It’s been over a week since Koneru Humpy became the first Indian woman to win the World Rapid Chess Championships. The dust from that victory though will take a long time to settle. After all, it was a title that took a long time coming for the 32-year-old, given the way she had burst onto the international chess stage.
Once a prodigy, by the time she was 15, she became the youngest woman to become Grandmaster (a record now broken by Hou Yifan of China, who was 12 at the time). And then she became only the second woman after Judit Polgar to cross the 2600 Elo rating. All that was missing in her career was a world title. But in the last week of 2019 in Moscow, she broke that duck.
And for Viswanathan Anand, the only Indian to have won the World Rapid Chess title before Humpy, the triumph will only push her to greater heights.
“It is the first women’s world title that we have and it is great that she won it. Standalone, it is a great result. And it’s (especially) great when you see her tournament progress,” Anand says.
“(Going) into the last round, she was not the favourite, but she kept pushing. Her opponent (Lei Tingjie of China) was leading, but kept stumbling and Humpy was able to catch up with her. She lost the first game, came back again and clinched the title. So the way she won it was impressive.”
Anand, a five-time World Chess Champion and winner of the 2017 World Rapid title, sees similarities in the way he won his latest championship and Humpy her first.
At the same time though, the 50-year-old asserts that the fact that Humpy is still on a comeback trail after returning from a two-year sabbatical in 2018 – after giving birth to a daughter, Ahana – makes her achievement even more remarkable.
“I also won that tournament in a difficult year when I was not doing well. I also won in the tie-break, just like her, so there were many parallels,” he says. “If you take her personal situation that she had taken a couple of years off to start a family and then she came back and won this, it must be very satisfying for her. She has been close to many world titles. So to get it now must be very satisfying.”
Before the title in Moscow, in the classical format which is considered the most prestigious event in chess, the closest the Vijayawada-native has gotten to winning the title was in 2011 when she lost to China’s Hou Yifan in the final, apart from reaching the semi-finals three times.
Winning the rapid title now though finds her in a strong position to making it to another classical final.
In order to secure a title-clash in 2021 against the winner of the 2020 World Championship title, either China’s Ju Wenjun or Russian Aleksandra Gorychkina (the match is currently taking place), Humpy must finish among the top two players in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix to make it to the Candidates event – the winner of which will compete for the world title.
Two rounds of the Grand Prix have been completed in the 16-player competition. Two more remain, in Lausanne, Switzerland in March and Sardinia, Italy in May.
Humpy so far finds herself in strong contention for making it to the Candidates. After winning her first event in Skolokov, Russia in September, she was joint first in Monaco in December and is currently atop the overall standings.
In such a rich run of form, she conquered her first ever world rapid title. And that will surely give her a shot in the arm to pursue the illusive classical World Championship.