Meet Koneru Humpy, the quiet elder stateswoman of Indian chess

The 37-year-old’s runner-up finish in Candidates is overshadowed by Gukesh’s championship

Koneru Humpy (photo courtesy: Fide)
Koneru Humpy (photo courtesy: Fide)

NH Sports Bureau

At 37 years, Koneru Humpy has been nothing less than an elder stateswoman of Indian chess standing out among a band of new generation players – some of whom half her age. Always a self-effacing character, the seasoned Grandmaster was happy to stay in the shadows despite finishing runner-up in the women’s Candidates tournament in Toronto on Monday amid the euphoria over Gukesh D’s success.    

It had been a hugely creditable outing from the Indian quintet in Canada with veteran Humpy beating Tingjie Lei of China in the last round to secure a second place finish. R. Vaishali, sister of R. Pragganandhaa for whom it was a debut at Candidates, was quite unstoppable in the second phase of the tournament as she secured her fifth win on the trot by defeating Kateryna Lagno of Russia - which helped her tie for the second spot and ultimately finishing fourth based on tiebreaks.

‘’I had a poor start to the tournament before I could recover in the last few rounds,’’ Humpy told the Fide media.

It was the beginning of new millennium when Humpy, born in Gudivada in Andhra Pradesh in 1987, was hailed as a chess sensation as she became the youngest woman to attain the Grandmaster title in 2002 at just 15 years. Ashok Koneru, her father was a lecturer in chemistry and a competent chess player himself who won the South India Open in 1985, saw the early drive in her and started to show the first moves to her five-year-old daughter at home.

Humpy achieved a milestone by winning three gold medals at the World Youth Chess Championship in 1997 and followed it up with the British Women’s Championship in 2000 and 2002. Another notable performance came at the  Gibraltar Chess Festival in 2011 where she finished half a point behind a group of leaders that included several highly rated Grandmasters.

At 20, Humpy made history by becoming only the second female player after world champion Judith Polgar to cross the 2600 ranking at the age of 20. After a few low profile years, she played her part as a key member of the Indian team that emerged victorious in the Online Chess Olympiad in 2020.

The buzz, according to an ANI report, is that Humpy – already a recipient of the Padmashree and Arjuna Awards – has now been nominated for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award by All India Chess Federation (AICF). Vidit S. Gujrathi, MR Lalith Babu, Adhiban Bhaskarani, SP Sethuraman, Padmini Rout, and Bhakti Kulkarni have been recommended for the Arjuna award and Abhijit Kunte for the Major Dhyan Chand awards, respectively.

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