'One of the greatest moments in my life'

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

THIS interview should have appeared nearly four months ago, when Koneru Humpy had made her final Grandmaster (GM) norm at the Elekes Memorial tournament in Hungary. The norm that would make her the world's youngest female player to get a men's GM title. She would also be India's youngest GM.

Under normal circumstances a player is called a GM or an International Master (IM) as soon as he or she completes the required norms and Elo points. The world chess governing body FIDE's approval is often only a formality. But it wasn't so in Humpy's case. She had been under a cloud, for no fault of hers.

The 15-year-old was under attack from all sides for various reasons ranging from treason to cowardice. Her norms were being viewed with suspicion. It seemed the official confirmation of her achievement would take some time to come.

MD. YUSUF

Humpy's GM title was ratified by FIDE at its presidential board meeting in Moscow earlier in September.

Excerpts from the long-due interview with an understandably elated, or rather, relieved Humpy:

Question: When did you hear the happy news?

Answer: Last night (September 12). I heard it from some press reporters who called me up to break the news.

You must've been very relieved to hear that your feat has finally been recognised by FIDE after the controversy regarding your eligibility for the GM title.

Yes, I felt very relieved. And of course I felt very happy too. It was undoubtedly one of the greatest moments in my life.

How tough was that period when your reputation was being shredded to pieces in public? Even before the controversy about the GM title, you had to undergo another trial when your very talent was being questioned. How did you cope with those hard times?

I was very upset at first. It was indeed a very trying time for both me and my father. I was feeling very low. But my father asked me to try to forget that and such things do happen in life at times.

But of course some allegations did hurt me a lot. I was especially hurt when they said that I was not willing to play for India at the Olympiad. It was a very strange charge because I wasn't really offered a place in the Indian team.

And people seem to have forgotten that I have brought four World titles to India.

It was also alleged that you had a poor record at home, and that you were shying away from competitions in India.

If that was the case, how come I recorded some of my important victories in India? I became the youngest qualifier for the National women's 'A' from Kozhikode in 1999. Then I won the Asian boys' under-12 title at Ahmedabad also in 1999. I won the National boys' under-14 title in 2000, also at Ahmedabad.

In 2000, I also won the Asian junior girls' championship in Mumbai. And that was a tournament in which all the leading young female players in the country took part, except S. Vijayalakshmi, who had crossed the age-limit. Players like Swati Ghate, S. Meenakshi, Pallavi Shah and Aarthie Ramaswamy had played in it. I definitely wasn't running away from tournaments in India. I think I had performed creditably in the only National women's 'A' I played, in 1999, when I came fifth. If I could do that well when I was three years younger, why should I be fearing the competition now when I am a much stronger player?

And didn't I play at the AICF Golden Jubilee GM tournament at Kozhikode last year though I had come straight from a European tour without taking a break? I also play frequently at the annual Goodricke tournament in Kolkata.

As for my decision to skip the National women's 'A', my father and I had always maintained that my aim was to play in the open tournaments where I could face strong challenge from the men. I did not want to play at the women's 'A' because its average rating was low.

The lowest point in your life must've been that incident at Hyderabad when you wept in public on your arrival from Hungary during the time of the controversy?

Yes, I felt so bad that day. It was unexpected and humiliating. I wasn't prepared for anything like that. And I hardly ever cry. Not even at home.

You responded to your critics in the best possible way when you won the ladies title at the British championship at Torquay in August, besides tying for the ninth place among men. It must've been gratifying to do well in the tournament which featured some players who had reportedly questioned your abilities.

I certainly felt happy to prove a point or two at the British. I admit I was very, very determined and desperate to do well at the tournament. It was not for winning the ladies championship I went there. You may remember that I had won it two years ago, and had become the youngest champion in the tournament's history. I went for the championship this time only because all the strong Indian players were playing.

But were you confident that you could do well? If you hadn't, your critics would've got an excellent opportunity to claim that they were right about you all along?

I was aware of that possibility very much. But I was always confident of my abilities. It seems it's the others who aren't.

How do you look back at your games at the British championship?

I was very happy with the way I played in the tournament. Most of my games were pretty good. I lost only one game there and I thought I did very well to get that draw from Krishnan Sasikiran, who is such a strong player.

You must've been pleased with your show at the Elekes tournament too.

Yes, I played solidly there. I did not lose a single game. Though it was not as strong a tournament as the British, the quality of my games was good. And I was consistent.

You were one of the select Indian players invited for a training session in Chennai by former World champion Viswanathan Anand.

It was an honour to get that invitation. I'd met Anand for the first time in 1999 during the National women's 'B' championship in Chennai. At that time I had set a record as the youngest qualifier for the National women's 'A'. Anand had congratulated me on that. He really was very nice.

How was the camp like?

It was for five days. And needless to say, it was very helpful.

How are you preparing for the World Cup at Hyderabad?

I am working hard for that with my father. I will be trying out some new openings there, hopefully.

Then, after that?

I want to improve my rating and take it to 2600.