Monday, September 15, 2008

Koneru Out of 2008 Women's World Chess Championship: The Aftermath

From Humpy Dumpty had a big fall… Rajesh Pansare Monday, September 15, 2008 04:16 IST MUMBAI: During an interview last year, Grand Master Koneru Humpy tipped Chinese sensation Yifan Hou to match the heights reached by Judith Polgar, the first women’s Grand Master and the highest-rated women’s player. At the Women’s World Championship in Nalchik, Russia, we came to know why Humpy spoke so highly of the 14-year-old Hou. The Chinese denied the top-rated Indian player a place in the final. Humpy has never won the World championship and this time it was Hou who came in the way. Humpy is the best thing going around in women’s chess. She has an ELO rating of 2,622 but Hou is not a walkover. Hou has the fourth-best rating among women (2,557). But what titled the game in favour of the Chinese? Experts believe Humpy has the tendency to choke under pressure, especially when she is a favourite at a tournament. Grand Master Abhijit Kunte said, “Humpy puts a lot of pressure on herself to win the World championship and though she won the early rounds with ease, she buckled under pressure against her Chinese opponent in the first game. Though she won the second game, she never played her normal game from there on.” After being knocked out in 2004 in the semis and 2006 in the second round, Humpy had trained all her energies towards clinching the World title, the only trophy missing from her cabinet. But like in the previous editions, she failed to deliver. She even withdrew her name from the Indian squad to take part in the Olympiad, to can concentrate on this event. And though, she had achieved her peak rating in July this year, she was not in the best of form going in this tournament. Dronacharya awardee and chess coach Raghunandan Gokhale has an interesting take. “Humpy likes to take part in the men’s tournament because she is an underdog with no pressure on herself. But that’s not the case in the women’s tournament, where everyone expects her to win. Being the highest rated women’s player automatically puts a lot of pressure on her. As a result she doesn’t perform to the best of her ability.” Humpy’s loss means India were denied the distinction of having reigning champions in all the major categories. She could have joined the list of other champions like men’s world champion in Viswanathan Anand, men’s world junior champion in Abhijeet Gupta and the women’s U-20 champion in Dronavalli Harika. So how can Humpy crack the code? “Maybe change her coach,” Gokhale felt. “She has been coached by her father (Koneru Ashok) for a long time, who is a good coach, but if she has to improve her game further, she has to train with a foreign coach, maybe a Russian. She has to change her outlook towards the game.” But Abhijit Kunte has a complete different take on Humpy’s game. “She is a pretty strong player and will bounce back from this loss. It’s just a one-off game. She doesn’t have to make any drastic change. She just has to be mentally more strong,” Kunte said.

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