|Born||27 February 1994|
|Alma mater||High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China|
|Women's World Champion||2010–2012 |
|FIDE rating||2658 (March 2021)|
|Peak rating||2686 (March 2015)|
Hou Yifan (Chinese: 侯逸凡; pinyin: Hóu Yìfán pronunciation (help·info); born 27 February 1994) is a Chinese chess grandmaster and four-times Women's World Chess Champion. A chess prodigy, she is the youngest female player ever to qualify for the title of grandmaster (at the age of 14 years 6 months 2 days) and the youngest ever to win the Women's World Chess Championship (at age 16).
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 the 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 July 2020[update], she is the No. 1 ranked woman in the world, 72 points ahead of the No. 2 ranked Aleksandra Goryachkina. She was named in the BBC's 100 Women programme in 2017.
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.
Hou has attempted to balance chess with life outside of it. She enrolled in Peking University in 2012, studying International Relations, against the wishes of her trainer. She took a full course load and participated in many extracurricular activities. She was offered a Rhodes Scholarship, and studied for a Masters of Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University. At Oxford, Hou was a member of St. Hilda's College. Compared to the best professional male players who dedicate their lives to chess, Hou's split focus puts her at a disadvantage. These competitors give her credit for what she has achieved in spite of her lack of preparation, and for her life outside of chess. Vladimir Kramnik said: "If she wants to stay the best female player, she can probably do nothing. If she wants to achieve her potential, she must concentrate fully on chess." Hou is aware of this as well, but nonetheless chooses to treat chess as a hobby, not a career. She said in 2018: "I want to be the best, but you also have to have a life."
In 2020, at age 26, Hou became the youngest ever professor at Shenzhen University where she is a professor at the School of Physical Education, which includes chess in its Sports Training Program.
She won her first international tournament when she came first (9½/11; +8 =3 −0, TPR 2121) in the girl's under-10 section of the World Youth Championship in Halkidiki, Greece in October–November 2003. In November, she made her debut in the National Women's Chess Championship, held at Shanwei, Guangdong. She finished in 14th place with 3½/9 with a performance rating of 2202.
On 1 January 2004, she received her first International FIDE rating of 2168, which automatically qualified her for the title of Woman FIDE Master. In April, she competed at the Chinese Team Chess Championship (Women's) in Jinan, Shandong. She scored 1½/7 (TPR 2096) having faced an average opposition rating (Rc) of 2316.
In November, she finished joint first (with Yu Yangyi, Jules Moussard and Raymond Song) but third on tiebreaks in the boy's under-10 section of the World Youth Championship, held in Heraklio, Crete (9/11; +8 =2 −1; TPR 2119).
In April, she finished fifth with a score of 7/11 (+6 =2 −3) (tied for fourth) at the 3 Arrows Cup 2005 ladies tournament in Jinan, China. In that tournament, she defeated international master Almira Skripchenko and achieved a performance rating of 2393.
From 28 June–6 July at the 2nd China-France Youth Match at Shenzhen, Guangdong, Hou Yifan scored 3/8 (+2 =2 −4, TPR 2324). The Chinese team (Zhou Jianchao, Zhao Jun, Zhao Xue and Hou) won the match 19–13.
In July, at the Festival Open International des Jeunes in Saint-Lô, France, she came second out of 75 players with 6/8(TPR 2305), behind Wen Yang. In 18–29 July at the World Youth Chess Championship in Belfort, France, Hou Yifan, seeded 8th came in 5th in the Boy's Under-12 Section with 8/11 (+5 =6, TPR 2171).
In October, she managed to qualify for the World Women's Chess Championship to be held in March 2006. Despite being rated only 2220 and ranked women's number 28 in her own country, she qualified by winning the Chinese Women's Zonal (3.5) tournament, scoring 6/9 points with a performance rating of 2526 against a rating opposition of 2401, ahead of several better-known Chinese players.
The sixth World Team Chess Championship was staged in Beersheva, Israel from 31 October to 11 November. China fielded two teams – the men's and women's, which was only the second time in the championship history where a women's team competed in what has traditionally been a male team event. This was Hou Yifan's first major team tournament and she was the youngest participant there at 11 years of age. She played as second reserve and finished with 0/3. The Chinese women's team drew one match and lost all their others (+0 =1 −7) finishing last. The tournament was won by Russia, with China (men's) coming in second and Armenia third.
