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Grandmaster Chess Ep 14: Humpy's Attacking Masterclass

by Satanick Mukhuty - 17/02/2021

Koneru Humpy is a legend in her own right, you would think learning chess from a player of her stature would most definitely be daunting for amateurs, wouldn't you? Well then, prepare yourself for a surprise! The fourteenth episode of Grandmaster Chess features none other than the comeback lady of Indian chess, the fiercely strong and equally poised Koneru Humpy. Three out of the four comedians join in with IM Sagar Shah as the host, and what ensues is a thoroughly uplifting experience. The pupils raise relevant questions as they grapple with the positions, while the master walks them through the nuances patiently and with crystal clarity.

Grandmaster Chess Ep 14: Koneru Humpy's immortal against Shen Yang | ft. Biswa, Vaibhav, Anirban

The game and a bit of backstory...

In this episode, we look into a game played by Humpy early in her career against the strong Chinese International Master Shen Yang. Humpy explains at the start of the stream that Shen Yang is a very tactical player and that she has actually had a good score against her playing positionally. However, this one time things panned out a little differently, in that, Humpy, who is usually known for her poise and solidity, found herself delivering a fiery attack.

Shen Yang is a strong International Master from China | Photo: Chessdailynews.com

The game opens with a Slav defense where Humpy chooses a slightly unusual move order with the white pieces, and the first interesting moment arrives after the fourth move itself! It is time now to get into the positions:

Question 01

at 16:45 in the video

Position after 4...Bg4

There are many options in this position - 1.Nc3, 1.Be2, 1.Nbd2 are some, for instance, to name a few. But Humpy wanted to achieve something specific before Black could actually push e7-e6, keeping that in mind, can you guess what she played? To give another clue, this move also opens up an important file.

 

Anirban - 5.cxd5 (1)

Biswa - 5.cxd5 (1)

Vaibhav - 5.cxd5 (1)

 

With the hint regarding the opening of files, everyone found 5.cxd5 readily. The point is, Humpy wanted to get into the exchange slav right away and not allow her opponent to play e7-e6. Anirban suggested 5.c5 as a move here, but Humpy clarified that this is typically weak in such structures, because Black always refutes this preposterous advance with ...b6 and ...a5.

Question 02

at 26:41 in the video

Position after 9...Bd6

The comedians were eager to break with e3-e4 and in a bid to do that two of them suggested Nb5. But the e3-e4 break isn't the right plan in this position, the reason is it always isolates the queen pawn and in such cases, White usually requires something more concrete.

 

Anirban - 10.a3 (0)

Vaibhav - 10.Nb5 (1/2)

Biswa - 10.Nb5 (1/2)

 

Anirban opted for a3 with the view of controlling the b4 square but this unnecessarily creates a weakness on b3 (Black can potentially exploit this with Na5-Nb3) and therefore isn't very good. Humpy clarified that Nb5 (gaining a tempo on the d6 bishop) is still a playable in the position but 10.a3 is simply damaging to the overall structure - pawns, as they say, once pushed can't be taken back! The correct answer here is the normal 10.Bd2, simply developing. Yes, the bishop does look a bit cramped on d2 at the moment but as we will see this is only temporary, and furthermore, it is important to connect the rooks on the first rank.

Question 03

at 36:38 in the video

Position after 12...g6

Humpy already made her intentions clear with 11.Qh3 - an attack on the black king was coming. Can you guess the move she played in this position? How to reinforce that h3 queen?

 

Anirban - 13.Ne2 (0)

Vaibhav - 13.f4 (1)

Biswa - 13.Rfe1 (1/2)

 

Biswa was the only one to smartly guess the right move here. The point is once Black has played ...g6, f4 make a lot of sense, and also it makes room for the rook to join the queen in the foray.

Question 04

at 45:15 in the video

Position after 13...a6

The important thing to notice here is that White's king is absolutely safe. With that in mind, how would you pile up on the attack on the kingside?

 

Anirban - 14.e4 (0) 

Vaibhav - 14.Rf3 (1)

Biswa - 14.Rf3 (1)

 

14.Rf3 suggested both by Vaibhav and Biswa is definitely playable, but Humpy chose the straightforward 14.g4. This can be afforded only because White's position is extremely secure.

