In Conversation with GM Humpy Koneru by Beatriz Marinello
The 2011 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship Match between the current World Champion GM Hou Yifan of China and her challenger, GM Koneru Humpy of India, was held at the Tirana International Hotel in Albania from November 14 to 30.
This match was scheduled as a ten-game match. The first player to reach 5.5 points or more takes the title. GM Hou Yifan was declared the winner of the match after eight games and was crowned as the Women’s World Champion yet again. Congratulations to Hou Yifan!
The prize fund was 200,000 Euro, with 60% going to the winner and 40% to the loser. This match was surprisingly one-sided, in favor of GM Hou Yifan, although the challenger GM Humpy Koneru is currently the second highest rated woman chess player in the world, after GM Judith Polgar, who is considered the best woman player who ever lived.
US Chess Trust Trustee and FIDE Vice President, Beatriz Marinello was on site at the 2011 FIDE Women’s World Chess Championship, as she was appointed by FIDE as a member of the Appeals Committee.
Beatriz Marinello sits for a chat with the challenger GM Humpy Korenu who gives us a look into what it is like to play in the Women’s World Chess Championship Match, the challenges and the tensions faced by players at this level of competition.
Beatriz Marinello: Hello Humpy, how are you? Can I call you Humpy?
Humpy Koneru: Yeah, Humpy is my first name. Koneru is my family name in India.
BM: Tell us what it was like for you playing in the Women’s World Chess Championship.
HK: It was quite an interesting event, I never played such a match before. It was also very tense playing with the same player for the World Title. But, overall it was a great experience.
BM: This was an exciting event, one which I was honored to be a part of as a member of the appeals committee. I do have to say though, that it was surprisingly one-sided. Considering the fact that you are the 2nd highest rated woman chess player in the world, I don’t believe anyone would’ve expected the match to end after only 8 games, with a surprising end result of 5.5 points for Hou Yifan and 2.5 for you. What is your take on how this all unfolded?
HK: Ok, I think that after the third round loss, I wanted to come back. In games 4 and 5, I had two blacks in a row and I tried some openings that I never played before and those games ended in draws. In game 6, with White pieces I was successful in most of the game. I got a very good position in the opening. I was also doing well with the time, but then the advantage slowly started to dilute. At that moment, maybe I should have taken a draw. Instead, I thought I should do more there, and it went wrong.
After losing game 6, there was not much that I could do with two loses in a 10 games match. So, I was forced to try to win with Black pieces in game 7. It was not to easy to try to win with Black and end it fast.
If it was a regular tournament game, the result would have been different. Let’s say that I play these 10 games with different players, obviously I would not try these risky positions. In this match, I felt forced to take some risks. Also, because I did not have the experience in playing these matches, I did not have the patience to wait.
BM: You took too many risks…
HK: Yes, too many risks and I think game wise for me the past year has been a bit shaky. I was also not doing my best in the Women’s Grand Prix and normal tournaments.
BM: Well actually, with regard to the Women’s Grand Prix you worked really hard to qualify to play with Hou Yifan. So much so that it came to the point that your qualification (for the Women’s World Chess Championship) was decided in the last game that you played in the Women’s Grand Prix in Doha.
HK: Yeah, it was very tough for me losing this way, because I struggled for two years in the Grand Prix to qualify for this match. It’s painful to lose this way, but I think it’s part of the game.
BM: Well you’re very young only 24 years old and you have a bright future ahead of you. This could be a big learning experience for you.
HK: I learned a lot of things from this match, I made so many mistakes which I should not have done. This will definitely help me for the future.
BM: So, you think that the main reasons why you lost this match were because of lack of experience playing in these type of matches and that you took too many risks?
HK: Yeah, too many risks and I have been struggling for the past year. I have not been doing very well.
BM: Why has the last year been so hard for you? Can you tell us about that? I read an interview with Vishy Anand in which he said that you have a lot of talent and he thinks you will do very well in this match. Obviously he has a very high opinion of you. So, what do you think happened?
HK: Well, after qualifying for this event, I played only in a few tournaments, and I spent most of my time doing preparations for this match. I started training with new players and until recently, I only trained with my father. Maybe I was to nervous in this match, and that made me make so many mistakes in the games.
BM: My personal assessment is that Hou Yifan took advantage of your mistakes. It was not that she outplayed. Most mistakes were made when you were short on time.
HK: Seeing the games ——-In some positions I was putting pressure on her, but when I faced the time trouble situation, there I went wrong. The practical experience also matters a lot. I played a few tournaments a year and also my training is totally different. In this area, Hou Yifan has more advantages. She has a complete team with players on hand to train, it was more of a practical practice.