In December Hou came second at the China Women Selective Tournament in Beijing for the 37th Chess Olympiad to be held in May–June 2006 in Turin, Italy. She scored 16½/28 (TPR 2433) and gained 121 elo-points. She made the Olympiad team with Wang Yu and Shen Yang, the other top finishers.
Hou reached the third round (the last 16) of the Women's World Chess Championship in March 2006. Despite being rated 2269 and seeded 56th out of 64 players, she defeated IM Nadezhda Kosintseva (rated 2480) of Russia 1½–½ in the first round, then the former 2000 European champion WGM Natalia Zhukova (2432) of Ukraine 2–0 in the 2nd round,. She was beaten 0–2 by IM Nino Khurtsidze (2430) of Georgia in the third round to finish with a performance rating of 2504.
In May–June 2006, China came third winning bronze at the 37th Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy. Hou Yifan scored 11/13 (+10, =2, −1), all played on the fourth board, at her Olympiad debut. For her winning percentage of 84.6%, she won a silver medal for fourth (reserve) board performance, and her performance rating of 2596 was the third highest overall.
The Chinese Championships for men and women took place in Wuxi, Jiangsu, 25 June–6 July 2006. Ni Hua took the men's title and Li Ruofan the women's. Hou Yifan came fourth in the women's category V (2369) event with a score of 7/11 (+5 =4 −2) and a performance rating of 2477.
In July–August, she performed badly at what has been traditionally the strongest women's tournament, the North Urals Cup in Krasnoturinsk, Russia. Although seeded third, she failed to win a game scoring 3/9 (+0 =6 −3) with a performance rating of 2357. She finished 8th out of 10 players.
In 10–20 August, she played in the China–Russia Summit Match in Ergun, Inner Mongolia. The tournament was a two double round robin Scheveningen, one for men and one for women (category VIII (2444)). Russia won the men's event 26½–23½ but China won the women's section 28–22, winning the match 51½–48½. Hou Yifan was the highest scoring female player on tiebreak with 6½/10 (+5 =3 −2, TPR 2563).
China and France played for the Trophée MULTICOMS in Paris 4–9 September 2006. This was also a Scheveningen team match with six men and three women in the teams. France edged out China 20–16 in the men's event. The women's section was a complete mismatch in terms of Elo ratings in favour of the Chinese and they confirmed this over the board winning 12½–5½. The overall result was China 28½ France 25½. Hou Yifan was again the highest scoring female player with 5/6 and a performance rating of 2498.
In October in Yerevan, Armenia at the World Junior Chess Championship (Girl's section) despite being only 12 years old, Hou was the top rated girl with a 2481 FIDE Rating and went on to take second place on tiebreak with a score of 9/12 (+6 =4 −2); tied for first on points behind her compatriot Shen Yang. Her rating performance was 2469.
In January 2007, Hou achieved a respectable fifth place in Group C (Cat. 10, 2486) of the Corus Chess Tournament with a score of 7/13 (+4 =6 −3) and a 2513 performance rating. This result, together with WGM norms she had earned at the 2005 Zonal 3.5 Women's Championship, the 37th Chess Olympiad and the 2006 Chinese Championship (Women's) won her the WGM title, formally conferred by FIDE in late January 2007.
At the Aeroflot Open in February 2007, a few weeks before Hou's 13th birthday, she played in the A1 group for the first time. Hou started well with two wins out of two, defeating first the Russian IM Nikita Vitiugov (rated 2604) and then the 2001 European Champion, GM Emil Sutovsky of Israel (rated 2629). However, in the third round she was defeated by the Russian Championship runnerup, Dmitry Jakovenko, and managed only one draw in her next five games. She rallied in the final round with a victory against the Greek grandmaster, Vasilios Kotronias, and finished with a score of 3½/9(TPR 2540).
