GM Dronavalli Harika

Full name
Harika Dronavalli
Born
Jan 12, 1999 (age 21)‎
Place of birth
Gorantla, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, India
Federation
International
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Bio

Indian GM Harika Dronavalli is a three-time bronze medal winner in the Women’s World Chess Championship and one of the top players in women’s chess. She has three world youth titles in the under-12, under-18, and junior girls sections, and she won the women’s national chess championship of India at the age of 18.

Harika became a grandmaster in 2009, making her the second woman in India to earn the title after GM Humpy Koneru. The following year Harika entered FIDE’s top 25 ranked women, and in 2014 she entered the top 10—she hasn’t departed either list since.

Playing Style

Harika excels in positional battles. The notion was clearly on display at the 2020 Lausanne Grand Prix, where she defeated the reigning women’s world champion in a slow maneuvering battle.

In this closed game, Harika uses space to transfer her positional advantage into a tactical breakthrough on the kingside—and even a temporary rook sacrifice on move 43.

Early Chess Career (1999 To 2007)

Harika became interested in chess when she was eight years old after her parents had introduced her sister to the game. She finished 15th in her first national championship and decided that she’d win the event the following year. Harika did just that. At the age of nine, when she won the national championship event and the silver medal in the under-10 girls section of the World Youth National Chess Championship in 2000, she decided that chess would be her career.

The next year, Harika took home two more silver medals. They came at the subsequent World Youth Chess Championship (girls under-12 section) and then the Asian Under-12 Girls Chess Championship. In 2002, she played well in the same two tournaments, winning bronze (under-12 girls world youth) and gold (under-12 girls Asian championship) respectively. Impressively, another gold medal came for the 11-year-old that year at the Asian Under-18 Girls Chess Championship.

At the age of 12, Harika became the youngest WIM in Asia. She won team bronze and individual gold (board four) at the 2003 Asian Women Team Championship before capturing her first and second WGM and IM norms. The first set came when she took the silver medal in the women’s section of the Commonwealth Chess Championship. Then she won her second set of WGM/IM norms with another silver medal at the Asian Women Championship.

In 2004, Harika became the youngest WGM in India (at 13 years old) by winning the Commonwealth Under-18 Championship. In that tournament, she earned her final WGM norm and later (in 2007) added the IM title playing in the International Open Tournament.

The major highlight for 2004 was when the prodigy earned her first youth world title. Harika took gold in the under-14 girls section of the World Youth Chess Championship held in Greece, edging WGM (at the time) Anna Muzychuk for the top spot, who also finished with nine points.

Harika had a spectacular 2006 as a 15-year-old, first taking the gold medal in the under-18 girls section of the World Youth Championship. That represented her second world youth title. Then she rattled off her first of three gold medals at the Commonwealth Women’s Championship. Harika took gold in 2006, 2007, and 2010.

In 2007, the same year Harika became an IM, she won individual gold and bronze at the rapid and classical events of the Asian Indoor Games, respectively. In team events, she earned gold, silver, and silver medals across rapid, classical, and blitz competitions, respectively. She also took gold at the Asian Zonal Women Chess Championship in 2007.

Harika was given the Arjuna Award in 2007. The honor is presented to outstanding sportspersons in India.

World Junior Girls Champion (2008 To 2010)

At the age of 17, Harika won the 2008 World Junior Chess Championship, an under-20 chess tournament bringing the best up-and-coming talent from all over the world.

The Indian prodigy went undefeated with 10.5/13 points, eclipsing the field by one and a half points. Note that former World Champion and GM Mariya Muzychuk finished with the silver medal. Harika became the fourth player from India (and the second woman from India) to win the event, following GMs Viswanathan Anand (1987), Koneru (2001), and Pentala Harikrishna (2004).

Harika Dronavalli at the 2008 World Junior Chess Championship
Harika Dronavalli at the 2008 World Junior Chess Championship. Photo: karpidis, CC 2.0.

With another youth world title in hand and individual and team silver medals as the captain of India at the 2008 Asian Women Team Chess Championship, Harika’s impressive run continued the following year.

As an 18-year-old, she won the women’s Indian Chess Championship and then took team silver and individual gold as the captain of India at the 2009 Asian Women Team Chess Championship.  In 2010, she added what would be her final gold at the Commonwealth Women’s Championship, along with bronze at the 16th Asian Games (behind GMs Hou Yifan and Zhao Xue) for the individual rapid competition. Harika also reached the quarterfinals of the Women’s World Chess Championship 2011, which was a 62-player knockout tournament.

Second Woman In India To Earn GM Title (2011 To 2014)

In 2011, Harika won gold at the Asian Women Chess Championship and took silver at the Commonwealth Women’s Chess Championship.

