In the still little-known world of chess, Humpy Koneru has kept at it persistently, one game at a time.
The youngest female grandmaster at 15, Humpy was coached by her father Ashok Koneru, a former national level chess player. Her laurels include three gold medals from the World Youth Chess Championship in age categories of Under-10, 12, and 14.
In 2001, the Arjuna awardee again claimed victory at the World Junior Chess Championship organised by World Chess Federation. In 2007, the then President APJ Abdul Kalam honoured her with Padma Shri award.
The 32-year-old’s most recent victory in becoming Women's World Rapid Champion in Moscow last December came after two years of losing touch with the board, as she was on her maternity break. Her performance at Skolkovo Women's Grand Prix in September, 2019, rose Humpy to a World Number 3 ranking, only behind Hou Yifan and World Champion Ju Wenjun.
However, it was not a direct swing to victory, having lost in Olympiad, Classical World Championship, and World Rapid Championship since her comeback in September 2018.
Sharing the difficulties of being back in the game, she says, “I didn't have a clear strategy. It's also twice as difficult because I was not just preparing for specific opponents every day but also not updating my know-how on the lines I'd been out of touch with."
Embracing Motherhood and Career
During her maternity leave, Humpy did not toy a single pawn once, even online, and stayed completely off the grid, especially when she developed pre-natal complications four months into her pregnancy.
“From chess being the only thing I ever thought about and trained for nine hours a day to suddenly not following a game or moving a piece, it was a huge change. Honestly, I didn't really miss it. I was happy to discover the things I'd never experienced earlier like being with my daughter and celebrating festivals with the entire family. At the back of my mind I always knew I'd return to chess; I just didn't know when,” Humpy was reported saying.
Her comeback may have surprised many who advised her to “enjoy life” and concentrate on home. But as much as she loved spending time with her family and her daughter, Ahana, it never occurred to Humpy to quit her passion completely.
And now, rising up to a ranking of world number three just within a year of return, shows how one can embrace both motherhood as well as the pursuit of their dreams and ambitions. One thing that has definitely changed for her is the amount of time she devotes to chess. But Humpy says that it was a conscious choice on her part.
Setting her priorities straight, Humpy says that she is no longer interested in chasing big titles and tournaments and, instead, is selective when it comes to matches.
The Winning Humpy Trait
While her schedule is balanced to manage both work and home, the young mother shares her winning secret: to be present in the moment. “When I am playing a tournament, I don’t get distracted at all. Once I start travelling for an event, my complete focus will be on chess itself,” she adds.
One remarkable observation after her comeback was how the game of chess has evolved with new computer innovations outdating existing systems of competition.
“Earlier, only the top grandmasters had access to the best hardware. Now even the newest and youngest ones are working with the kind of technology that a top 10 player has access to. It was the biggest change I noticed on my comeback. Suddenly, everyone has really deep opening preparation and just about any player you run into can surprise you with novelties," Humpy notes.
Gearing up for Cairns Cup in Saint Louis, Missouri, in early February, Humpy is now excited about 2020 and what it holds for her professionally, but is also equally looking forward to spending time with her toddler: two important aspects of the young mother’s life.