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

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Written by Shashank Nair
| New Delhi |

Nov. 22, 2020, 1:01:07 a.m.


Koneru Humpy began his chess adventure at the age of six. (File)

Koneru Humpy hasn’t watched The Queen’s Gambit yet. She received many phone calls about the Netflix miniseries but didn’t have time to check out the show which asked about female chess and the treatment it received. inflicted over the years. But while he hasn’t watched the series, Humpy knows his premise all too well – a young woman competing in a male-dominated arena, starting to change the dynamics of power by winning, and the changing of equations. not taken too kindly.

The girl from Andhra Pradesh started her chess journey at the age of six and when she became the world’s youngest female grandmaster (at that time) at the age of 15, she was marked for greatness. But by winning open tournaments and becoming a force in chess, Humpy also disrupted the status quo which resulted in several innuendos about his credentials.

“When I was 15, I became CEO, but until then the concept of gender barriers hadn’t really occurred to me. I became general manager on the European circuit. At that time, we had very few international tournaments in India. To make myself known, my dad took me on a trip to Europe for a few months and I would play there continuously. I won a title and came back to India, ”said Humpy The Indian Express by recounting the beginning of an eventful phase of his career.

It wasn’t until when she started winning that the critics came out of the woodwork, and what they had to say wasn’t very charitable. “At that time, even though I was GM, I wasn’t playing steadily. It is quite normal at this age to have ups and downs. Some of my peers started to criticize me saying that I did not have the standard of a GM because I had not proven myself in India and had played in weaker tournaments in Europe for become managing director, ”said Humpy.

Koneru Humpy’s Chess Journey is filled with stories of men intentionally or not, providing a platform for disrespect. (Express illustration by Suvajit Dey)

Comparisons to Judit Polgar always seemed to find their way into conversations, and the women’s chess circuit, which has historically been viewed as inferior to the men’s game, hoped Humpy would bridge the gap between the two worlds. She could cope with the pressure of those expectations. But she was not prepared for the attack on her credentials.

“It was a time when I was really mentally disturbed. Being a sportsman, managing a victory or a loss in a tournament was quite normal since childhood. But this kind of criticism was very new to me. It was a difficult phase. I participated in many tournaments and suffered for six months to a year. It was then that my dad and I came to the conclusion that I should play in tournaments on the Indian circuit, ”said Humpy, explaining her decision to compete in the National ‘B’ in 2013 even though she could be in the National. . “A” in an attempt to dispel any doubts that it deserves GM status.

This then led to further grunts. If she participated in the “A” category, she was considered insufficient and her rating of General Manager would have been awarded by sleight of hand. If she participated in the national “B” establishment, she was criticized because she takes an easy exit. There was no victory in this battle of perception, but when Humpy finished second in the National “B” set-up, by her own admission, she felt like it had allayed any doubts about her. qualifications.

Humpy’s Chess Journey is filled with stories of men intentionally and unintentionally, providing a platform for disrespect. Some stories range from the categorical will to defeat her (“Even though there were players who were comparatively weaker than me, being a woman, they tried harder to beat me”) to her unintentional disrespect (“Once , I played an international tournament and had a disastrous performance in the event. Then I got a “best woman award”). But despite the disrespect, if there is one opinion that has shock value, it’s his belief that men are simply better than women at chess.

The ELO ratings seem to suggest the same – especially when comparing the world’s best male player (Magnus Carlsen: 2862) and best female player (Hou Yifan: 2658). Psychology reviews and former gamers attributed it to many factors, the main one being the difference in mentality between men and women.

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Numbers game

– According to FIDE, there is a ratio of 84-16 registered male / female chess players. In total, there are 1,683 GMs who are men and 37 who are women.

– The highest ELO rating ever achieved by a woman is 2735 by Polgar herself. She was, at one point, the eighth best chess player in the world.

– In 2002, Koneru Humpy became the youngest female GM at the age of 15, one month and 27 days. Current world No. 1 for women, Hou Yifan, broke this record in 2008.

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When asked what she thought was the difference between the way the two sexes play the sport, the reigning women’s fast sprint world champion offered an interesting interpretation. “I’ve seen male players display a larger repertoire of moves. They switch from one opening to the next quite often and are quite aggressive in their style of play. When it comes to women, many top players have limited opening moves, but the preparation behind those moves is. deeper. A game between a woman and a woman is very different from a game between a man and a woman because psychologically the men intend to try to score a point in this game. So the game tends to get wilder. “

For a general increase in ELO ratings for women, the 33-year-old believes that chess tournaments exclusively for women should stop being a regular fixture because separate tournaments for both sexes make it difficult for women. to face men. circuit. “There should only be open tournaments for women to play with men and improve their game.”

But Humpy recognizes the problem such a system will pose, as an already skewed currency gap could become even larger. “The money price for men is much higher. It’s tournaments like the World Championship and the Candidates that help professional women survive financially. Once they have landed these tournaments professionally it will be very difficult to survive on 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 women

Judit Polgar is considered the strongest chess player of all time. (Facebook/ ChessBase)

Even before the creation of Queen’s Gambit, many pioneers in the chess world spoke out about why women aren’t at the top of the game, and neither has Judit Polgar, considered the greatest player of all time. In an interview with The Guardian last year, the Hungarian spoke on a wide variety of issues related to chess and women.

– Polgar on the need to compete against men: playing only between women would not have helped my development, because since I was 13, I was clearly number one among them. I needed to compete with the other (male) great masters of my time.

– Polgar explains why women’s training needs a new perspective: girls in chess are not treated the same as boys. Coaches and officials are guided by the potential successes in women’s competitions, which are comparatively easier to achieve. Parents tend to follow what experts advise.

– Polgar on Nigel Short’s comments on the inferiority of women’s failures: Short’s conclusion does not stand up to scrutiny, and the burden of proof lies with him. Even though women think and compete differently, we can achieve the same achievements as men: whether in science, art or chess.

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