Yifan in the New York Times

1/10/2011 – "China Rises, and Checkmates" – that the title of a report by Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof, who met with the new women's world champion, 16-year-old Chinese GM Hou Yifan immediately after her title win in Antakya – and even played a friendly game against her. Yifan is also the subject of an article by Dylan Loeb McClain, who wrote about her immediately after her victory. Excerpts.

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China Rises, and Checkmates

By Nicholas D. Kristof

Napoleon is famously said to have declared, “When China wakes, it will shake the world.” That is becoming true even in spheres that China historically has had little connection with, like chess, basketball, rare earth minerals, cyber warfare, space exploration and nuclear research.

This is a process that Miss Hou exemplifies. Only about 1 percent of Chinese play chess, and China has never been a chess power. But since 1991, China has produced four women’s world chess champions, and Ms. Hou is the one with by far the most promise.

Women in general haven’t been nearly as good at chess as men, and the world’s top women are mostly ranked well below the top men — but Ms. Hou could be an exception. She is the only female chess player today considered to have a shot at becoming one of the top few players in the world, male or female.

China used to be one of the most sexist societies in the world — with female infanticide, foot binding, and concubinage — but it turned a corner and now is remarkably good at giving opportunities to girls as well as boys. When Ms. Hou’s parents noticed her interest in a chess board at a store, they promptly bought her a chess set — and then hired a chess tutor for her.

It will be many, many decades before China can challenge the United States as the overall “No. 1” in the world, for we have a huge lead and China still must show that it can transition to a more open and democratic society. But already in discrete areas — its automobile market, carbon emissions and now women’s chess — China is emerging as No. 1 here and there, and that process will continue.


Record Set for World’s Youngest Chess Champion

By Dylan Loeb McClain

Maia Chiburdanidze of the Republic of Georgia had previously held the record for youngest champion. She won the title in 1978, when she was 17. Ms. Hou had an earlier shot at the women’s world title in 2008, when she was 14, but lost in the championship match to Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia. She said that Ms. Kosteniuk had simply been too good at the time.

Ms. Hou is a solid player who takes few risks in her games, but also rarely makes critical mistakes. She has been among the best female players since 2006, when she suddenly rose to No. 8 in the world. She is now No. 3. Currently, the top-ranked woman is Judit Polgar of Hungary, who is thought to be the best female player in history. Ms. Polgar does not compete in women’s tournaments and did not play in the championship in Turkey. She once was ranked No. 8 in the world among all players, men and women combined.

No one really knows why the best female players are typically not as good at chess as the best men. One theory, common among some top male players, is that men are usually more aggressive by nature than women, and are therefore better suited to a game that simulates warfare. Another, cited in at least one university study, is that the talent pool among women has not been big enough to produce many great players.

Ms. Hou said she had no idea why the gender disparity existed in chess, but whatever the reason, she said she found men more difficult to play against. She is looking forward to competing against men again, she said, most immediately at a tournament in January in Gibraltar.

Ms. Hou is the fourth women’s world champion from China, following Ms. Xie, who was champion from 1991 to 1996 and again from 1999 to 2001; Zhu Chen, 2001 to 2004; and Xu Yuhua, 2006 to 2008.

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