From 1–11 May 2007, at the 8th Russian Team Chess Championship (Women's) in Dagomys, Hou played for Southern Ural Chelyabinsk on board one and scored 6½/10 (+5 =3 −2, TPR 2523). At the 1st World Women's Team Chess Championship in Ekaterinburg later that month, Hou was part of the winning China national team that also included Zhao Xue, Ruan Lufei, Shen Yang, and Huang Qian. Hou Yifan played on board two in every round and scored 7½/9 (+7 =1 −1), winning the gold medal for that board. Her performance rating was 2559.
In June 2007, she won her first Chinese Women's Chess Championship in Chongqing. Hou was 13 years old at the time, breaking WGM Qin Kanying's (who was 14 when she won the title in 1988) record as the youngest champion. Hou scored 9/11 (+7 =4 -0, TPR 2585). Second and third place went to Zhao Xue and Shen Yang, respectively.
In July, she improved on the previous year's performance at the North Urals Cup in Krasnoturinsk, finishing in 7th place out of 10 players. She scored 4/9 (+3 =2 −4) with a performance rating of 2436. The tournament was won by Zhu Chen and with Zhao Xue in second place.
In 4–15 August, she competed in what was then her strongest closed tournament – the 5th Győrgy Marx Memorial (Cat. 14, 2582) in Paks, Hungary. Being the lowest rated player and the only non-Grandmaster (out of Pentala Harikrishna, Peter Acs, Csaba Balogh, Ferenc Berkes and Viktor Korchnoi), she finished in last place in the double round robin event with 3/10 (+1 =4 −5; TPR 2444).
At the UK-China Match in Liverpool 3–9 September 2007, China defeated the UK team with a comfortable score of 28–20. Hou played for the men's team and scored 2½/6 (+1 =3 −2) with a performance rating of 2540. The average rating of her opponents (Rc) was 2598.
In late September, she came first at the 2007 Chinese Women's Zonal (3.5) tournament in Tianjin with a score of 8/9 (+7 =2 −0, TPR 2675). In October 2007, she competed at the 12th European Club Cup in Kemer, Turkey for team Southern Ural Cheliabinsk. Hou played on board two for the team, which finished fourth in the women's tournament. In the individual women's standings, Hou came in fifth with a score of 5/7 (+3 =4 −0) and a performance rating of 2556.
From October 26 to November 3, she competed for Team China at the 2nd Asian Indoor Games in Macau. The national team won team gold in the classic chess mixed team event with 11 match points (18½ game points out of 24). The Chinese team were Zhao Xue, Xu Yuhua, Hou Yifan, Wang Hao, Ni Hua and Bu Xiangzhi. Hou Yifan won an individual gold medal for her board two display with a score of 5½/6 (+5 =1 −0; 91.7%) and a performance rating of 2649.
Hou participated in the 2007 season of the China Chess League, officially known as the "Torch Real Estate Cup Chinese Chess League Division A". She played for Shandong Qilu Evening News Chess Team, who became the 2007 champions when they defeated the 2006 champion Beijing team, 3½ to 1½.
In the January Corus 2008 chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee, Hou competed in Group B where she finished in a tie for 7–10th place (9th by tiebreak) achieving 6/13 (+3 −4 =6) with a performance rating of 2598. She scored victories over three grandmasters, including a 23 move win over former World Champion challenger Nigel Short.
In February 2008, Hou gained her first Grandmaster norm (GM norm) at the Aeroflot Open in Moscow by finishing in 31st place with a score of 4½/9 (+2 =5 −2, TPR 2605). This was followed in March 2008 with a victory at the 1st Atatürk International Women Masters Chess Tournament (cat. IX (2461)) in Istanbul, Turkey where she finished a point ahead of the rest of the field on 7/9 (+5 =4 −0) with a performance rating of 2674. Her victory in this tournament earned her a GM norm conditional on FIDE ratifying then WGM Zhao Xue's attainment of her GM title. Eventually however this GM norm was not used in her official grandmaster title application.[contradictory]
In April 2008, she competed in Mérida, Spain at the 2nd Ruy Lopez Chess Festival tournament. In the category XV (2616) round robin event she finished 7th out of 8 players with 2/7 (+1, =2, −4) and a rating performance of 2467.
