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Making most of the moves

Koneru's Humpy's prodigious talent has blossomed into professional success, when she became the world's youngest Grandmaster.


GRAND DISPLAY: Koneru Humpy enjoys rare honour. — Photo: K. R. Deepak

NO PLAYER in world chess will ever compete to lose a game. No one loves to be a loser. Well, these are not the rules of the game a coach is trying to explain. But, the 15-year-old Koneru Humpy's retort to the critics that she is taking part mostly in Hungarian tournaments to find "an easy path'' to achieve her goals. And, when she set the world record of being the youngest ever in the history of the game and also became the only Indian to be the Grandmaster in both men's and women's sections, most of the critics predictably slipped into the sidelines.

Humpy is known for her remarkable sense of timing - both on the chessboard and off it. Just when the critics were saying that Humpy's graph is on the decline after her clearly two disastrous tournaments and that too on her favourite terrain - Hungary, the X std student of Chalapathi Residential School, chose the platform which she felt was the best to answer them - across the board. And what a way, by emerging joint-winner in the Elekes memorial tournament last week, Humpy wrote a fresh chapter in the Indian history which is witnessing a rare flurry of feats including from her own State mate, Pentyala Harikrishna, incidentally the youngest Grandmaster beating the record of the irrepressible genius and FIDE world champion Viswanathan Anand. It is not for nothing did Chief Minister N.Chandrababu Naidu, declared both of them as "national pride''.

This Vijayawada girl clearly demonstrated to the world what a talented child could do if the parent has the knack of spotting talent and more importantly grooming it. Perhaps, Koneru Ashok set a new trend. Being a former National player, he was quick to realise that his daughter's future lay in chess and nothing else. Thus began one of the sporting history's most wonderful combinations of father-cum-coach and daughter working wonders. To put it simply, they are the embodiments of discipline, dedication and determination.

On August 29, the nation celebrates the Sports Day as a tribute to the genius called Dhyan Chand, a hockey legend. By fitting coincidence, Humpy won the world junior championship on the same day last year, triggering a series of rave reviews of her outstanding performances. For those who are new to the nuances of the sport, the reticent chess star first dabbled with the pieces at the age of six when her father was engaged in duels with his friends. Though not fully versed with the intricacies of the game, she stunned them coming up with the right moves.

That was just the beginning of what is now fast turning out to be an illustrious career. Nine years ago, Humpy picked her first big title winning the Vijayawada City championship and soon the Krishna District Championship. She may be too young, but the critics were quick to spot her unwavering concentration and the amazing level of confidence as her strong points.


NATION'S PRIDE: Humpy with the Chief Minister who has a word of encouragement. — Photo: Mohd Yousuf

That she won the first World championship title (under-10) in 1997 without working on a computer should be a fair indication of her talent, grit and perseverance. She always chose the complicated line like the c4 English Opening when most of the kids opt for e4. She was the State champion in 1995 and picked the first National rapid title in June 1996. Since then, the career graph has been steady with no discernible slumps.

Despite Humpy being on the verge of breaking into the elite in world chess, Ashok doesn't believe that the time is yet ripe to rope in a foreign coach. "I am confident in guiding her to realise her childhood dream of winning the world championship,'' he asserts.

Her magnificent distinction of being ranked No.16 and being the only Indian girl to be in the top 50 of world women's chess is another feather in her cap.

When she decided to skip the prestigious National `A' championship last month to be in a better position to create world record (which she did eventually, erasing the previous record of her childhood idol, Judith Polgar of being the youngest GM in both men's and women's sections), her bitter critics were up in arms.

They even questioned her ability to win anything big on the now-tough, Indian circuit as she preferred to play mostly abroad, particularly in Hungary. But she has the last laugh.

After all, it is nothing new for her, who sometime back became the youngest ever to win the 61-year-old, British women's championship.

The winner of three World Championship titles (under-10, 12, 14) with an ELO rating of 2486, Humpy is all set to scale new heights unheard of in women's chess from this country. India's second Woman Grandmaster can only look ahead as she is also assured of financial support of a minimum of Rs.12 lakhs per annum from the Bank of Baroda. If her present mood is any indication, she is bound to make giant strides making the critics look like dwarfs with her monumental feats as she marches on in pursuit of realising her two more goals - to become women's world champion in three years and men's world champion in six years. Well, the `Queen' seems to be on the perfect route.

V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

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