After starting the Doha Grand Prix with a first round loss against Nana Dzagnidze, Koneru Humpy seemed to have only a mathematical chance to win the challenger’s slot in the next title match against Hou Yifan. Humpy had to win Doha, while Dzagnidze had to land lower than second, given their respective GP standings. Elina Danielan set a scorching pace, scoring 6.5 from the first 7 games to make this look impossible.
In round 8 of the 11-rounder (12 players, rating average 2489), Humpy beat Danielan in a tense game marred by mutual nerves. She concluded with a 3/3 finish aided by luck when she took (entirely justified) risks. Overall, it was a “fifth-gear” display of nerves and determination as she scored 5.5 from her last six games.
Meanwhile, Danielan took draws and Dzagnidze lost a couple of key games and moved out of contention. Eventually Humpy and Danielan tied for first with 8 points each and approx-2650 performances. Humpy had the better tie-break. This was crucial — it let her claim the GP points she needed.
In the title match, the Chinese GM will be a slight favourite on head-to-head record. Though Humpy (2607) has a tiny rating advantage over Hou (2602), the 16-year-old world champion has beaten her twice in KO matches.
In a recent interview, Anand said, “Hou is ridiculously talented.” Indeed, her track record so far put her in the Carlsen league as a prodigy. Anand also said Humpy would need to be more tactically alert and improve her technique.
The 24-year-old Humpy has to solve issues with the AICF before she can access the training she needs to improve. The root of contention is her insistence that her father, Koneru Ashok, a strong amateur, should be her designated coach-second. The AICF is reluctant to foot Ashok’s bill and even more reluctant to release more funding for an additional, high-level coach and for the intensive training sessions Humpy now needs.
The Diagram, WHITE TO PLAY, (Zhu Chen Vs Koneru Humpy, Doha GP 2011) is from the last round. Black has overstepped, trying to complicate. Now 24. Ne4 Qxb2 25. Nxd6 Nf4 26. Nxe8 looks great for white and g4 is also in the air.
But Zhu played 24. Ra3?! Qb4 25. Rb3 Qd4 26. Rb6 Nc4 27. Rxb7 Bc8 28. Re7 Rxe7 29. Bxe7 Ng3 30. Qxd4 cxd4 31. Rf3 Bxf5 32. Bxf5 Nxf5 33. Rxf5 dxc3 34. bxc3 f6! The pendulum has now swung in black’s favour and Humpy didn’t let go, finishing with 35. Rf4 Rc8 36. Re4 Rc5 37. Kf2 Kf7 38. Bd8 Ne5 39. Ke2 Ke8 40. Bb6 Rxc3 41. Rb4 Rc2+ 42. Kf1 Nc4 43.Kg1 Kf7 44.Bf2 Kg6 45.g4 a5 46.Rb7 Ra2 47.h4 Rxa4 48.h5+ Kh6 49.Rc7 Ne5 (0-1).