Saturday, November 26, 2011

Koneru Humpy Still Has the Yips When It Comes to Hou Yifan

While I've been enjoying this last-minute get-away from the Wisconsin weather during this long Thanksgiving Holiday weekend (yippee!) I've been neglecting the news on the outcome of the Women's World Chess Championship Match - Koneru Humpy lost the Match to reigning champ GM Hou Yifan of China, who is all of 17 years old.  I can only speculate as to what Humpy, who is only 21, is feeling right now. 

I had such high hopes for Koneru Humpy in this Match, but it was not to be.  During the months leading up to the Match, Hou Yifan played in big event after big event, sometimes top women's events, sometimes Chinese Team events, sometimes mixed events.  She got spanked by better players plenty of times during those months, but she also finished first in many of the events she played in.  No matter what her performance was in the prior event she had played in, she just moved on to the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one.  She was in intense training - so much so that during the later part of the Match the unrelenting stress finally manifested itself in physical symptoms that could not be ignored; Hou Yifan was rushed to a local hospital for tests.  It was determined that her stomach problems were stress-related and not due to a "serious" illness.  As if stress isn't serious?  Stress in a teenager bad enough to manifest itself in such a debilitating way?

In any event - and I doubt we will never know the full story unless Hou Yifan decides to talk one day -- the next day she was back at the chessboard and won aganst Humpy.  It was all over then, except for the shouting.  Hou was touted as a heroine, stiff upper lip and all that.  Actually, I think it's all rather disgusting.  Why do we abuse our best and our brightest by subjecting them to that kind of unrelenting psychological pressure?  I guess no one has learned a damn thing from Kim Yu Na...

During the months while I was constantly reading and reporting on Hou Yifan's "preparation" for the Match, Koneru Humpy played in very few events and her training and preparation were shrouded in secrecy.

Whatever it was she was doing, it is obvious now that it did not hold a key to a Humpy victory.   Humpy has not had a good record against Hou Yifan and it seems evident that her preparation was inadequate to allow her to overcome her psychological 'yips' that somehow manifest to prevent Humpy from playing her absolute best chess against Hou Yifan.  And it would take her best chess in order to win, for certainly Hou is a formidible chessplayer.

Usually in other sports (figure-skating and golf come to mind), a disastrous outcome at a major event leads to shake-ups in the coaching/training structure of the athlete.  In the ordinary course of events, Humpy would fire her coach and start over with one or more new people on her training and support team, and perhaps spend some time with a sports psychologist.  Negative-thought loops are notoriously difficult to overcome - but they can be overcome with persistence and a dedicated professional rendering assistance.  Koneru Humpy's coach is her father.  Humpy is an Indian woman.  Indian society is very conservative.  I don't believe that Humpy is going to fire her father.

Too bad Hou Yifan can't or won't fire anyone on her team, either.  They should all be fired as far as I'm concerned. 

Congratulations to GM Hou Yifan on retaining the Women's Champion title. 

The final game scores (10 rounds were scheduled, with time for an additional four games if they had been needed to decide the title; as it was, the title was decided in Game 8):

WCh w Tirana (ALB), 14 - 30 xi 2011
Hou, Yifan g CHN 2578 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ . . 2741
Koneru, Humpy g IND 2600 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ . . 2437

There's no point in my saying anything further.


Anonymous said...

stress is self-imposed
Hunpy is 24(?)

Jan said...

Yes, you are correct, Humpy is now 24. I have been following her career for about 12 years - how time flies! Twenty-four is still a very young age but Koneru definitely has a world of experience over the 17 year old Hou Yifan. As for stress being self-imposed, yes, some of it is, but there are pressures that are imposed upon one from the outside, too. Teenagers don't always appreciate the subtleties and complications of certain life situations, young adults do. I have seen this story unfold over and over again in the world of figure skating, in Michelle Kwan, in Kim Yu Na, those two come to mind immediately. There is a world of difference in how one approaches life as a child and how one approaches life as an adult; it's the difference between being a carefree 13 year old jumping bean who went on to become multiple times women's figure skating world champion and the 26 year old woman who knew she did not have another Olympics in her (Michelle Kwan), and so she retired without winning that Olympic gold medal, which somehow everyone says she is a failure for not having won. One stupid medal - like everything else she won, all the magnificent performances, all the record-breaking performances, were as nothing.

Stress kills people. A 17 year old should not be experiencing stress-induced illness! She should be going to the mall with her friends, giggling over boys, taking the SAT to get into college and figuring out what her classes are going to be. This kind of pressure put on our young stars is wrong wrong wrong.

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