I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was in a giant, nondescript, hall in a school in Chennai, India. I must’ve been about 14 years old. My brother Srinath Sridhar was sitting right next to me. He and I were playing the first and second boards in a regional inter-schools team chess tournament*.
We were playing the Vijaywada (a city in neighboring Andhra Pradesh) Schools team and a puny little kid came and sat across from me. As the top board — traditionally the strongest player (although in this case Srinath charitably yielded to the more “senior” me) — I was supposed to play the best guy on the other team. So naturally I was taken by surprise when I saw this 8 or 9 year old kid.
As is the norm, I started filling in my score sheet where you capture the moves of the game, and I asked for my opponent’s name. A soft reply came back: “Harikrishna,” he said.
I swiftly looked to the right and my brother, having heard the name, was already looking at me with one of those looks that only siblings know.
“What’s your initial**,” I asked with my brother still looking at us.
I don’t think any other single letter has ever deflated me so much in my entire life.
See it turns out, “P Harikrishna” (commonly known as “Hari”) was a name we were both very familiar with. As serious chess players at the junior level we tracked all the movers in the Indian chess scene, and Hari had just returned after being crowned the World Champion in his age category***.
I might as well have written down 1–0 (or 0–1, I can’t remember if I played white or black) right then and there for what followed was an absolute demolition. I would’ve surely been destroyed even if I hadn’t heard his name, but knowing it simply expedited the process massively.
Why this story now? Well, P Harikrishna, has just moved into (nearly) the list of top 10 best chess players on the planet! An incredible achievement and I’m absolutely happy for a really nice guy. Plus it gave me an opportunity to re-live this memory****. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.
* Team chess tournaments are made up of 4-person teams, or “4 boards”
** In southern India, it’s very common to not have or use your last name, and instead jut replace it with the initial letter
*** I know what you’re thinking: “he’s 8 years old for crying out loud”. To which I’ll remind you that the guy currently playing for the world title match was a full Grand Master at age 12. Chess prodigies start very early.
**** K Sasikiran, also in the Top 100, and a very intense character, was often our room mate when we traveled to different cities for tournaments. Lots more stories there, but nothing quite this memorable.