Humpy’s Gambit: How Koneru disturbed the male-dominated status quo in chess

Written by Shashank Nair
| New Delhi |

November 22, 2020 1:01:07 am

Koneru Humpy began her chess journey at the age of six. (File)

Koneru Humpy has but to look at The Queen’s Gambit. She has been receiving quite a few telephone calls about the Netflix mini-series however has not acquired round to taking a look at the present that has put forth questions on girls’s chess and the remedy meted out to it over the years. But regardless of not having watched the collection, Humpy is all too accustomed to its premise – a younger lady collaborating in a male-dominated enviornment, beginning to change the energy dynamics by successful, and the change in equations not taken too kindly.

The woman from Andhra Pradesh began her chess journey at the age of six and when she turned the youngest lady Grandmaster in the world (at the moment) at the age of 15, she was marked for greatness. But by successful open tournaments and changing into a drive in chess, Humpy additionally disturbed the status quo which resulted in a number of insinuations on her credentials.

“At 15, I became a GM but until then, the concept of gender barriers didn’t really occur to me. I became a GM on the European circuit. In those days, we had very few international tournaments in India. To get exposure, my father took me on a trip to Europe for a few months and I would be playing continuously over there. I won a title and came back to India,” Humpy instructed The Indian Express as she recounted the starting of a turbulent part in her profession.

It was solely when she began successful that the critics got here out of the woodwork, and what they needed to say was not very charitable. “At that time, even though I was a GM, I wasn’t performing in a stable manner. It’s quite normal at that age to have highs and lows. Some of my peers started criticising me by saying that I didn’t have the standard of a GM because I hadn’t proven myself in India and that I had played in weaker tournaments in Europe to become a GM,” mentioned Humpy.

Koneru Humpy’s chess journey is replete with tales of males deliberately, or unintentionally, offering a platform for disrespect. (Express Illustration by Suvajit Dey)

Comparisons with Judit Polgar appeared to all the time discover their manner into conversations and the girls’s chess circuit, which has traditionally been seen as inferior to the males’s recreation, hoped that Humpy would bridge the hole between the two worlds. She might deal with the strain of these expectations. But she wasn’t ready for the assault on her credentials.

“This was a period when I was really mentally disturbed. Being a sportsperson, handling a win or a loss at a tournament was quite normal from childhood. But this kind of criticism was very new to me. It was a tough phase. I was down in many tournaments and suffered for six months to a year. It was then that my father and I came to the conclusion that I needed to play in Indian circuit tournaments,” Humpy mentioned, explaining her resolution to participate in the National ‘B’ in 2013 although she could possibly be part of the National ‘A’ in an try to quell any doubts about her deserving the GM status.

This then led to additional grumbling. If she participated in the ‘A’ class, she was deemed to be not adequate and her GM ranking was mentioned to have been awarded by way of some sleight of hand. If she participated in the National ‘B’ set-up, it was decried as her taking a simple manner out. There was no successful this battle of notion, however when Humpy completed second in the National ‘B’ set-up, by her personal admission, she felt like that quashed any doubts over her {qualifications}.

Humpy’s chess journey is replete with tales of males deliberately, or unintentionally, offering a platform for disrespect. Some of the tales vary from outrightly desirous to defeat her (“Even though there were some weaker players than me comparatively, being a woman, they tried harder to beat me”) to unintentionally disrespecting her (“Once I performed a global event and had a disastrous efficiency in the occasion. Afterwards, I acquired a ‘best women’s prize’). But regardless of the lack of respect, if there may be one opinion of hers that has shock worth, it’s her perception that males merely are higher than girls at chess.

ELO rankings appear to counsel the similar – particularly when evaluating the prime male participant in the world (Magnus Carlsen: 2862) and the prime feminine participant (Hou Yifan: 2658). Psychological journals and ex-players have attributed it to many components, chief amongst them being the distinction in mindset between women and men.


Numbers recreation

— According to FIDE, there’s an 84-16 ratio of male to feminine registered chess gamers. In whole, there are 1,683 GMs who’re males and 37 who’re girls.

— The highest ELO ranking ever achieved by a lady is 2735 by Polgar herself. She was, at one level, the eighth-best chess participant in the world.

— In 2002, Koneru Humpy turned the youngest lady GM at the age of 15 years, one month and 27 days. Current girls’s world No. 1 Hou Yifan broke that document in 2008.


When requested what she felt was the distinction between how the two genders play the sport, the reigning girls’s world speedy champion provided an fascinating take. “I have seen male players display a wider repertoire of moves. They shift between openings quite often and are quite aggressive in their style of play. When it comes to women, there are many top players who have limited opening moves, but the preparation behind those moves is deeper. A game between a woman and a woman is very different to a game between a man and a woman because psychologically men intend to try to make a point in that match. So, the game tends to become wilder.”

For an across-the-board elevate in ELO rankings for ladies, the 33-year-old believes that chess tournaments solely for ladies should stop to be an everyday fixture as a result of separate tournaments for each genders make it tough for ladies to deal with the males’s circuit. “There should only be open tournaments so that women have to play with men and improve their game.”

But Humpy acknowledges the downside such a system will carry, as an already skewered financial hole would possibly develop into even wider. “The prize money for men is quite higher. It’s tournaments like the World Championship and Candidates that help women professionals survive financially. Once they take off these tournaments, professionally it’ll be very difficult to survive with the men’s circuit only. I think it makes sense for them to keep a special financial prize for women even in open tournaments.”

Judit Polgar on chess and girls

Judit Polgar is taken into account the strongest feminine chess participant ever. (Facebook/ChessBase)

Even earlier than the Queen’s Gambit was made, loads of pioneers in the world of chess have spoken out about why girls aren’t at the prime of the recreation, none extra so than Judit Polgar, thought-about the biggest lady participant of all time. In an interview with The Guardian final yr, the Hungarian spoke on all kinds of points associated to chess and girls.

— Polgar on needing to compete in opposition to males: Playing solely amongst girls wouldn’t have helped my improvement, as since I used to be 13, I used to be the clear primary amongst them. I wanted to compete with the different main (male) Grandmasters of my time.

— Polgar on why teaching girls wants a recent perspective: Girls in chess aren’t handled the similar manner as boys. Coaches and officers are guided by potential successes in women’ competitions, that are comparatively simpler to attain. Parents are inclined to comply with what the specialists advise.

— Polgar on Nigel Short’s feedback on girls’s chess’ inferiority: Short’s conclusion doesn’t stand as much as scrutiny, and the burden of proof is with him. Even if girls do suppose and compete in a different way, we will attain the similar achievements as males: be it in science, artwork or chess.

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