BM: It was quite obvious during the match, although it’s uncomfortable for me to say, that Hou Yifan had a lot of people supporting her. She traveled with a delegation of 5 people, local people came to see her games and the Chinese Embassy did a reception for her. I don’t think there is an Indian Embassy in Tirana (capital of Albania). Also, Hou Yifan has strong support from the Chinese Chess Association. The two of you represented a large number of the population in this world. China has the largest population and India has the 2nd largest so a lot of people were watching you and yet it seems that she had a lot more support going for her. You came here with your father and a trainer. It seems that Hou Yifan had a lot more support. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
HK: In the past, I had some differences with the federation and we could not get the proper support. In India we are more like individuals. People don’t get the proper support. But ok, now I think that has changed a bit, and will be better in the future.
BM: So things are getting better?
HK: Yes, things are getting better
BM: That’s very good. I am glad to hear that.Going to the beginning…When did you learn how to play chess?
HK: I started when I was six years old. Basically my father plays chess, and I saw him playing chess in the house and he would go over games with the chess informant. I started learning from him. I played my first National championship when I was 7 yrs old and won my first National Championship when I was 9 yrs old. From then on he was my only trainer. He used to come with me to the tournaments and we used to work together at my games. For both of us it worked out, personally because, since we are father and daughter, he knows my psychology.
BM: I perfectly understand.
HK: He is not a very great player, he’s just a normal player with a 2250 rating, but his experience made me learn a lot of things. For this event I have Chanda Sandipan with me, he’s a Grandmaster from Calcutta. I have learned some new things from him.
BM: Well you have achieved being the 2nd highest rated woman player in chess history after Judit Polgar and you broke the 2600 Fide rating barrier, which is quite an accomplishment. What a great potential. What are your ambitions for chess, what do you want to do?
HK: If I have to speak rating wise, two years back I was peaking 2624. Since then I have been losing a lot of rating. I know my rating is now 2580. It’s a bit painful to lose so many rating points. But, I think the potential strength in the long term, it will come back.
Next year, I am planning to play in some international open tournaments. In the last two years, I could not make it to play in the main events because of the Grand Prix series. This coming year, I will play the Gibraltar Chess Festival and I will participate in three of the Grand Prix series. Once I start playing in the main tournaments, hopefully I can get to my real strength.
BM: Fantastic. Who is your inspiration? Does Anand inspire you?
HK: Basically, I was more inspired by Judit Polgar.
HK: When I started playing, when I started learning…my father used to tell me about the Polgar sisters. The most important thing I learned from Judith was that she was never afraid to play with anybody, and more than that, the way she plays, she doesn’t fear her opponent. I think that only a few can have such confidence to play at a very strong level.
BM: Judith Polgar and her sisters had a strong relationship with the father and the mother and the family support was very good.
HK: That is also the main reason. Many chess players have the support of great trainers. I believe Judith Polgar is different than everyone, she has her own strength, because of her sisters and her father’s support, that support growing up within the family. I was very inspired by her results, and I always wanted to be like her. I know she is a far better player, the biggest women’s chess player that the world has produced so far.
BM: Well, you never know…you are only 24 years old, you may get there yourself. So, besides chess, what other interests do you have?
HK: I like to go out with my friends for shopping. Once in a while, I go to watch movies in theaters with the family.
BM: So your just a regular person who loves chess and is really good at it.
HK: I had a somewhat different life compared with other Indian chess players. When I am not playing in chess tournaments, I don’t spend time around chess circles. I like to keep my private life, where I can spend time even without chess. I see that many people , they don’t have a life other than chess. Chess is my profession. Losing this match was painful, but I will be able to continue.
BM: Regrouping like in a chess position.
BM: You became a challenger for the Women’s World Champion, this is something that you can do again. You have the talent and now you have more experience.
HK: Talking about the Grand Prix the only thing I need is to focus and do my best.
BM: What do you think the challenges for women in chess at your level are?
HK: When I play in open tournaments, my ambitions are different. I just try to play the games and win some rating points. When it comes to a Women’s Grand Prix you have to focus, because unless you win you don’t get the qualification to play in the Women’s World Championship Match. When you are playing in women’s chess tournaments, the level of preparation matters a lot. When it’s a normal round robin tournament there is not so much pressure. The World Championship cycle is an entirely different task.
BM: Is there anything else that you would like to say about this match? What do you think about Hou Yifan?
HK: She is in the peak of her career. In the past years she has won many tournaments and I think it’s due to the training and support she is getting from the Chinese government and her federation. I hope that in the coming future we have a lot more women players. In the recent years women’s ratings have been rising. Before, only a few players were over 2500, and now you see that more women are catching up very quickly. I think women in chess are improving very fast.
BM: Is the Indian government supporting you?
HK: Well, in India the situation is entirely different. For me personally, when I win something, I get an incentive from the government. Apart from that, we don’t have special training systems. But, they congratulated me when I became a Grand Master, and supported me with incentives.
BM: What do you think about the qualifying cycle for the Women’s World championship? Specifically, the fact that the Grand Prixs are the qualifiers..
HK: I think it’s a good format. It also gives good chances to everyone. It’s a great opportunity.
BM: I agree, I think its a good system too. It has been wonderful talking with you. You are an extremely talented player. Good luck in all you do. I wish you the very best.
Interview by FIDE Vice President, Beatriz Marinello ©