Hou competed in the Chinese Chess League again in the 2008 season, which had 18 rounds in six different cities from March to August. Hou's teammates were GM Bu Xiangzhi, GM Zhao Jun, GM Wen Yang, and WGM Zhang Jilin.
In May–June 2008, she became the Chinese Women's Champion for the second consecutive time with 9/11 points (+7 =4 −0) in Beijing and a performance of 2599. At the July 2008 First Saturday GM Tournament in Budapest, Hou was top seed, but came in second place with 9/12, missing a GM norm by half a point. Her performance rating was 2574.
In August 2008 she competed in the World Junior Chess Championship held at Gazientep, Turkey where she competed in the general ("boys'") section for the first time in her career. She was the only girl in this section and was the 16th seed on the entrant's list. Hou finished joint 3rd–7th on 9/13 (+6 =6 −1), achieving a performance rating of 2661 and her second GM norm.
In September 2008, FIDE referred to her as a "GM-elect", indicating that her Atatürk norm had been confirmed.[original research?][contradictory] This meant that Hou Yifan qualified for the grandmaster title in August at the age of 14 years 6 months 2 days, making her one of the youngest grandmasters in history, as well as the youngest female.
In August–September 2008, she competed in her second Women's World Chess Championship at Nalchik, Russia. She had qualified by being one of the six highest rated players from the average of the July 2006–January 2007 period. In this knockout tournament, she was seeded 3rd out of 64 players. She defeated WGM Mona Khaled (Egypt) 2–0 in the first round and WGM Batkhuyagiin Möngöntuul (Mongolia), 2–0 in the second. In third round, she had to go to rapid playoffs to eventually beat IM Elena Sedina (Italy) 3–1 (1–1, 2–0). In the quarterfinals she defeated Armenian IM Lilit Mkrtchian 1½–½, followed by Indian GM Humpy Koneru, the second seed, in the semifinals (4–2 overall, 1–1, 1–1, 2–0). She lost the final to Alexandra Kosteniuk of Russia, 2½–1½. Nonetheless she became the youngest ever finalist for the Women's World Championship title, earning an automatic International Master (IM) title and a "runner-up 9-game grandmaster norm", her fourth GM norm overall. Her performance rating for the entire championship was 2536.
Hou participated at the 1st World Mind Sports Games in Beijing from 3–18 October as a member of the Chinese team, winning the bronze medal in the Women's Individual Blitz event, the gold medal in the Mixed Pairs Rapid event (with Ni Hua), the silver medal in the Women's Teams Blitz event, and the gold medal in the Women's Teams Rapid event. In mid-late October, playing board one for team Spartak Vidnoe in the 13th European Club Cup held in Kallithea, Greece she scored 2/4 (+1 −1 =2, TPR 2448) helping her team to a 2nd-place finish. Very shortly thereafter she played in the Cap d'Agde Rapid tournament from 24 October to 1 November, losing to former world champion Anatoly Karpov in a tiebreaker match at the end of the qualifying stage, despite winning the second tiebreak game.
At the 38th Chess Olympiad in Dresden from 12 to 25 November, she played at no. 1 board in the Chinese women's team. Although her team did not win a prize, she still placed third in the individual board prize. She played in every round with a final result of 7½/11 (+5, =5, −1, TPR 2563).
Hou Yifan competed in the Grandmaster Group B of the 71st Corus chess tournament in Wijk aan Zee from 16 January to 1 February 2009. She was seeded 12th out of 14 players and finished joint 9th–10th with a performance rating of 2620. Between 7–19 March, she finished third in the FIDE Women's Grand Prix Tournament in Istanbul, scoring 8/11 (+6=4–1, TPR 2649).
From 12 to 23 May, she competed at the 8th Asia Continental Chess Championship at the Subic Exhibition and Convention Center, Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Olongapo City, Philippines. She scored 7½/11 with a 2640 performance, finishing 7th out of 86 on tiebreak. By finishing in the top 10 she qualified for the 2009 World Cup.
