ boy's section. Instead of seeing the temporary success and temporary happiness, you have to see the longer goal in life. I do tell all of this because I made the same mistakes. I was in the national team of India when I was 13 years old. Even at that point I played a lot of age category events and I lost a lot of time in it. Collecting those trophies made no real difference. The only thing is that it is all written in my bio-data! But today you know me as a world class player and not as a world junior or world youth champion.
Age category events are held to just motivate the children that they have the talent and that they should pursue chess seriously. It's like a consolation prize. You should not be obsessed about collecting those trophies and instead put all your energy into becoming the world number one. I think I should have thought more seriously about becoming one of the best players in the world, not just in women. I absolutely admire Judit Polgar and I too had the dream to become as strong as her. But I got stuck in the rating or ranking, trophies and medals. I do still have the ambition, but I am not sure how practically it's possible. But I will definitely advice the younger generation of girls in India to think about not just becoming number one player in the world in the women's section, but in the men's section as well. If you challenge yourself, you will get better and better and these small achievements will not be so important for you."
Watch the entire video:
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