Question 05

at 52:12 in the video

Position after 15...Rg8

Once you start an attack in order to make it successful you must carry it out till the very end. So how do you further continue the attack here? Which piece should be improved?

Anirban - 14.Be1 (1) 

Vaibhav - 14.g5 (1/2)

Biswa - 14.Rf3 (1/2)

 

Anirban started making a comeback here onwards. 14.Be1 is the correct answer, the bishop is the piece to be brought into the attack and it belongs on that e1-h4 diagonal, where it finally breathes some air. 14.g5 is playable but the problem is it fixes the pawn structure prematurely. 14.Rf3 too isn't a mistake but compared to what Humpy chose it is certainly less concrete.

Question 06

at 1:00:38 in the video

Position after 17...h5

With the pressure building up Shen Yang gave in here and lashed out h7-h5. How did Humpy take advantage of this? Now is the time to calculate precise lines!

Anirban - 18.gxh5 (1/2)  

Vaibhav - 18.gxh5 (1/2)

Biswa - 18.Be2 (1/2)

 

All the comedians wanted to take on h5, even Be2 was played with the same idea, but this is too slow unless you see the thematic 18.f5! - which actually was Humpy's choice in the game. 18.Be2 for instance is refuted by Kg7 followed by Rh8. 18.gxh5 Nxh5 19.f5! too works, but neither Vaibhav nor Anirban spotted the critical f5 break and hence weren't awarded the full point.

Question 07

at 1:13:12 in the video

Position after 20...Rg7

Time to find another tactical hit. How do you further strike down Black's defenses? There's no turning back now, White has already given up a pawn and is counting solely on the attack.

 

Anirban - 21.Bxg6 (1)

Vaibhav - 21.Bxg6 (1)

Biswa - 21.Bxg6 (1)

 

Yes, all of them the comedians got this one right. 21.Bxg6 is indeed what needs to be played, now with Qxh5 imminent Black's kingside is absolutely falling apart.

Question 08

at 1:21:27 in the video

Position after 26...Qxh7

This one is probably the trickiest of all. White needs to get the last piece into the play, it's a very concrete calculation-based move. Give yourself some time and try to find it out. The comedians were given a second chance on this one.

 

Anirban - 27.Qg4 or 27.Bd6 (1/2)

Vaibhav - 27.Qg4 (1/2)

Biswa - Suggested 27.Nxd5 but didn't make it work. (1/2)

 

Yes, 27.Nxd5 is the move that Humpy played and the point is this unleashes the rook on the c-file and pins c6. What's the follow-up? That's to be revealed in the next diagram.

Question 09

at 1:30:50 in the video

Position after 28...Kg8

The penultimate question! White is clearly on the hunt, but before going for the kill some caution might be prudent.

 

Anirban - 29.Qg4 (1/2)

Vaibhav - 29.Qg4 (1/2)

Biswa - 29.Qg4 (1/2)

 

Although 1.Qg4 works, the comedians didn't see through the details! Anyway, Humpy played 29.Rg1 here, getting the last piece to join the attack, and this is even more powerful!

Question 10

at 1:37:46 in the video

Position after 30...Ng6

And we reach the final question of this session. Shen Yang after White's next move can you guess what was it? Whatever you do, look out for Rc1+!

 

Anirban - 31.Qxd5 (1)

Vaibhav - 31.Qxd5 (1/2)

Biswa - 31.Qg4 (0)

 

31.Qg4 is a double-attack but is refuted immediately with 31...Rc6 or even 31...Rc1+! The correct move to finish off the game is 31.Qxd5+ which both Anirban and Vaibhav suggested but it was Anirban who saw the critical move Rh5 after Black tucks away the king on h8, and hence only he was given the full point!

Humpy is a brilliant champion and this game is a fine example of her extraordinary talents. Did you know you can actually help Humpy win the prestigious Indian Sportswoman of the Year Award by voting for her? We end this article by sketching her life briefly and giving you the link to BBC's voting portal.

