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Harika speaks up about the New Delhi GP incidents

by Shahid Ahmed - 06/04/2023

GM Harika Dronavalli is currently India no.2 and World no.11 among Women. She is the second Indian woman to achieve the Grandmaster title. Harika has won countless accolades throughout her career. At the conclusion of FIDE New Delhi GP, she finally decided to speak up about what happened before the start of the tournament. She mentions the following things - Why the tournament got delayed, the reason behind Zhansaya leaving the tournament, what happened at the technical meeting, the mention of color imbalance, who stood by her words, who threatened to walk away if the pairings were changed, how it affected the tournament for few players and more. Check out everything in Harika's own words. Photo: Abhyudaya Ram

What exactly happened

Harika finally speaks about what exactly happened at the Women Grand Prix in Delhi | Video: ChessBase India

Here is a transcription of what Harika said - "When I was asked on day 1, I thought that I should share on the last day but as the tournament didn't go well, I don't know how it will be taken. First I thought, I should play well and then address what all I thought during the tournament. Nevertheless I want to share because at least I want people to know what exactly happened here. Maybe I won't go in details because that could be like not so good for other players, but I will just try to make as short as possible.


So first in the opening ceremony, we got to know about Zhansaya, that she wanted to leave and her reasons. I was trying to understand. Before I could understand there were all like (talk) about the reserve player and everything. Many things started being discussed. Already in the opening ceremony, it was little weird on what's happening. Then we understood, not everyone is happy with the few things of having a reserved player and other things. So then after the opening ceremony, we went to have a meeting with everyone. Our All India Chess Federation, everyone like came there and asked for apology if they think that something is wrong and they are ready to do everything to make the stay comfortable. Then suddenly things started going somewhere else and players started getting emotional that like they have gone through so many things before like be it in Candidate conditions and all this. They felt like this is the time to speak.


Myself and Humpy requested a lot that if at all there are so many things of additional baggage, why here. It can go in some other direction in India if we hold and soul go on the organization. They said look, it's not about India or organiziation. There are many things and we want to address it. This is the last thing we want to happen. Now we really want to address this to FIDE.


Firstly, Zhansaya part is different and the fight after that is different. So Zhansaya left without even saying or discussing with anyone. She decided to quit, she gave her reasons and she left. What happened after that is Elisabeth, Lagno, Shuvalova, Goryachkina and at least on the first day as much as I can see, Bibisara, were there together. Firstly, they didn't want a reserved player, because it felt unfair for them to have four Indians. We said, like in that case because we were just like I was telling to the organization that okay if they are not happy with it, we agree that let's not have a reserved player. After that they thought, first they want to speak FIDE and then get back to this. They clearly mentioned that it is not just about the organization here and they want to address many things.


We just didn't even realize how it became so big. The next day we were waiting for FIDE. So already the one game got postponed, which we didn't even understand because we were arguing I think until 1 or 12:30 a.m. like this on the first day. It was supposed to be a technical meeting. It didn't happen and all this. So, finally we were waiting for FIDE's decision. The next day, everything started around like 3 p.m. the discussion and everything with FIDE. As far as I can see, it is not just, nothing about organization, all other topics were discussed. FIDE did what they asked for. They gave an open letter. Then we had Technical Meeting at 10:30. I think people who were not at all involved in (this) - me, Humpy, Nana, Nino, Zhu Jiner, Vaishali. We were just waiting for the answer of FIDE and also the players because we were unaware what is happening. They wanted the tournament to be postponed.


One day fully we were waiting to understand whether this tournament is going to take place or not, because if half the people are going out then obviously it will get postponed. So we were just waiting for the answer of the players and FIDE. And then once they discussed and FIDE gave open letter at 10:30 next day, which means after one day, the next night we had Technical Meeting at 10:30. There the discussion came about pairings. because (of) the colors. I even asked the arbiter like if they are not happy with the reserve player, what difference it makes. Then I was told that, we will get six blacks and four whites for few players. I am one of them but (at) that moment, I was only thinking because first time, we are holding such an event in India. Myself and Humpy, we didn't want any kind of problems. We thought, let's make everyone happy who are in India. We wanted a peaceful tournament.