The real highlight for Harika that year was earning her GM title. She scored 5.5/9 points at the 2011 Women Grandmaster Chess Tournament held in China, securing her third and final GM norm. The accomplishment made the teenager the second woman in India to become a GM (after Koneru).

The following year, Harika took bronze at the Women’s World Chess Championship 2012 knockout tournament after upsetting Xue in the quarterfinals and falling to GM Antoaneta Stefanova in the semifinals. She also earned individual silver at the 2012 World Women Team Chess Championship, with her team taking fourth. The same team result occurred in the 2012 Chess Olympiads, which is notable because it was India’s highest result ever in the competition. India took bronze at the 2012 Asian Women Team Chess Championship.

Remarkable team performances continued at the 2014 Asian Women Team Chess Championship. India picked up silver, silver, and gold medals in standard, rapid, and blitz formats. Harika also picked up individual gold for her performance on the top board of the standard competition. She won bronze at the 2014 Sharjah Grand Prix behind two women’s world champions at some point: Hou and GM Ju Wenjun.

World Online Women Blitz Champion (2015 To 2020)

In 2015, Harika won the first-ever FIDE World Online Women Blitz Championship. It was a rather odd event, as the 10 finalists were invited to Rome to play the event directly across from each other with laptops in front of them—it seemed like FIDE was simply testing the concept of computer-based play. However, the event was top-notch and a huge accomplishment for the Indian GM. The players who finished in second through fourth place all had higher ratings than Harika (2492).

She finished with 13.5/18 points, which was the same score as GM Nana Dzagnidze (2562), but Harika edged her on tiebreaks. Former world champion GM Alexandra Kosteniuk (2505) finished in third place, and GM Valentina Gunina (2602) finished fourth.

Harika Dronvalli after winning the FIDE World Online Women Blitz Championship
Harika Dronavalli after winning the FIDE World Online Women Blitz Championship. Photo: Alina l'Ami.

Another major accomplishment for Harika came that year at the most important event in women’s chess. At the Women’s World Chess Championship 2015 knockout tournament, she beat notable opponents like GMs Irina Krush and Kosteniuk to reach the semifinals, just like she had done in 2012. Harika came close to beating Mariya Muzychuk in the semifinals, but fell short and ended up with her second bronze medal for the women’s world championship.

In 2015, Harika won individual silver on the second board at the World Women Team Chess Championship, and the Indian team took fourth place. She won bronze at the Asian Rapid Women Chess Championship that year as well.

The following year Harika won the 2016 Chengdu Grand Prix. She finished with an undefeated 7/11 points, edging out Koneru, who finished with the same score as Harika, on tiebreaks (with a head-to-head matchup win). Note that Ju finished third with 6/11 points. At the 2016 Asian Women Team Chess Championship, Harika won individual gold in the rapid event (India won bronze) and took individual silver in the classical event.

Harika Dronavalli after winning the 2016 Chengdu over GMs Ju Wenjun (left) and Humpy Koneru (right)
Harika Dronavalli after winning the 2016 Chengdu over GMs Ju Wenjun (left) and Humpy Koneru (right).

Harika was named Chess Player of the Year by Times of India in 2016, beating out Anand and Harikrishna. She won the same distinction in 2017 and that year was featured by Verve magazine for being one of the top-40 most popular women sportspersons of the year.

She earned a third bronze medal at a women’s world championship in 2017. Harika lost a tough semifinal matchup against GM Tan Zhongyi, who went on to win the Women’s World Chess Championship 2017. The two played an armageddon game to decide who would make it to the finals, and the Chinese GM won to take the match by an overall 5-4 margin.

In January 2019, Harika was awarded a Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award in India. The honor recognized the young 28-year-old’s incredible accomplishments in chess and her overall contributions to the realm of sports.

Harika reached the semifinals of Chess.com’s 2019 Women’s Speed Chess Championships, losing 15-13 in a close matchup with GM Elina Danielian, who won the event after defeating Gunina in the finals.

Also in 2019, Harika scored 5.5/11 at the FIDE Chess.com Grand Swiss. That performance resulted in her sharing the top women’s prizes with IM Dinara Saduakassova of Kazakhstan.

In 2020, Harika was a key contributor to the Indian team that shared gold with Russia in the FIDE Online Olympiad. Both teams were announced winners after a major internet disruption undermined the final match.

Present And Future

Harika is firmly within the upper levels of women’s chess. With multiple world youth titles and bronze women’s world championship medals, a women’s national championship, and several other accomplishments, she’s already cemented a legacy in women’s chess and for her home country of India.

At the time of publishing, Harika is approaching her 30s. She still has a lot of time to do major damage at the highest level of chess. Her ceiling may still be in front of her.

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