Live Q&A with Women's World Champion Hou Yifan!

by Priyadarshan Banjan
10/17/2016 – Last week we did an interesting Q&A with Women's World Champion Hou Yifan, who was in Hamburg visiting the ChessBase HQ. It was an interactive session where visitors could ask questions in Playchess and on ChessBase’s Official Facebook and Twitter handles! The session lasted just over an hour, and Yifan came across as an intelligent and eminently likeable chess star. For those who missed it live we have a full YouTube video and excerpts from the Q&A.

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Live Q&A with Women's World Champion Hou Yifan!

ChessBase organized the live Q&A session with Hou Yifan last Wednesday. We had invited our readers on Facebook and Twitter to direct questions at the Women's World Champion using the hashtag #AskYifan, and promised our readers that she would attempt to answer all their questions. We opened the gates for the Q&A entries on Tuesday, 24 hours before the scheduled start of the live show, and a bucketful of questions poured in from all quarters – from the amateur next door to a former challenger to the world title.

Yifan looked stumped as Frederic Friedel asked the first question: why are you in Hamburg? "Well, actually I am here visiting my very good friend for a long time – ten years until now." Who? She asks the readers to guess, and the answer is: "It's Frederic, who is talking with us here." He narrates the story of how she started to learn English, almost ten years ago (when she was thirteen). It's in the first 2½ minutes of the video.

The session was quite animated: ChessBase had invited its readers to #AskYifan via Twitter and Facebook. One of the questions on Twitter, asked by Willy Lo, was, "Who is the most handsome GM nowadays?" Yifan giggled (did her cheeks go red?) — "Hard question... My choice would be Bobby Fischer if I could pick one from the past!" We have a selection of questions with time stamps listed below, so you can selectively watch the parts that are of particular interest to you.

In the session Premium Members on Playchess were visibly laughing their hearts out as one could make out from the flurry of comments that mushroomed in the chat. Frederic would read questions from the members on Playchess, Twitter, and Facebook. Yifan would giggle like a shy child, think like a visionary, speak like a World Champion. And Friedel was at his nostalgic best, too.

One interesting anecdote: when she was thirteen and before she spoke English Frederic went to her trainer and asked if he was looking after Hou Yifaan. 'No?! Never heard of him,' he said. Then Frederic pointed at her and said, 'I was told you were her trainer?' He said, 'Ho Eefan! Of course!' He had failed to understand because Fred had not sung the name correctly!

[Mandarin is a tone language, which means that the meaning of a word can be different depending on the pitch you use. Famously the word "ma" can have four different meanings – mother, hemp, horse and scold – depending on the tone you use. Hou Yifan (Chinese: 侯逸凡) is pronounced like this. You can dig into Chinese pronunciation in this nice YouTube lecture and read about the names of foreign chess players here. When Yifan arrived in Hoogeveen, Nigel Short tried to learn the correct tone, more or less successfully. He suggested she should drop the Y in the English transcription of her name, since it confused people and led them to call her YEE-fan (instead of EE-fan). To illustrate the point he referred to himself as EI-gel and their common friend as EDerrick.]

Yifan checking out some of the ChessBase DVDs and Fritz Trainers in Hamburg

Yifan had been visiting the Hamburg HQ of ChessBase, en route to her match with Nigel Short at Hoogeveen. This is nothing new — top grandmasters are regular visitors to the ChessBase office for more than two decades now. Over the years, it has become a meeting point for so many players who would drop by and spend an afternoon or two having fun with the ChessBase people.

But that was not the only reason for Yifan to come to Hamburg, and you will soon know why. ChessBase has recorded the entire Q&A session and uploaded it to YouTube:

The whole Q&A is about one hour long. So, make yourself comfortable and let the fun begin!

Of course it was pure fun to watch the discussion live on Playchess, while asking questions. There is an ever-growing community of viewers that makes participating in these shows such a joy. People wanted to know a lot about Yifan's future plans, and also her views on women's chess, as the world champion. A lot of funny anecdotes were shared, and Yifan also talked about her studies – she has applied for a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, how she intends to support women in sports, and many other things.

