Athletes Chess

Hou Yifan

Hou Yifan is a Chinese chess grandmaster and four-time Women’s World Chess Champion.

A chess prodigy, she is the youngest female player ever to qualify for the title of grandmaster and the youngest ever to win the Women’s World Chess Championship.

At the age of 12, Hou became the youngest player ever to participate in the Women’s World Championship (Yekaterinburg 2006) and the Chess Olympiad (Torino 2006).

In June 2007, she became youngest Chinese Women’s Champion ever. She achieved the titles of Woman FIDE Master in January 2004, Woman Grandmaster in January 2007, and Grandmaster in August 2008.

In 2010, she won the 2010 Women’s World Championship in Hatay, Turkey at age 16. She won the next three championships in which the title was decided by a match (in 2011, 2013 and 2016, with a total of ten wins to zero losses and 14 draws against three different opponents), but was either eliminated early or declined to participate in the championships in which the title was decided by a knockout tournament (in 2012, 2015 and 2017).

Hou is the third woman ever to be rated among the world’s top 100 players, after Maia Chiburdanidze and Judit Polgár. She is widely regarded as the best active female chess player, “leaps and bounds” ahead of her competitors.

As of May 2019, she is the No. 1 ranked woman in the world, 72 points ahead of the No. 2 ranked Ju Wenjun. She was named in the BBC’s 100 Women programme in 2017.

  • Full name: Hou Yifan
  • Profession: Chinese chess grandmaster
  • Born: 27 February 1994 (age 26 years), Xinghua, Jiangsu, Taizhou, China
  • Title: Grandmaster (2008)
  • Women’s World Champion: 2010–2012; 2013–2015; 2016–2017
  • Peak rating: 2686 (March 2015)
  • Education: Peking University, High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China
  • Parents: Hou Xuejian, Wang Qian

About Hou Yifan

Hou Yifan was born on 27 February 1994 (age 26 years), Xinghua, Jiangsu, Taizhou, China. To Hou Xuejian, a magistrate, and Wang Qian, a former nurse.

Hou started playing chess regularly at the age of five, but was already fascinated by the game when she was three years old.

Hou’s father, Hou Xuejian, a magistrate, often took his young daughter to a bookstore after dinner.

He noticed that the little girl liked to stare at glass chess pieces behind the window. He later bought his daughter her first chess set.

The three-year-old was able to beat her father and grandmother after a few weeks. In 1999, her father engaged a chess mentor, IM Tong Yuanming, for his five-year-old daughter.

Tong later said that Hou was an unusual talent, showing “strong confidence, distinguished memory, calculating ability and fast reaction”. Hou herself said that she took up chess because she was fascinated by the pieces.

In 2003, Hou played against the chief coach of the Chinese national men’s and women’s chess teams, Ye Jiangchuan, for the first time.

The chess master was surprised that the nine-year-old could identify almost all of his weak moves. “Then I knew she was an exceptional genius,” Ye said. That year, Hou became the youngest member of the national team and won first place at the World Youth Championship for girls under age ten. In June 2007, she became China’s youngest ever national champion.

She was admitted to the National Chess Center, an academy for young talented players from all over the country, in Beijing when she was ten, with leading Chinese grandmasters Ye Jiangchuan and Yu Shaoteng as her trainers.

In order to better support her chess career, her family relocated to Beijing in 2003.

Hou’s mother, Wang Qian, a former nurse, accompanies her daughter on the international tournament circuit.

Hou was homeschooled and as a teenager listed her interests as reading and studying, and her favorite chess player as Bobby Fischer.

Her mother accompanied her to many international tournaments when she was young.