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Friday, Aug 16, 2019

Koneru Humpy: India’s queen of 64 Squares

One of the best players in women’s chess, she achieved the Grandmaster title when she was 15. Currently fourth in the world among women, she has come near to winning the World Championship a few times and is India’s hope for the same.

inspiring-lives Updated: Aug 13, 2019 11:09 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
At the age of 15, she became the youngest woman to become an International Grandmaster and held on to the record for four years.
At the age of 15, she became the youngest woman to become an International Grandmaster and held on to the record for four years.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)
         

Born on March 31, 1987 in Gudivada, Andhra Pradesh, to Koneru Ashok and Latha Ashok, Humpy’s original name was Hampi – which means ‘champion’. Later, her father changed the spelling of her name to Humpy.

Early Life

As a former chess player himself, Koneru Ashok introduced her to the game when she was just five. Her father used to tell her about the Polgar sisters Susan, Judith and Sophie – some of the top chess players in the world.

In an interview with the US Chess Trust dated 2011, Humpy once said “The most important thing I learned from Judith was that she was never afraid to play with anybody. ” When Humpy was 8, her father gave up his university job to become her full-time coach. Success soon followed, with her winning the World Girls’ Under-10, 12, 14 and 20 championships.

By the age of 14, Humpy was ranked no. 3 among women and had attained 2,539 Elo points (The rating system named after Arpad E Elo, who formulated it.)

Champion at a Young Age

In 1997, Humpy won three gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship (WYCC) in the under-10 girls’ category. A year later, she again secured gold in the under-12 girls’ category. At the Asian Youth Chess Championship 1999 in Ahmedabad, she won the under-12 section competing against boys. In 2000, she again struck gold in the WYCC under-12 category. Humpy won the World Junior Girls Championship in 2001. She became the youngest woman to obtain an International Grandmaster norm and held the record for four years, apart from being women’s world no. 2 and no. 1 among junior girls.

In 2002, she tied for the first place with Zhao Xue but finished second via tie-break. In 2000 and 2002, she won the British Women’s Championship. In 2003, Humpy added the Asian Women’s Individual title and the National Women’s Championship to her kitty. By 2002, she had achieved three GM norms, the last one being in the Elekes Memorial Grandmasters Tournament in Budapest. In 2005, she won the North Urals Cup that featured the top names like Chinese Xu Yuhua and Russian Alexandra Kosteniuk.

In 2007, she crossed the Elo 2,600 mark and became the second woman to achieve the feat after Judith Polgar. Humpy took part in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2009–2011 and was second, qualifying as challenger for the 2011 Women’s World Championship. She was also the runner-up in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix in 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2015-16. In 2013-14.

She won the individual bronze at the Women’s World Team Championship 2015 in China. India finished fourth, a point behind bronze winner China. The lone disappointment in her career is the inability to win the Women’s World Championship and claim rank 1.

She came closest in 2008 when she lost to Hou Yifan in the semi- final and in 2011 when she again went down to the same rival. She, however, did not allow setbacks to affect her and is India’s hope for winning the world no. 1 title.

Awards

Apart from the many feathers in her hat, Humpy was honoured with the Arjuna Award in 2003 and received the Padma Shri in 2007.

Interesting Facts:

1. Humpy is the Grandmaster’s first name, whereas Koneru is her family name. In Andhra Pradesh, where she comes from, people write their name with the family name first. For eg. Koneru Humpy or Koneru Ashok.

2. Humpy shares several similarities with Hungarian Judith Polgar, one of the Polgar sisters who is an inspiration. Not only in her professional endeavours – such as being the youngest Grandmaster, scoring 2,600 Elo points in a short time etc – but in her personal life too she derives immense support from her family, especially her father – much like the Polgars. For many years, she was world No.2, right behind Judith Polgar.

3. In 2004, Humpy participated in the Women’s World Chess Championship for the first time. Since then, she has competed in every edition of the event. She reached the semi-finals in 2004, 2008 and 2010.

4. Also known as India’s Queen of Chess, Humpy continues to hold the record of being ranked number one 16 times among girls, and her Elo rating remains the highest achieved by any junior girl.

Sources: Chess.com, Chessbase.com, Media reports, FIDE profile

First Published: Aug 13, 2019 11:08 IST

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