The Top Chess Players in the World

GM Humpy Koneru

Humpy Koneru
Full name
Humpy Koneru
Mar 31, 1987 (age 36)‎
Place of birth
Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India



The name Koneru is a patronymic, and the player should be referred to by her name, Humpy.

GM Humpy Koneru is one of the top female chess players in the world and has been so for most of her career. The former Indian chess prodigy has spent just one month outside of the top five women in the world since 2005. And what she accomplished before then is staggering. By the end of 2004, the 16-year-old had already won three national titles (in Britain and India) and beat GM Judit Polgar’s record as the youngest woman to become a grandmaster.

After a two-year break from chess to give birth to and take care of her daughter, she’s back. In a matter of months, she has already won two Women’s Grand Prix 2019-20 events, the 2020 Women’s World Rapid Chess Championship, and the 2020 Cairns Cup. Don’t be surprised if she again competes for an accomplishment that has eluded her so far—the women’s world championship title.

Playing Style

Humpy is a well-rounded player who is comfortable in positional and tactical positions alike. Perhaps noticeable is her fantastic endgame abilities, which have been on display for quite some time. Look how the 12-year-old handled the following even-looking bishop endgame.

Not much has changed. In the encounter between Humpy and GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in the 2020 Cairns Cup, Humpy masterfully outmaneuvers the former women’s world champion in another drawish-looking minor-piece endgame.

Early Chess Career (1993 To 1999)

At six years old, Humpy learned how to play chess. It happened after she noticed her father—who was once a state champion in Andhra Pradesh, India—reviewed games in the Chess Informant publication. She then became interested in the game and learned from her father; he later quit his job as a professor to train and mentor his daughter.

It didn’t take long for the prodigy to earn that designation. She began by winning a district chess championship soon after, still at the age of six, in 1993. Then Humpy rattled off four Indian national championships: an under-8 title in 1995 followed by under-10, under-12 and under-15 titles in 1996. She also took home two World Youth Chess Championship titles in this period, taking the girls under-10 title in 1997 and the girls under-12 title in 1998.

In 1999 Humpy won two open titles: the under-14 national championship and the under-12 Asian Youth Chess Championship.

Youngest To Win Women's British Title (2000 To 2007)

There’s no question that Humpy established herself as a prodigy by this time. But if there was any question that she wasn’t someone to watch—as she notably kept winning major youth titles, by taking two additional World Youth Chess Championship titles (girls under-14 in 2000 and girls junior in 2001)—her biggest accomplishment to date put the chess world on notice.

In 2000, at only 13 years of age, Humpy became the youngest to win the British Ladies Championship. Her accomplishment broke the 61-year record held by WIM Elaine Pritchard. And then, two years later, Humpy repeated the feat as a 15-year-old to win her second women’s British title.

Her next major accomplishment was to become the youngest woman to achieve the grandmaster title (not to be confused with the woman grandmaster, or WGM, title). Humpy achieved her first GM norm at nearly 14 years and three months old. Four months later, she earned her second GM norm. And then, after winning the VIII Elekes Memorial Grandmaster tournament in May 2002, the Indian prodigy earned her third and final GM norm.

Humpy was 15 years, one month and 27 days old when she became a GM. She beat Judit Polgar’s record by three months. (Later, in 2008, GM Hou Yifan broke the record once more.)

In 2002 Humpy tied for first at the 2002 World Girls Junior Championship with GM Zhao Xue but placed second on tiebreaks. The next year Humpy captured her third national title, this time in another country, at the 2003 Indian Women’s Championship. Later that year she won a national women’s A tournament with a remarkable 16/17 points.

Humpy finished in fifth place at the 2004 World Junior Chess Championship behind GMs Pentala Harikrishna, Zhao Jun, Tigran L. Petrosian and Radoslaw Wojtaszek. The same year, she played in the Women’s World Chess Championship for the first time, making it to the semifinals against IM Ekaterina Kovalevskaya, who beat Humpy and was the runner-up to the world title.

Another highlight during this period was taking the 2005 North Urals cup, which placed 10 of the strongest female chess players in the world against each other. Humpy won the event with 6/9 points, a half point ahead of Kosteniuk and GM Xu Yuhua. Finally, in October 2007, Humpy became the second female player after Polgar to cross 2600.