Some burning questions were raised — the mess surrounding the women's world championship cycle, hijabgate, etc. The highlight among the serious discussions in this Q&A has to be Yifan's amazingly simple solution to hold an equitable world championship cycle. We bring you some highlights (with time stamps for the YouTube video):

Twitter #AskYifan Questions

Lautrc of Carim: What format would you like for the women's world championship? [38:40]

Create a Challenger match between the winner of the Grand Prix tournaments and the winner of the World Cup KO. The player that wins this Challenger Match should play the Champion for the world title.

Fabrice Leal: Favourite player of all time?

Bobby Fischer!

Willy Lo: Who is the most handsome GM nowadays? You can name 1-2-3 of course. :) [40:30]

Bobby Fischer!

ChessBase India: You have played against both Humpy and Harika in your chess career. Who has been a more difficult opponent for you and why? [35:00]

Nigel Short: Are you going to beat that useless old English git @HoogeveenChess? [27:10]

At first, Yifan couldn't believe her eyes when she saw Short's name on the sheet. She asked Frederic, with a conspiracy theory tone, if it was really the real Nigel Short. When she was assured that it indeed was him, she laughed hysterically! Then, after composing herself, she replied, "Tough one, but as a player, I want to really try my best."

Nigel Short: Does persisting with a World Ch. system that has been tried, tested and rejected in the men's game constitute sexism? [46:10]

Brwsk: Do you celebrate your birthdays? And if so, Just yourself or with a group of people? :) [40:00]

Sasha: How to balance both school and chess?

Yifan: Put one thing in your priority. I can't see anyone balancing it perfectly.

Niranjan Navalgund: Given a chance, would you like to become a detective? Do you listen to instrumental chinese music before the games? [43:45]

Yifan told us what music she listens to – it included classical piano. Frederic could not resist mentioning the Chinese pianist he worships: Yuja Wang.

Vishal Sareen: Where, do you think, is the women's chess headed without its best player participating in the main circuit? [45:40]

Facebook #AskYifan Questions

Priyadarshan Banjan: What do you think of the recent hijab controversy surrounding the world championship in Iran? [50:40]

Yifan: I decided to drop out from the Grand Prix system and if the cycle remains like this I’ll drop out from the world championships. I prefer to devote my energy to something I pay attention to or am really involved with.

Tejas Jayade: How do you battle other distractions & focus only on preparing chess? [12:50]

I don't call all the other things in life 'distractions'. If you balance all the things you’re interested in or surrounded with in a better way, you can do really well and separate your energy. Although it might delay your improvement of chess skills. But in the meantime, you enjoy your life and that makes it more colourful.

Vernon Rae Buenavista: Do you have any plans to come to the US? Hopefully you will have a tournament here. Hoping for a picture with you. [10:00]

Actually, I’ve been to the US twice before. I have been to Hawaii. That tournament was a friendly rapid and blitz and the second one was in St.Louis. It was a very interesting match versus Parimarjan Negi where they included four formats including Basque chess and Fischer Random chess. Of course, I would love to return to the US to play tournaments and in the future. I would like to apply for my studies in the US as well.

Punit Dodhiya: How are the Chinese progressing so rapidly? [14:00]

Roven Vogel: The most depressing moment in your chess career would be…? [21:00]

Chris Parsons: How do you study openings? [25:00]

Bruce Brodinsky: Who is your favorite historical player, pre-Kasparov? Who did you study the most among these players? Good luck against Short. Please look up Bobby Riggs vs Billie Jean King! [25:20]

Mangesh Bodade: If there was a time machine to go back, which world champion would you like to play?
7 [26:00]

Bobby Fischer!

Samuel Flanagan: Do you think you will beat Nigel Short? [27:00]

Abhinav Shetty: You have one game against Koneru Humpy in Women's World Chess Championship of Petroff 5.Nc3 variation -- which player should I follow after the move 5...Nxc3 6 dxc3 Be7 7 Be3 variation for this line? [33:12]

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Priyadarshan Banjan is a 23-year-old club player from India. He works as an editor for ChessBase News and ChessBase India. He is a chess fanatic and an avid fan of Vishy Anand. He also maintains a blog on a variety of topics.


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