Grandmaster Koneru Humpy had taken a break from chess during which she became a mother.
The World Women’s Rapid Chess Championship title triumph has eased a burden off the shoulders of Grandmaster Koneru Humpy — the load of expectations she was carrying for close to two decades after bursting into the international scene in 2002, and being touted as the next big player coming out of India after Viswanathan Anand from then on. Humpy claimed the Rapid Chess title, her first world crown after drawing the Armageddon game against China’s Lei Tingjie in Moscow on December 28.
Humpy, a master of classical chess, said she surprised herself with the performance in the rapid format — the world title capping off what was a remarkable 2019. It was a comeback year for the 32-year-old, who had taken a break from the game during which she became a mother.
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The world crown, which Humpy was expected to win much earlier in her career, in the classical version that too, has given her the motivation to settle unfinished business in her favoured format.
"This is my first world title. People were expecting me to become a world champion for a long and it really came unexpected. I was not one of the favourites in the rapid tournament. I finished well in the final standings and it went into tie-break," Humpy said.
"I was always the contender but I did not become the champion," she added Humpy, who lost the world championship final in classical format to Chinese Grandmaster Hou Yifan in 2011. "I came close to it. I will continue playing and fighting for that. It will come, when it has to. It is a totally different challenge for the classical world title. You need different types of skills for different formats. I will continue to give my best to realise that one big goal."
Making a comeback, that too at the elite level, is hard. And, managing it with a two-year-old daughter added more variables for Humpy to contend with. She, however, said the comeback was always on her mind as quitting chess was never an option. "My parents and in-laws stay in the same place. It is a 10-minute drive away, so it is easy for me to send the baby to them while I am working. It is manageable," said Humpy.
"I always wanted to comeback and it was planned. Once she [my daughter] was one, I decided to start playing tournaments. But, of course, the first few tournaments were bad performance for me. Obviously with a break, playing at a higher professional level, it is expected that it is not easy to succeed. From January  onwards, I started doing well. I started off with Gibraltar and did pretty well there," she added.
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Humpy had two other major victories in 2019 — in the women's Grand Prix in Russia (September) and joint first finish at the Monaco Grand Prix. She was also adjudged the best foreign player in the Chinese League, where she remained unbeaten.
"Overall, I had a good performance in the year (2019) with a gain of 30 rating points in classical and around 45 points in rapid." Humpy, who has won multiple world titles in the age-group events, said she would be playing the Grand Prix finals in May in Italy apart from various other tournaments.
With inputs from PTI
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