A Brief Portrait of the Chess Champion

On the 31st of March 1987, a little girl was born in a small town of the South India state of Andhra Pradesh. Her parents with great optimism named her Hampi, literally deriving the term from the English word Champion. They wished their daughter to grow into a fighter. The Father in fact was an ardent chess player, to him champion more specifically meant chess champion. He idolized the Russians whose prowess and standards of rigour in the game were legendary, and soon, therefore, the name Hampi was quietly tweaked to the more Russian-sounding Humpy. The dream obviously was to create not just any champion but a chess champion, a chess champion on a par with the best in the world!

Thirty-three years hence, to simply say that that dream has been realized would be a gross understatement. Koneru Humpy is the very spearhead of women's chess in India today. From being the youngest woman ever to achieve the Grandmaster title, besting the legendary Judit Polgar's record, to crossing the 2600 Elo mark, to becoming the women's world rapid champion, she has lived up to every expectation and much more. Chess players of her caliber are often led astray by the exorbitant demands of the game, but the search for excellence in any discipline doesn't have to be a lonely esoteric pursuit, and Humpy with her well-rounded personality proves this better than anyone else. Apart from being a fierce warrior over the chessboard, she is also a wife and a mother, and when it comes to balancing her two lives - professional and personal - she does it with aplomb. 

Humpy with her husband Anvesh and daughter Ahana | Photo: The Deccan Chronicle

Humpy gave birth to her daughter Ahana in 2017, she was away from chess for almost two years after this. In competitive chess a break this long usually means retirement. However, Humpy chose to return from the hiatus—she made her comeback at the Chess Olympiad 2018, in Batumi, Georgia. It was like starting all over again and it was tough, but she persisted, the fighter that she is, and soon the results were there to be seen. She won the prestigious Skolkovo Women's Grand Prix in 2019 ahead of some of the best women players in the world, and in the very same year was crowned the World Women's Rapid Champion in Moscow. Becoming a world chess champion is absolutely phenomenal in itself, but returning to chess after a two-year break and then becoming a world champion is one of those unreal feats that truly beggars description!

Sagar Shah and Amruta Mokal, the cofounders of ChessBase India, were totally ecstatic to cover the World Women's Rapid Championship from the venue in Moscow as they witnessed Humpy find her magic touch back live!

The world at large got to see Humpy's class and ability to handle high-pressure situations at the FIDE Online Olympiad last year which garnered a massive following on the internet. Our protagonist helped team India win a historic gold in that event by winning a nerve-racking Armageddon encounter against Monika Socko of Poland—boy! who wasn't on the edge of their seat watching that epic semi-final game that day? In view of these outstanding achievements, yet another accolade has come Humpy's way this year. She has been shortlisted as one of five nominees from whom the BBC Indian Sportswoman of the Year is to be chosen. In 2020, the badminton player PV Sindhu won the inaugural edition of this award, and this year, along with Humpy, Manu Bhaker, Dutee Chand, Vinesh Phogat, and Rani Rampal are the distinguished athletes in contention for the honour.

Let's make Humpy the Indian Sportswoman of the Year

The ISOTY award is set to be declared in the month of March this year, but meanwhile, you can vote for your favourite athlete on BBC's official site here. The self-effacing Humpy isn't particularly keen to promote herself for the purpose of winning this award, but as her stalwart supporter, we can hardly offer you a neutral recommendation. It goes without saying that if Humpy wins this award it will not only be a great recognition of her own achievements but also of the chess sport in general. Therefore, we can't emphasize this enough, if you are a fellow chess lover vote for Humpy!

 

"This coveted award aims to honour the finest sportswomen who have continued to influence their sport and change the game during these tumultuous times when the world is affected by the pandemic," says Rupa Jha, the head of BBC's Indian language services. The way chess has thrived and flourished online during the last year, when the world at large reeled from a global health crisis, couldn't have gone unnoticed unless one has been living under a rock or doesn't know chess at all. In this sense, Humpy's exploits during this period certainly seem relatively to be of greater significance. Without a doubt, chess has experienced a radical change during this pandemic, and if there's any chess player who has had the greatest impact in this entire revolution it is Koneru Humpy.