At The Top Tier Of Women's Chess (2008 To 2016)

By 2008 Humpy had firmly established herself as a force to be reckoned with in women’s chess, although that happened long before 2008, given what the talented young Indian GM accomplished as a junior. Now in her 20s, Humpy added to her accomplishments in this notable period of her chess career.

The first was to compete for the women’s world title. Humpy made it to the semifinals in 2008 before losing to Hou in tiebreaks. Then Humpy repeated as a semifinalist in 2010 before losing again to Hou, who won her first world title that year.

In terms of individual tournaments, in 2008 Humpy had top-four finishes at the 3rd Kolkata Open Grandmaster Chess Tournament and the Ruy Lopez Chess Festival before taking the Mumbai Mayor Cup with 9/11 points. In the same event the following year, she tied for first along with three others. Another impressive major tournament performance came at the 8th Gibraltar Chess Festival in 2011. Humpy finished half a point behind a group of leaders that included several 2700-rated GMs like Michael Adams, Gata Kamsky, Francisco Vallejo Pons and Etienne Bacrot.

Humpy Koneru receiving Padma Shri award in 2007 from President Abdul Kalam
Humpy Koneru receiving the Padma Shri award in 2007 from President Abdul Kalam. Photo: Government of India.

Humpy also gained attention in the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix. For four consecutive series of the event (2009-11, 2011-12, 2013-14 and 2015-16 editions), she finished as the runner-up, the first three to Hou and the last time to GM Ju Wenjun.

Team events were another bright spot for Humpy during this period. In the European Women’s Club Cup, she won five team and five individual gold medals in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 (four times winning both individual and team gold simultaneously). She also won individual bronze and team silver in 2009. For all years except 2012, she played first board—in 2012 she played second.

As the top board for India in the 2011 FIDE Women’s World Team Championship, Humpy won individual gold with 6/8 points. The team finished fourth that year. In 2015 at the same event, she won individual bronze for India, which finished fourth.

In September 2016, Humpy took a break from chess to give birth to her daughter and take care of her.

The Comeback (2018 To 2020)

After two years away from chess, Humpy made her way back to the game. She started at the 43rd Chess Olympiad in September 2018, playing on board one for India. She scored 5.5 points and helped her team finish in eighth place out of 151 teams.

A year later Humpy unleashed a series of major wins beginning with the Skolkovo FIDE Grand Prix in September 2019. Undefeated with 8/11 points, she placed half a point ahead of GMs Aleksandra Goryachkina and Ju (the current women’s world champion). Humpy tied for first in the next Grand Prix event in Monaco (December 2019), but Koestniuk had the better tiebreakers.

In late December 2019 Humpy took her second major victory in four months. She finished in a three-way tie for first and then beat GM Lei Tingjie on tiebreaks (in armageddon) to win the 2019 World Rapid Championship, her first world title. 

Humpy Koneru winning 2019 Women's World Rapid Championship vs Lei Tingjie
Humpy Koneru winning 2019 Women's World Rapid Championship vs. Lei Tingjie. Photo: Maria Emelianova/

Finally, she took another win in February 2020, this time at the strongest tournament ever held in women’s chess. All of the top players were at the Cairns Cup 2020 where Humpy edged World Champion Ju by half a point for the top prize of $45,000. She then overtook Ju for second place in the women’s rankings behind Hou.

Her Cairns Cup victory made it three major wins in just six months. It’s quite an achievement for someone who took two years off for her family. According to Humpy in an interview with ESPN India, that’s exactly what has helped her perform so well.

“It's changed my outlook toward what I want out of tournaments,” she said. “Earlier I'd be all worked up from day one, obsessing about winning any event I went to. Now I don't even check the standings until perhaps the penultimate round. I don't stress myself out and can enjoy my game a lot more.”

Present And Future

Humpy is back. And she may be as strong as she ever has been—possibly better.

As the number-two ranked woman in the world behind Hou at the time of publication, Humpy seems to be a lock to play in the next Candidates tournament. After the Grand Prix event in Monaco, she led the standings and is second after missing the third event at Lausanne. The top three players in the Grand Prix qualify for the tournament and the prospect of challenging Ju for the world title.

Humpy has shown her ability to overtake Ju in tournaments. Perhaps it won’t be long before Humpy makes a strong play at the most prestigious achievement in chess.  

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