Steely resolve

PTI

Despite losing in the sixth-round, Koneru Humpy's victory was never in doubt. She recovered quickly from that reverse to give India its first medal in Doha. An appreciation by P.K. Ajith Kumar.

It wasn't surprising that Koneru Humpy won the women's rapid chess gold medal at the Asian Games in Doha. She was the top seed, and the World No. 2 to boot. And she knows how to win in important events.

As a player who had won the World junior (under-20) title at the age of 14, one who became the world's youngest woman player to earn the Grandmaster title, and who was the first girl to win an Asian title competing with the boys, Humpy, 19, saw the Asian Games as another opportunity to create history, especially since chess was making its debut in the huge continental sporting event. Talking to Sportstar before leaving for Doha, Humpy sounded very excited at the thought of her sport entering the mainstream. "More people than ever before will follow chess now," she said. Her father and coach, Koneru Ashok, would vouch for that.

The telephone at their home in Vijayawada didn't stop ringing for two days since the morning of December 4 after Humpy won the gold medal in Doha. "There wasn't this kind of reaction even when she won the World Junior Championship in 2001," said Ashok.

He was very confident that his daughter would win a medal. "I knew that she could very well win the gold. My only anxious moment was when she lost to China's Zhao Xue in the sixth round," he said.

In fact, Humpy had singled out the Chinese girl as her main threat while analysing her chances before the Games began. She began her campaign on the right note, winning the first five of her games. She then recovered quickly from the sixth-round defeat to Zhao Xue to give India its first ever medal at the Doha Asian Games.

It was difficult to imagine anyone stopping Humpy at the Asian Games. And she is also certain to win the World Championship one day, as the world's best woman player, Judit Polgar of Hungary, now competes only in the men's section. "She is definitely going to win the World Championship," said former World No. 3 Nigel Short. "She has been playing for so long that I almost forget that she is only a kid even now."

Humpy made her opening move on the chessboard as a child. At the age of nine, she won her first ever World title (Under-10).

She then went on to win bigger and stronger tournaments. She has already triumphed in about 20 international tournaments though her 20th birthday is still three months away.

Humpy's most impeccable performance was at the National Women's `A' Championship at Kozhikode, Kerala, in 2003. In what was the strongest domestic women's event in India ever, she won 15 of her first 16 games; 11 of those victories came on the trot before she was held to a draw in the 12th round.

She broke into the world's top 10 in January 2002 and has never looked back since. Last January, Humpy became the World No. 2. She also holds the record for being the World No. 1 among junior girls for the highest number of weeks — 18.

Following her success in Doha, Humpy made it to the front pages of the newspapers. For once, the girl with one of the most determined minds in Indian sport is getting her due.