So, in the Technical Meeting, when the discussion started about pairing change. (Kateryna) Lagno and Elisabeth Paehtz proposed, they thought it would be fair to have equal number of (colors), for ten rounds five whites and five blacks for everyone. Fair enough, we said yes let's change the pairing. Everyone said yes, but already we were little bit upset by then because it was taking too long. We don't know whether we have to prepare or we don't need to prepare and what's happening.


We said okay, let's start. Somehow, let's start the tournament. Then everyone said yes, but Goryachkina didn't want the pairings to be changed. So we informed FIDE about it. We were waiting for their response. Aleksandra (Goryachkina) just walked off from the Technical Meeting. She said, if the pairings get changed, then she wouldn't play. Then immediately arbiter started taking for new pairings - the numbers and everything. Then Lagno got a bit emotional that we can't leave a player like this and then we said, look no one wants to do it but it's decision of each other. If that is the case then each of you have to discuss and decide on something, because the other six, we are okay with everything, whatever they were saying, we are just saying yes for everything.


So they had discussion and by then, Elisabeth said, it's unfair to have different colors, different white and different blacks, although she was getting more whites. By then it was not just tournament or colors or anything. It was just about somehow the tournament should happen without problems, and especially when we are doing it in India.


After all this I think, Elisabeth clearly mentioned, if this is the case she will walk out of the tournament but in all this confusion no one understood what is happening because so many people were wanting to walk out of the tournament, be it Goryachkina. Elisabeth was standing (firm) that this is not fair and she will walk out of this and in between, Shuvalova felt like, it's too much and she has to walk out because there is no FIDE delegation. There was so much of confusion we didn't understand. I kept saying, it is just a tournament, let's all go happily back home. Just let's play and it's just a tournament.


Then FIDE gave the decision that I think because they also didn't understand what exactly is happening. So because, Goryachkina wanted to walk out, they just spoke with her and they wanted to somehow control it. They asked like if whoever is playing blacks are okay with it and none of us said like, okay because at that moment it's already not about tournament anymore for all of us and we said fine in any case. By then FIDE said, okay let's just go with same pairings if it's okay but Elisabeth said very clearly, that she would walk out. Then I was trying to convince her that at least like you know just let's start the tournament and finish it off. Let's not mess it up further. Then she got upset that this is not fair and she walked out of the game as she mentioned before itself.


I felt bad in many ways when I saw a player not turning up because she was right in her own way. She was right, she was fair. She was telling in general for the tournament and none of us could stand strongly there because (at) that moment we didn't see it as a tournament but just an emotional turmoil of everyone, we were trying to solve.


After she left, everyone played and someone having six blacks, six whites. Then we started realizing the heat of the decision. We understood it was just wrong on many of us to accept this conditions because it was our decision to say okay. Yes I learned many lessons from this tournament. At least I think this will be useful further to see a tournament as a tournament and as a player but not be too emotional about it. Or when you witness all these things, to be strong enough not to care and to play your own tournament better.


So definitely I think, with all these and like lot of color changes, different rest days, it has gone like completely unplanned. I think this will be lifetime lesson for me on many terms. In the beginning I was wondering if I should share now or not, because I didn't do too well and like I don't know how it would be taken but then I thought if it is not even addressed, like people won't even know what exactly happened and there will be always like assumptions about this tournament. That is the reason I thought I will at least tell what I feelis right or wrong, so many things happening even outside like attacking on social media.


There is one thing that I want to say, Zhansaya never said lies or anything. She never said, like you know let's all stop the tournament. She just stood by her words, she left. Even if I appreciate her decision or not, it's my perspective, it's her choice. It was never about her, she never said like to stop the tournament. She just went off. It was her decision, right or wrong, it was her decision. What happened later on is just complete mess and I don't know, which never happened in our entire lives. We never saw a tournament happen in this way. Definitely I think this makes us stronger in the future. When you come to tournament, it is just a tournament and nothing else, you have to be strong for it.


Initially I was wondering if I am the only one who got affected or if at all I got affected and maybe I just played bad tournament but then I saw the standings where who all witnessed this for two days until 1 p.m. they call the Technical Meeting, we all are in the bottom standings like everyone, be it Humpy, Nino, Nana, Vaishali, all of us. I think Zhu Jiner was lucky enough. She didn't come to meetings, she said whatever is okay with her. So she is the only one who played fine. It maybe impacted everyone not just me." 

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