Grandmaster Chef: Hou Yifan

by Alexey Root
9/5/2020 – Hou Yifan became a grandmaster at 14.5 years old. She is a four-time Women’s World Chess Champion. She earned a Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford. National Master Mike Walder cooks a recipe that she might like and annotates one of her wins. WIM Alexey Root tells why Hou Yifan is a Grandmaster Chef honoree. | Photo: Pascal Simon

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Chess prodigy

When Hou Yifan became a grandmaster in 2008, she was the youngest female, and one of the youngest people ever, to earn that title. Becoming a grandmaster at 14.5 years old culminated an impressive run as a chess prodigy, for example tying for first in the “boys” under-10 World Youth Chess Championship in 2004 and winning her first Chinese Women’s Chess Championship in 2007. She won the Women’s World Chess Championship four times: 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2016.

Academic star

After earning an undergraduate degree from Peking University, in 2017 she earned the “prestigious Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford. Aiming to educate promising students from around the world, Rhodes Scholarships cover their total expenses at Oxford, equal to 30,000 pounds ($50,000) in every school year. Over 12,000 students worldwide applied to be 2017 Rhodes Scholars.” In July 2020, she became the youngest-ever full professor at Shenzhen University.

Choosing academics over chess?

According to an ESPN article from 2017, “Over dishes of tofu, vegetables and chicken, Hou admitted that she remains undertrained — eager to compete with the very best yet reluctant to devote herself to the singular pursuit of greatness and thus sacrifice other areas of her life.” During the second half of 2020 and beyond, her professorship at Shenzhen University may become a bigger part of her life than competing at chess. 

Yet, earlier in the pandemic, Hou Yifan represented China in the Nations Cup. And she recently played for China in the 2020 FIDE Online Olympiad. Next up, on Monday and Tuesday, a match with Grandmaster Alexander Morozevich.

The recipe

Since the ESPN article mentioned Hou Yifan ordering tofu, chicken and vegetables at a Chinese restaurant, Mike Walder wrote a recipe for Tofu Veggie Stir Fry in Bean Sauce in her honor. Walder recommends making your own sugar-free stir-fry sauce, such as in this linked recipe. Some alternatives to making one’s own stir-fry sauce, all available from Amazon, are Koon Chun Bean Sauce (which Walder used), Thai Oyster Sauce Maekrua Brand, Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Flavored Sauce, or Three Crabs Brand Fish Sauce. The recipe indicates where to insert a bean sauce into your tofu and vegetable dish. If you prefer to use an oyster or fish sauce in place of the bean sauce, you may.

Walder wrote:

Stir frying brings out the brightest flavors. For best results, use fresh vegetables. Based on availability at my local store, and what appealed to me and my apartment mates, I used eggplant, brown mushrooms, celery, baby broccoli, red bell pepper, and green onions. For flavoring, I chose fresh ginger, vegetable stock and bean sauce. I thickened the sauce with tapioca.

This recipe relies upon planning, evaluation, and execution. I cut my vegetables into large bite-sized chunks. Then, I organized them into batches that I thought would take about the same time to cook. I had a measuring cup with the stock in it ready to use and I had the tapioca mixed in with a little stock ready for the end. I planned for two-minute intervals, but adjusted to have everything finish cooking at the same time. I used a wok, but a skillet also works. Just remember to keep stirring, as shown in this video. The recipe takes up to 30 minutes to prepare.

Tofu veggie stir fry in bean sauce by Mike Walder


    • 1 tofu package (12-15 ounces), cut into one-inch cubes 
    • ½ inch ginger root, peeled and chopped 
    • 1 red bell pepper, cut into half-inch chunks
    • 1 cup mushrooms, whole
    • 1 Asian eggplant, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
    • 1 celery stalk, cut into half-inch chunks
    • 1 cup baby broccoli florets
    • 3 green onions, cut into half-inch strips
    • 5 Tablespoons peanut oil (or some other light-tasting oil if you do not use peanut)
    • 1/3 cup vegetable stock
    • ½ Tablespoon bean sauce [pictured, right]
    • 1 teaspoon tapioca starch mixed with 2 teaspoons of vegetable stock


  1. Sear the tofu in 2 Tablespoons of peanut oil for 2 minutes per side, let rest on a rack or paper towel laced dish.
  2. Get your dry wok or skillet extremely hot before adding 3 Tablespoons of peanut oil.
  3. Add the eggplant and ginger, start stirring.
  4. Once you can smell the ginger, at about 15 seconds, reduce to high heat, continue stirring.
  5. In roughly 2 minutes or when the eggplant releases its water, add mushrooms, celery, and green onions, continue stirring.
  6. In roughly 2 minutes, add baby broccoli and red bell pepper, continue stirring.
  7. Add bean sauce and vegetable stock by pouring the stock down the side of the wok or frypan. Stir until bean sauce is incorporated.
  8. Add tapioca mixture, stir everything together as gravy thickens.
  9. Add tofu, turn off heat, and gently toss.
  10. Serve over rice. Serves 3.

[Pictured: Time to eat! Black (Hou Yifan) to move (see her move 27 in the game below) | Photos: Elliott Winslow]

The game

This game is from the Corsica Masters (2016), part of the 20th Annual Corsican Circuit. Grandmaster Anton Korobov lost this first game (and won the second game) in his two-game quarterfinal match with Grandmaster Hou Yifan. The two games had a time control of 15 minutes with a 3-second increment per move. After the two games at that time control, Korobov won both games in a blitz playoff to advance to the semifinal stage. The Korobov-Hou Yifan game seems to have been overlooked by analysts, until now! Mike Walder provides annotations with a cooking flair.


A lifetime repertoire: Play the Nimzo Indian

This DVD provides everything you need to know to be able to play one of the most classical openings with Black, the Nimzo-Indian, arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4. Nearly every World Championship and top tournament features the Nimzo-Indian.


Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register