The second Indian to achieve Grand Master norm, Harika Dronavalli is a familiar face for chess followers in the country. The Guntur native, also a three-time Women World Championship bronze medal winner, Harika has brushed aside all odds to reach where she is now. In a free-wheeling chat with Fan9 amid COVID lockdown, she spoke about her inspiring journey. Excerpts from the interview.

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Life in Lockdown

It is not a drastic change for chess players. But with all the negativity going on, it is disturbing for us. Our training is not affected because we practice at home. We can study from books, we can play online, etc. I have a practice partner (Harsha) at home. He is staying here for the past one and half month.

New activities in this period

Physical training is one thing we care a lot. Fitness is important for chess players. It is good to have a healthy diet. My parents are sending food occasionally. If I eat junk, I exercise a lot on that day. My husband is very helpful. He completes 50% of work. Sometimes, we try cooking. The new thing I learned in this period is to manage household chores. I am reading some chess books.

Lack of sponsors, money constraints for youth

I should appreciate my dad who never let me know the financial side. He used to take care of everything. He was happy with whatever we have. His only goal was to make me play for India. That is the reason why I am here today. He used to play at the university level. When I went for my first world championship in Spain, we had to pay for three people (coach, mom, dad) who accompanied me. I was the official entry. So it was free for me. We had to sell our property to pay Rs 4 lakh fee. People may think that we can afford to do it. But it is not easy to take these decisions. Credit goes to my parents who believed in my abilities. 

We have many world-class chess players. But chess is not a popular sport in the country. Does that bother you?

It bothers me. But I try to see the bright side. Every sport has its good and bad times. Chess is not a viewer-friendly sport. It is not easy for people to understand. All I can try is to bring more awareness about the game. I feel this game has got more potential. One day, chess will also have a good phase.

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Talents to look out for?

There are many bright talents. Many are into boy’s chess. Women’s chess looks better than what it was in the past. Divya Deshmukh and Vaishali are two promising players. I think more kids may come up soon.

What next?

There is uncertainty over World Cup in September. I am just using time and to prepare for the next tournaments.

Advice to beginners?

They should enjoy the game. Chess is a good mental exercise. This is like brain fitness. It will help them even if they are into other professions. They should set higher goals and believe in themselves.

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