From 9–15 August 2009 at the Jubilee Open, Zürich, she won the "best female player" prize by coming joint 17th with 6½/9 (+5 −1 =3, TPR 2590). From 19 August to 1 September at the NH Hotels Risings Stars vs Experienced, Amsterdam, she finished with a score of 3½/10 (+1 −4 =5, TPR 2548). She was defeated in the first round at the Chess World Cup 2009, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, 20 November – 15 December 2009.
In January, she finished with 4½/9 at the Moscow Open. In February, she finished with 4/9 at the Aeroflot Open. In April, she won the third Kuala Lumpur Open 7.5/9 (+6 = 2, TPR 2730). In August she won the 2010 Women's Grand Prix in Mongolia.
In October, she was on board two for Cercle d'Echecs de Monte Carlo in the 15th European Club Cup for Women held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. She helped her team to a gold medal win with a 4.5/6 score (+3 =3, TPR 2651).
In November, she won the women's individual gold medal in the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. She finished with 8½/9 and with a performance rating of 2798. She won another gold medal from the women's team event, representing China as the first board, along with her teammates Ju Wenjun, Zhao Xue, Huang Qian and Wang Yu, beating Uzbekistan 2½–1½ in the final.
In December she won the Women's World Chess Championship 2010 in Hatay, Turkey, making her the youngest women's world champion in history. Her compatriot Ruan Lufei was her opponent in the finals. After four games at classical time controls, the score was tied at 2–2, but Hou won the rapid playoffs 3–1 to take the title. Her performance rating was 2585.
In January 2011 she was due to take part in the Gibraltar Chess Festival, but pulled out because of a family illness. In April, she won the First Women Master Tournament in Wuxi with a 7/9 score (+6 −1 =2, TPR 2639).
In June, she took part in a tournament in India, the AAI International Grandmasters Chess Tournament 2011. She finished with a dismal last place, but in August, she rebounded to win clear first place in the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012 tournament in Rostov, Russia. She then went on to win the second Grand Prix stage in Shenzhen in September 2011.
In August, she took part in the Chess World Cup 2011 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. She was one of the two female participants in the 128-player single-elimination tournament. Her opponent for the first round was Sergei Movsesian, to whom she lost 2–0, resulting in her elimination.
In October she played on board one for team Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo in the 16th European Club Cup for women held in Rogaska Slatina, Slovenia. Her top rated team placed a disappointing 4th place, with Hou scoring 4/6 (+4 −2, TPR 2526)
In November Hou successfully defended her women's world champion title in the Women's World Chess Championship 2011 in Tirana, Albania against Koneru Humpy. Hou won 3 games and drew 5 in the ten-game match, winning the title with two games to spare. Her performance rating for the match was 2741.
Beginning December, Hou played in the 2011 SportAccord World Mind Games, held in Beijing, China which consisted of 3 events, rapid, blitz and blindfold. She placed joined 5–7th, 6th on tiebreaks with a 4/7 score (+2 −1 =4) in the rapid portion, but winning both the blitz and the blindfold portions with 11.5/15 (+9 −1 = 5) and 5.5/7 (+5 −1 =1) scores respectively.
Afterwards, Hou played for China in the Women's World Chess Team Championship in Mardin, Turkey. The 5 person team, arranged according to rating, consisted of herself, WGM Ju Wenjun, GM Zhao Xue, WGM Tan Zhongyi and WGM Zhang Xiaowen. China was the clear winner with 16 match points, having lost but one match to Ukraine in the 8th round and winning the rest, ahead of the runner-up Russia by three match points. Georgia grabbed bronze with 12 match points. Hou scored five points from the seven games she played (Wenjun played the first board for Round 1 and Round 2) (+3 = 4, TPR 2648).
Hou started 2012 by taking equal first place at Tradewise alongside Nigel Short at the Gibraltar Chess Festival scoring 8/10 (+7 −1 =2) with a tournament performance of 2872. She came second on tiebreak when she lost the 2 game blitz playoff against Short by 1.5–0.5. She scored 5/7 against the 7 GMs she played rated 2700 or higher. This included 4 wins against Zoltan Almasi (2717), Judit Polgar (2710) (Polgar's first loss against a female player after 22 years), Lê Quang Liêm (2714) and Alexei Shirov (2710), 2 draws against Michael Adams (2724) and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov (2747), whilst her only loss came against Krishnan Sasikiran (2700) in a close endgame of Q (with a pawn up) versus R+R with black.
