The making of a champion

Print edition : January 10, 1998

Koneru Humpy of Andhra Pradesh is the new world under-10 chess champion among girls.

THE CHESS INFORMATOR is perhaps the game's best-known magazine. It carries the latest Grandmaster games, all annotated, often by the players themselves. Published from Yugoslavia three times a year, each bulky issue carries about 800 games.

As Koneru Ashok, a college teacher and a chess player in Andhra Pradesh, played out a game from the pages of the Informator in 1993, his six-year-old daughter suggested a move. When Ashok checked back with the Informator, he found that the same move had been played. He tested her further. He found that quite a few of her suggestions were appropriate. From then on, Ashok took a serious interest in coaching his daughter, Humpy, in chess.

Humpy was an enthusiastic chess student. In 1993, she was one among several chess enthusiasts whom Ashok coached. The same year Humpy won the Vijayawada City and Krishna district under-eight championships. She won the State-level championships in 1994 and 1995 and qualified for the national under-eight championship for girls in Madurai in 1995, where she finished fourth. From that year, Ashok started coaching her exclusively.

Humpy was born at Gudivada on March 31, 1987. She performed well in many State and national championships, often competing with older children. She won the national under-10 championship for girls in December 1996 in Mumbai. This qualified her for the 1997 World Under-10 Girls Chess Championship at Cannes, France. She won the championship, which was held as part of the World Youth Chess Festival from December 7 to 18.

M. LAKSHMANAN

Competing with girls up to two years older than her, she won the 1997 Rapid Under-12 Championship held in Chennai. This qualified her for the World Children's Rapid Chess Championship, which is usually held at Euro-Disney near Paris.

Humpy participated in the National Women's "B" Chess Championship in Mumbai, which is the qualifier for the Women's "A" Chess Championship. Although she failed to qualify, she impressed with her concentration and devotion to the game.

Top chess trainers in the world recommend that she must open with 1 e2-e4 because it speeds up the understanding of tactics in attack and defence. Humpy has never played this move in her life. A tactical mover, she knows when to jump from a strategic position into red-hot tactics. For a 10-year-old, Humpy has a great positional sense. She never goes in for premature attacks. She develops her pieces and strikes only when the time is right.

Humpy dominated her category at Cannes. In quite a few games she demonstrated an ability to provoke weak play by even strong opponents, and then exploited the situation using strategy and tactics. A fine example of this was her game against the Vietnamese contender, Hoang Thi, who lost despite an early lead. Humpy was the only undefeated player in her category at Cannes. She was not in a losing position in any of her games. The only game in which she missed a victory was the one against the Georgian, Dzagnidze, who tied with her for the first place.

While many Indian boys grumbled about the European food served at Cannes and ate nothing but French Fries, bread and butter, Humpy showed a great strength by accepting the food that was available. It is important to be well nourished during an important, tense tournament.

Humpy was quite popular at Cannes. Just before the last round, two strangers, one a Swede, wished her good luck. After the seventh game, a girl from Mongolia gestured to Humpy to ask her whether she had won her game. Humpy returned the thumbs up sign. The girl's face brightened up; she was happy that Humpy had won.

A patient listener, Humpy is a child of few words. But when some chess variation is discussed, she gets animated. She contributes a lot to the understanding of that position.

A few hours after her return from Cannes, Humpy faced a barrage of questions from mediapersons in Delhi. She told them that she had been confident of winning the championship even before she left for Cannes. For three months prior to the championship, Humpy attended school only in the mornings. She trained with her father during the rest of the day. She worked at her chess for four hours a day for several weeks before leaving for the championship.

Humpy studies in the sixth standard at the Siddhartha Residential School in Vijayawada. The school's director, Vadde Ramakrishna Prasad, has sponsored her participation in national and international tournaments.

Humpy's favourite players are Garry Kasparov, Viswanathan Anand and Judit Polgar. She likes them for their strong attacking style. She does not use a computer to train. Instead she studies the games in Chess Mate magazine. She loves to cycle and watch Telugu films on television. She has a sister, who is a year younger and has no interest in chess. Humpy's father gave up his college job to concentrate on her game. With a FIDE rating of 2235, he is one of the strong players of Andhra Pradesh.

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