Your weekend reading is here as we proudly present an interview with Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna.
Born in 1986, Pentala Harikrishna became India’s youngest Grandmaster in 2001 (a record only broken by Dommaraju Gukesh in 2019).
With an enormous FIDE rating of 2732, he is currently the world’s number 22 player in the official list of rankings.
Pentala Harikrishna became Chessable’s first 2700+ rated author in 2019, with his course on French Toast.
As we found out this week, he will play at the 2021 Tata Steel tournament, which is excellent news.
Sit back, relax and enjoy our interview with Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna.
The Early Moves of Pentala Harikrishna
How did your chess journey begin?
My maternal grandfather used to play chess with his friends in the village and I would go everyday to observe. Seeing my interest, he taught me the rules and some ideas.
One day I suggested a move which was missed by both my grandfather and his opponent. So that’s when he decided to teach me chess!
Did you have any particular chess heroes or role models to inspire you in the early
As for every chess player in India, Anand has been the source of inspiration.
Which chess books did you find most instructive or inspirational during your early
I enjoyed reading My 60 Memorable Games by Bobby Fischer and The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. I enjoyed solving Domination in 2545 Endgames by Mr. Genrikh Kasparyan. Even today studies bring a lot of joy while solving.
Were any established players particularly helpful or kind when you broke through to upper levels of chess?
There were several players who noticed that I can reach very high in chess. At critical junctures their valuable advice has helped me.
In this regard, I am lucky to have had healthy rivalry with other top Indian players in my early days.
Did you have a trainer?
Yes, I had several trainers. I am not naming all of them as I don’t want to miss
How would you describe your style of play?
In my younger days I used to play purely on calculation without any understanding.
In the year 2000, I got training from Mr. Yevgeniy Vladimirov who introduced me and taught me the importance of the positional understanding and anticipating the opponents defense and resources. So now I would say I am more a positional player.
Influences, Style and Success
Were any other players influential in the development of your style?
I have learned a lot from studying games of many great players. At the same time I have my own style which suits me!!
What is your most memorable success (so far!)?
Hard to pick one! Online Olympiad gold, 1st place at the Isle of Man in 2015, winning the Asian Individual in 2011, gold at World Junior Championship in 2004.
Who are your most memorable opponents (regardless of results) and do you have
interesting anecdotes from your games against them?
I do not have any special memorable opponents as I enjoy playing against different players and different styles of play!
At the Olympiads
Tell us a little about your experiences of representing your country at the Chess
I have played nine Chess Olympiads since 2000 and Online Chess Olympiad in 2020.
I was the youngest member of the Indian team in the year 2000 when I was just 14
years old!! That was quite a memorable Olympiad for me as my team gave me the
chance to play on Board 3 and I scored my first GM norm.
You also played in the FIDE World KO Championships. What memories do you
have of those events?
My first FIDE world KO championship was in 2001 when I was 15! So far I did not perform well in the FIDE KO. I am working on it to perform better.
Online elite chess events are proving to be a major success. Do you embrace the
new era of digital chess or are you eager for real-life, over-the-board action to
My preference would be to play over the board events soon.
In fact, I was lucky to get a chance to play in Biel and Polish league in the summer. At the same time, I also participated in online super events like the Chessable masters and St. Louis Rapid and Blitz.
Online or over the board, as long as there are tournaments I am happy to participate!!
Are you able to play to your normal strength when playing online?
At the beginning it was strange. Now I am used to playing online. I feel I am able to play as per my normal strength.
The 2020 Candidates tournament took an enforced break due to the current
emergency. Should the tournament have even started under the circumstances?
As a chess fan I felt it should not have started.
How do you feel about continuing a tournament many months after it started?
It is hard for me to comment on what is the right thing to do as I am not part of it. I
am sure FIDE, players and organizers will find a solution which will satisfy the majority of the parties if not all of them.
Working with Chessable
How did you become involved with Chessable?
My friend Magesh Panchanathan who runs chess schools in the USA introduced me to Dmitri and David in mid-2018. We had a wonderful meeting and I usually go
with my first impression about people!
They explained to me about the reason for creating the MoveTrainer™ technology and the Chessable website, which helps amateurs to get excellent chess material with which they can learn and improve their game.
So I agreed to make a course (French Toast) on Chessable, which was released on May 3 2019!
As a professional chess player I gave a lot of thought into making this course as I am giving away my own preparation and requiring to spend a lot of time making the material which can be accessible for club level players.
I decided to do it as I have never created a course on any chess server. Besides, I like the interaction between students and the author. Unlike some other chess servers where you send your material and students have no way to get the clarifications, on Chessable this is possible, and even welcome. Often they are small and simple ones but those minor details give the student a lot of confidence.
Lifetime Repertoires: Taimanov Sicilian was released recently and it is a very
thorough course indeed. How long did it take you to complete?
Thank you! I have been working on it for several years as this is part of my own preparation. It took quite a long time not in preparing the material but omitting
unnecessary details. Explaining the ideas in a simpler way was the most challenging in this process.
Are you ever concerned that you are revealing too much about your own favourite
lines in your courses, this making it easier for your opponents to prepare for you?
Not at all. I believe there are always new options for both sides. Besides, there is a misconception between equality and draw!! It is very much possible to win from equal positions!! Maybe I will make a course on that…
Do you have more courses in the Chessable pipeline?
Yes! I am planning more courses on Chessable. As I am constantly getting inputs from my students of the French Toast and the Taimanov Sicilian, I am able to understand their requirements.
Work and Ambition
How much time each day do you spend working on your own game?
Around six hours on average. Of course it is not everyday! Some days can be longer and some days I am just lazing around!
What ambitions do you have, as a player?
I have ambitions to reach the Candidates tournament in the next World Championship cycle.
Club players are always interested in ways to improve their game. What advice
would you offer to them?
As much as it is attractive to play Blitz or Bullet, it is important to work on chess. Be it learning openings or analyzing your own games (without computer!) or studying the endgames.
I would suggest trying to reason with yourself while studying chess. Why am I playing this move? How will my opponent respond to this? These are some of the questions one should ask themselves. They seem rather simple yet immensely effective in improving their strength.
How do you cope with the pain of defeat?
In my childhood not so well. Now I am used to it. Having said that, defeat always hurts! I worked on how I can withstand the defeat and fight for the next games!
Do you have a favourite game of your own?
Ravi Thandalam Shanmugam – Pentala Harikrishna
Indian Championship, 2003
Black to play
This game was played in 2003 and I calculated from move 19 until Black is achieving advantage with Queen sacrifice.
We will return to this game for our series on Chessable Authors in Action, but to whet the appetite we can reveal that the next move is 21 …Nxd4, allowing 22 Bxg6+ and 23 Qxe7.
How about a favourite game from history?
Aronian-Anand from Wijk aan Zee 2013.
And finally, which aspect of your chess life gives you the most satisfaction (writer, player, coach, other…)
Being a chess player, of course!
Thank you very much, Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna!
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The other interviews in our popular series are here: