An interview with Hou Yifan

by Dagobert Kohlmeyer
7/16/2015 – Hou Yifan is currently the world's best women player and extremely popular with the public. Inviting her to the Sparkassen-Chess Meeting in Dortmund was definitely a good move by the organisers. German chess journalist Dagobert Kohlmeyer used the chance to talk with the Chinese about the World Championship, the young Chinese players, and much more.

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"Chess is only one part of my life"

Interview with three-time Women's World Champion Hou Yifan

I first met her at the Chess Olympiad 2006 in Turin. Back then Hou Yifan was 12 years old but already a veritable "wunderkind" who regularly wiped renowned women grandmasters off the board. Later, at tournaments such as Wijk aan Zee or during Olympiads, I could witness directly how the Chinese made it to the top. Hou Yifan is now 21 years old and three-time Women's World Champion. In Spring 2016 she will again reach for the crown. At the tournament in Dortmund we found time for a short interview.

Which impressions do you take home from the Sparkassen-Chess Meeting in Dortmund?

Of course I was happy about the invitation to this strong tournament. After the Chess Olympiad in Dresden in 2008 it was the second time I played in Germany and I very much liked it in Dortmund. Many nice things happened - on the first rest day Wesley So and I were invited to visit a chess club near Dortmund.

Are you content with your result in Dortmund?

Well, it certainly could have been better. I wanted to play good chess and I partly did. But I often failed to exploit my good positions. Thus I missed a number of good chances

Why did you decide not to play in the Women's Knockout World Championship this spring?

Hou Yifan (left), Ian Nepomniachtchi, and Dagobert Kohlmeyer

Actually, the tournament was supposed to take place at the end of last year. Then it was deferred. But I had promised to play a tournament in Hawaii before the FIDE announced the new date for the World Championship on short notice. And I think contracts are there to be kept.

I also heard that you are not a big fan of the knockout format…

As a chess professional you have to accept all kinds of competions. FIDE organises the event and decides on the format. But for me it would seem to be more fair if the Women's World Champion is established in the same way as the Men's World Champion.

What do you think about the reigning FIDE Women's World Champion Maria Muzychuk? Did her win in the knockout tournament came as a surprise for you?

There are always surprises in such an event. We have only played a couple of games against each other. Up to now I have played more often against her sister Anna. Maria did pretty well in the knockout format and had a good approach to it. But a World Championship match is different.

FIDE-President Ilyumzhinov recently announced that your World Championship match will take place March 2016 in Lviv, Ukraine. Did the FIDE inform you or the Chinese Chess Federation about this beforehand?

No, they did not. Neither was there a bidding process for potential organisers interested to host the match. Initially, we were supposed to play in October 2015. But Maria proposed to FIDE that due to her schedule (as there are some chess tournaments around this time) the match should be postponed to next March. My general idea is that FIDE should fix the dates as soon as possible - then we can arrange our plans for other chess events and our schedule accordingly. Knowing the dates early is also useful for preparation. I would appreciate it if the match could be organized in October.

China is a world power in chess. What is the secret behind the success of your country?

We now have a lot of young and talented chessplayers. The men in particular progess very fast. Our men's team won the Olympiad 2014 and had a shining performance at the World Team Championships. They won a lot of board prizes. A lot depends on hard work, and they really train intensively. Before and during team events they prepared together for their games and have shown great team spirit.

Does chess get strong support from the Chinese government?

Hmm... Well, yes. We have a national team which gets support. We do also have a national coach. Previously, there have always been training camps. Now it varies. As far as my person is concerned, there is less support.

With her coach Yu Shaoteng in Wijk aan Zee

How are your relations to the previous Women World Champions from China: Xie Jun, Zhu Chen, and Xu Yuhua?

I admire the chess success of my predecessors on the throne. When one of them stopped to play, I just had started. They are or were my team mate, I see them as my sisters. We have very good relations. They support me and sometimes help me with advice.

Who is your chess idol?

My idol as a chessplayer is Bobby Fischer.

At the grave of  Bobby Fischer

Can you tell us something about your private life?

My life is rather interesting, colorful, and full of surprises. Of course, chess is part of this but my life is not only chess. There are many other aspects, after all, at the moment I am still studying. I do have a number of hobbies and every day my life has something new to offer.

But currently chess dominates?

Definitely. I would in fact like to play longer but there might be changes. I have no long-term plans for the future. Sometime, maybe in 15 years, I will no longer be a chess professional. But I hope I then will get a task that has to do with chess.

When will you be finished with your studies?

Before the tournament in Dortmund I finished my third year studying International Relations at the University of Beijing. Now I still have to study one more year.

How does your family live in Beijing? In a house of your own or in an appartment?

No, we live in a normal flat for rent.

 How long do you want to continue to play chess?

That's a good question. But I am not a person who plans for ten or more years ahead. But I am ready to focus on chess in the near future. Because I love the beauty of the game, its variety and its unusual ideas. But I don't know what will happen later. The most important for me is to be a happy person.

Thank you very much for the interview. To finish I would like to ask a favor: Could you greet our readers with an autograph?

With pleasure!

Hou Yifan and Dagobert Kohlmeyer

Dagobert Kohlmeyer is one of the best known German chess journalists. For more than 25 years Kohlmeyer, who lives in Berlin, has been travelling all over the world to report about and to capture impressions of Chess Olympiads, World Championships, and top tournaments.


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