From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.03 :: Jan. 17, 2009

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CHESS / FEATURE

Humpy looks ahead

Koneru Humpy no doubt enjoys her status as the World No. 2 in women’s chess, but her ultimate goal is to win the world title. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

NAGARA GOPAL

Koneru Humpy enjoys an enviable position in world chess. She has been ranked World No. 2 since January 2006, while Judit Polgar (Elo 2693) of Hungary stays at the top despite not competing in the women’s circuit. In a way, it means that the 21-year-old Indian enjoys the unofficial No.1 status in women’s chess.

“I don’t have any problems with Judit being there on top despite not playing in the women’s circuit. I honestly believe she deserves to be there,” says Humpy of her childhood idol. But what has really remained elusive for the Vijayawada girl is the World Championship title. For someone who is regarded by many including Viswanathan Anand as the best bet to be the first woman from India to win the women’s World title, Humpy faltered twice in the semifinals of the World Championship. The last time, she was defeated by the 14-year-old Chinese, Hou Yifan (Elo 2571), ranked No. 3 in the world.

That semifinal defeat continues to haunt the unassuming deputy manager of the ONGC. Incidentally, Humpy rates Yifan as the best young talent in women’s chess who could storm the world in the days to come.

It’s not that Humpy, who holds the record for being the youngest woman ever to become a Grandmaster — she was 15 then, beating the previous record, held by Judit Polgar, by three months — is not aware of the significance of not winning the world title. “Yes, that is one dream I am still chasing ever since I became the world junior champion in 2001. I don’t think it is impossible. For instance, I was very close to winning the semifinal against Hou Yifan in the rapid game but somehow lost the initiative,” she recalls.

But that defeat has only strengthened Humpy’s resolve. And despite taking a three-month break from competitive chess at the international level, she has already begun her preparations in right earnest, thanks to the ONGC interactive coaching camp in Hyderabad where Humpy joined Super GM Krishnan Sasikiran and others such as Sandipan Chanda, P. Konguvel and Neelotpal Das, to come up with some novel ideas.

“I don’t think 2008 was disappointing, but it is a fact that I desperately need a big win now,” says Humpy, who is guided by her father-cum-coach Koneru Ashok.

“I don’t think I need a foreign trainer even now. My father is good enough (to help me) in my pursuit to be a world champion,” says Humpy.

However, before attempting to win the world title, she is aiming to break the 2650-barrier. Right now, Humpy has an Elo of 2621.

“My opening repertoire has to improve and I have to look for more and more complicated lines of attack,” says Humpy about her game.

She is disappointed that not many Grandmaster tournaments are being held in India. “This is disturbing in any player’s preparations, for it has become a very expensive proposition of late to compete in tournaments abroad,” Humpy says. She, however, acknowledges that the sport has become very complicated in India because of the great improvement in the standards of many players.

Interestingly, Humpy says that she would love to play in the men’s Olympiad if she gets a chance. She prefers to play in the men’s event than in the women’s Olympiad as there is very little scope of winning a medal, for most of the Indians are rated below Elo 2500.

Humpy certainly stands apart from the rest of the Indians in women’s chess. “I am enjoying my status and I am really happy to retain the No. 2 spot in world chess, which, I feel, is a tribute to my consistency and the hard work my father puts in. But let me repeat, my ultimate goal is to be crowned the world champion,” she says.



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