Hou Yifan: 'A Humble World Champion'

9/14/2012 – At 14 she became the youngest female (full) grandmaster in history, at sixteen the youngest Women's World Chess Champion, and remains today, behind the perennial Judit Polgar, the second highest ranked female player in the world (and chess history). At the Istanbul Olympiad her performance on board one was 2645, her highest rating ever was 2635. WhyChess interview with lovely pictures.

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Hou Yifan: A Humble World Champion

Not long ago, in Jermuk, Hou Yifan won the Women's Grand Prix for the third time this season. Because of the excellent result she's also won the overall Grand Prix series in advance. This young Chess Queen is on her way to the peak of her career. The following questions on WhyChess.com were gathered from editors and chess fans:

Is it possible to compare your domination over female chess with Carlsen's hegemony over the men's competition?

It's hard to say. Carlsen ranks number one in the men's field and I don't, so there shouldn't be a comparision. He's had great achievements which I also think are better than mine. He's a genius and a model for me to learn from.


Rating progress chart of GM Hou Yifan: in March 2012 she achieved the second-highest rating, 2639, of any female in chess history (the highest, 2735, was by Judit Polgar in 2005). Currently on the Women's Live Chess Ratings she is at 2605, exactly 100 points behind the truly excpetional Judit.

Who do you consider your biggest rival in female chess?

Actually according to the current ratings many players are highly rated. Basically I think the young players at the top of the list are all competitive. There's no best.

Intuition is often considered a female skill. How big a role does it play in your games?

I've never thought about it seriously. I think intuition is important for all players, and not just female players. I don't feel anything special when playing. I just play reasonably and take everything as it comes.

Who are your seconds?

I don't have seconds, just two coaches: GM Ye Jiangchuan and GM Yu Shaoteng.

If we forget about the usual "chess is a mixture of art, science and sport", what is chess for you?

Chess is a part of my life. Not everything, but it's very important.

What's the main characteristic of women's chess?

I'm not yet an experienced player. From my point of view it's very hard to say, maybe being a little one-sided. I think female players are more sensitive, and reflected in chess that would make for a very special style.

What's your main strength/weakness in chess?

I have many weaknesses which still have to be identified. I'm not sure about my strengths either, because you can't see yourself clearly.

If not chess, what would be your main passion in life?

I'm not sure. I started to play when I was very young and there hasn't been an opportunity for me to make other choices, but I never regretted it. Besides chess, I love to read books and go swimming, etc.

Are you strong in the traditional Chinese games of Go and Xiangqi?

I don't play Go at all. I maybe know Chinese Xiangqi a little. I played Chinese draughts (with round glass pieces) and gobang, though when I was a child. I loved playing Chinese draughts and I'm really good at it. (smiles)

Who is your favourite female chess player of all time?

Judit Polgar and Xie Jun are both representative. They're my study examples.

Till what age are you planning to play?

I think the future is uncertain. Hopefully I'll go on for as long as possible.

WGM Zhang Jilin [club mate of Yifan]: What have you done for entertaiment lately? Some movies or music?

Of course recently it's been the Olympics. I support Liu Xiang very much. I also like watching gymnastics, swimming, diving and the 110 metres hurdles. If there's time I'd like to watch some ball games as well. It was a pity for me that I couldn't go to support Liu Xiang at the 2008 Olympics.

Jilin:If you have time to travel, what places do you want to go to the most?

There are so many places I want to visit. I used to like France and Switzerland the most. Now I can think of: Austria, Hong Kong, Taiwan, some Islands like the Maldives and some Northern European countries like Denmark and Norway are also my favourites.

What do you do when you're travelling?

I like natural scenery and historic spots. Northern European countries have the best scenery in the world and are very comfortable to live in. I want to go to islands because I like the sea very much. Somehow I've felt a connection to water ever since I was very young.

Do you want to go to Hong Kong and Taiwan because of shopping?

I'm not interested in shopping, actually. If I must buy something I choose some traditional and meaningful stuff. Or something that attracted me at first sight.


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