Women’s Candidates Tournament: The Indian Challenge!

Women’s Candidates Tournament: The Indian Challenge!

For the first time in history, the Women’s Candidates tournament is being held alongside the Candidates tournament

Soumya SwaminathanUpdated: Sunday, April 14, 2024, 07:19 PM IST
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R. Vaishali | photo credit : FIDE / Michal Walusza

For the first time in history, the Women’s Candidates tournament is being held alongside the Candidates tournament. The format is the same as the Open: a double round-robin tournament between 8 players, taking place in Toronto, Canada between the 5th to 22nd of April. Let’s have a glance at the playing styles and unique journeys of the 2 Indian stars playing in the tournament: Grandmaster R.Vaishali and Grandmaster Koneru Humpy!

R. Vaishali: Vaishali hit a purple patch last year, winning the Women’s Grand Swiss, receiving the Arjuna Award, and topping it all with the Grandmaster title in December. We covered her journey to Grandmaster in our column from the same month. Vaishali’s natural game tends to veer towards dynamic positions, taking Michal_Waluszarisks often.

She has consciously worked to become a more well-rounded player in recent years by opting for quiet openings, playing long endgames, and trying to outplay opponents from equal positions. Of course, there are ample similarities to be found in her game with her younger brother Pragg; Tactical alertness, calculation skills, and opening preparation are synonymous with the Rameshbabu siblings! While she was always a strong player with huge potential and a systematic work ethic, Vaishali struggled with her confidence and self-belief in the past, leading to diminished returns. Psychology plays a significant role in Sport.

As per studies, top athletes are often known to be slightly overconfident, to the point of being a little naïve about the competition – and this quality helps them achieve their impossible dreams. Vaishali started working with Grandmaster Sandipan Chanda last year, and along with her chess, she has made remarkable progress with her confidence too. Not only her games, but even her interviews and overall body language reflect an assured attitude displaying firmer self-belief. Mental training is an important component of Sport, no matter which level you play in. Anxiety, Self-doubt, or a negative mindset are issues faced not only by amateurs but even by top athletes from time to time. Overcoming these issues takes consistent work, proper guidance, patience, and willingness! Vaishali’s transformation and continued success serve as an inspiring example.

Koneru Humpy

Koneru Humpy | Photo credits : FIDE)

Koneru Humpy: Currently ranked World number 5, Humpy qualified by the path that rewards a player’s consistency: Highest Rated player at the beginning of the year. Humpy’s long list of achievements includes Women’s World Championship Challenger in 2011, Women’s World Rapid Champion 2019, World no. 2 for long periods in her career with a peak rating of 2623, a regular top 5 player in the world for the past 20 years (!!), and at one point, the youngest woman in the world to become a Grandmaster, a title she achieved way back in 2002 at the age of 15!

Nurtured as a chess player from very a young age by a chess-loving father, Shri Koneru Ashok, Humpy’s first big triumph was winning the age category world championship for girls under the age of 10 in 1997. In the coming years, Humpy would often participate, and win, in the open / boy’s section in her age group. An extremely private person, Humpy opened up about her childhood experiences during an interview a few years ago: “I remember all the boys and men would crowd around my board, waiting for me to lose. “Unhindered, Humpy kept making progress, and the detractors turned into admirers.

I once asked Humpy which was her favourite Chess book. Books were the primary source of information pre-internet, and so anyone who started playing Chess pre 2000 depended heavily on chess books and magazines. Her response surprised me. She replied that her training method up to her late teens involved her father teaching her using his own approaches and some learnt through books that he read. “But I never got around to reading them myself, neither back then nor now. “She remarked! Her take reflects the self-assured nature of her approach to chess: clear, without any peer pressure, paving her own path to the top. At 37, Humpy is the oldest participant in the Women’s Candidates tournament this year. Post motherhood, she has prioritised spending more time with her daughter and cut down on tournaments. But Humpy's game quality remains unshaken. It could very well be her tournament if she could channel the inner determination of that 14-year-old whom all the boys were afraid to face! Her strong character is her greatest asset.

Answer to last fortnight’s puzzle: 1…Qe4! Gukesh, playing Black, finished the game with a Queen Sacrifice! White resigned immediately: If White doesn’t capture the Queen back, then Black is left with 3 extra pieces on the board! And if White captures it back with 2. Re4 then the back rank remains unguarded as the White Rook has now moved up the file, and Black can sneak in with 2…Ra1 Check! It leads to a forced checkmate; can you figure it out by yourself?

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