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Harika Dronavalli: Balancing Pregnancy and playing Chess Olympiad

by Himank Ghosh - 24/06/2022

GM Harika Dronavalli is pregnant with her first child. With the Olympiad happening in India, she has decided to play the Chennai chess olympiad in her 8th month of pregnancy! How is she preparing for the event? What are her thoughts on Team India's chances in the Olympiad? How is she managing all the different activities? We discuss all these topics and more with her in a short interview.

Grandmaster Harika Dronavalli will play the Olympiad during her pregnancy! 

A short interview with Grandmaster Harika Dronavalli

Sagar Shah (SS): Hello Harika, how are you? You are going to be a mother, congratulations!

Harika Dronavalli (Harika): All good, Sagar. Thank you so much! It's a little weird for me to be congratulated on anything apart from my chess [smiles]. I'm 7 months pregnant as of now, this is my third trimester.

Harika received the Padma Shri award from the President in 2019 for her exceptional chess performances.

SS: You're also going to play at the Chennai Chess Olympiad, is that right?

Harika: Yes! At least, that's what I am hoping for. Medically, it's not in your hands, but I am trying my best. I definitely want to make it to the Olympiad at any cost, but it all depends upon my destiny.


SS: Are you preparing mentally? I know it's not at all easy, like you could have taken a decision to not play. But you are going that extra mile, since it is happening in India, you don't want to miss it.

Harika: The preparations this time around are a little different for sure. Because it's not just mental preparation, you have to be careful physically as well. But regarding playing in the Olympiad, this decision I took from my heart. I didn't miss any olympiads since I started playing for the Indian Team. My first Olympiad was in 2004, Mallorca. Since then I have played all the Olympiads, including the Online Olympiads. 

Harika playing her first chess olympiad in 2004- you can see her in the top left corner

Initially, I thought that I'll miss this one- but then so many things happened so quickly, and the Olympiad was shifted to India. I'm doing everything in my power to play in Chennai, and the rest I'm leaving to fate. If it is written that the Olympiad will shift from Russia to India, then I think it's in my fate to play the olympiad [smiles].

The four points hotel in Mahabalipuram, the 2022 Chess Olympiad Venue.

SS: Harika, you are an inspiration to so many people. A lot of people follow your decisions in Chess as well as in life. When you took this decision, was there an inspiration of yours?

Harika: I have been trying to motivate myself to work a little bit every single day. For this motivation, I needed stories. One of the stories which have inspired me a lot was When Serena Williams won the Australian Open while being 8 weeks pregnant. Another story that Rakesh Uncle told me was of an Australian Olympic Swimmer. She was training every day for the Olympics, and one day she just walked out of the swimming pool, went to the hospital, and delivered a baby. For anyone who wants to do something similar in the future, these stories are really amazing.

Serena Williams winning the Australian Open 8 weeks pregnant is an inspiration for sportspersons all across the world!

SS: How are you balancing your Olympiad preparation with your Pregnancy?

Harika: Whenever I am preparing for a Team event, I'm a little bit stressed because I'm thinking I can't mess up and have to perform well. This time, I am not taking any such pressure, and reminding myself that if I get to play that is a win in itself [smiles]. It's important that I keep myself calm right now, so I'm telling myself all these philosophical things like "result is secondary, first you have to play" [chuckles].

Harika's husband Kartheek is very supportive in all of Harika's decisions.

SS: There are 4 other members on the Indian Team as well, if you want to take a rest on some rounds, you can do that without any issues. What do you think about Team India women's team?

Harika: Definitely, we have a very strong team and have a very good chance to win the event. One of the main reasons I was able to participate was because it was a team event, and I have got so many excellent teammates. If this was an 11-round individual event, it wouldn't have been possible at all. My main motto in this event is to help the team whenever needed.

The Indian women's A-Team for the chess olympiad 2022. From left: Coach GM Abhijeet Kunte, GM Koneru Humpy, GM Harika Dronavalli, IM Vaishali Rameshbabu, IM Tania Sachdev, IM Bhakti Kulkarni.

SS: Did you see the Olympiad Torch Relay on the 19th of June? What were your feelings watching it from a distance?

Harika: I was feeling very proud as a chess player watching this event. I couldn't travel myself in this situation to see it live, but it was a wonderful program. Chess being so popular and respected is really great to see, and I hope it gets more attention in the days to come. I hope we can also play and perform well in the Olympiad.

The historic moment- when PM Narendra Modi handed over the Torch relay to GM Viswanathan Anand.

SS: You will be the highlight of the event, Harika. Thank you so much for your time!

Harika: I had a really good time, thank you, Sagar! Keeping my fingers crossed that I can play in the Olympiad [smiles].

Important Links:

Complete playlist of GM Harika Dronavalli in ChessBase India

Official chess olympiad 2022 website

All India Chess Federation official website


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