From 6 to 13 March, she played and finished joint 2nd–8th in the 2012 Reykjavik Open 7/9 (+5 =4, TPR 2677). From 27 March to 7 April, she participated in the 2012 China Chess Individual Tournament Group A, the determiner of China's National Champion. She finished joint 7th–9th, 7th by tiebreak. 5/11 (+1 −2 =8; TPR 2560).
From April 13 to April 19, Hou played in the 2012 Bangkok Chess Club open. Seeded third by rating, she finished 14th, 6/9 (+4 −1 = 4; TPR 2500).
From 29 May to 7 June, she played in the 3rd Hainan Danzhou Grand Master Chess Tournament that traditionally showcased the top 10 highest rated Chinese players, although the two highest rated players at the time Wang Hao and Li Chao did not participate. Seeded 6th by rating, Hou finished in 10th and last place with 3/9.
From June 9 to June 22, Hou played in the 4th leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012 held in Kazan, Russia. Coming immediately off the heels of the recently completed Chinese Men's super tournament in Danzhou, she started off slowly with 2 points in the first 5 rounds before closing strongly with 4 wins in the final 6 rounds. She finished joint 3rd–4th. 7/11 (+5 −2 = 4; TPR 2604).
From July 16 to July 19, Hou played in the 5th leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012 held in Jermuk, Armenia. She won the event with a 7/11 score (+4 −1 =6, TPR 2598). This victory added to her victories in Rostov 2011 and Shenzeng 2011 made Hou the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012 and secured for herself the challenger spot for the Women's World Chess Championship 2013.
At the 40th Chess Olympiad held in Istanbul, Turkey from 27 August to 10 September 2012, Hou Yifan led the Chinese women's chess team to a second place, silver medal finish. Hou won the gold medal for individual performance on board 1 with a 2645 TPR, 6.5/9 score (+4, =5). During the competition she was presented with the Caissa Cup, which honors the female player with the best chess results during the year.
From October 8 to October 17, Hou played in the European Chess Club Cup 2012 as a member of team, Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo. She played board 1 with 4.5/6 score (+4 −1 =1, TPR 2609) and her heavily favored team swept the round robin competition with a 7–0 score.
From October 19 to October 27, Hou played in the main even of 16th Univé Hoogeveen Chess Festival as part of the Univé Crown Group, a four player double round robin tournament. The average rating of the participants was 2695, making this a category 18 tournament. Hou finished in last place with a 2/6 score (−2 =4, TPR 2605).
In an interview in Kazan she said that she was going to start studying international relations at Beijing University in September. She said that she was glad China was moving away from its one-child policy, she would have liked to have had a brother or sister, and she knew of women who had been forced to have abortions.
In November 2012 she was knocked out in the second round of the Women's World Chess Championship 2012. As the winner of FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012 she earned the right to challenge the new champion in the Women's World Chess Championship 2013.
During December 12 to 19, Hou concluded the year by participating in the 2012 SportAccord World Mind Games, competing in the 3 disciplines of Rapid, Blitz and Blindfold. In the rapid event, she placed second on tiebreaks with a 5/7 score (+4 −1 =2, TPR 2713). For the blitz event, she placed 7th by tiebreaks with a 7/15 score (+6 −7 =2, TPR 2487). In the blindfold event, she won with a 6/7 score (+6 −1).
Hou was invited to participate in the 2013 Tata Steel Chess Tournament Grandmaster A group in Wijk aan Zee from 12 to 27 January. This was a Category 20 event, and her first supertournament participation. She was the lowest Elo rated player at 2603 and seeded 14th. She surpassed initial expectations by finishing 11/14 with a 5.5/13 score (+3 −5 =5, TPR 2688) including a draw against then World Champion Viswanathan Anand. She competed in the 2013 China Chess Individual Tournament Group A in Xinghua, China from April 16 to the 27th. She finished in a six-way tie for 4th to 9th place, 4th by tie breaks, with a 5.5/11 score (+3 −3 =5, TPR 2609).
From May 2 to May 16, Hou competed in the 1st leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013–2014 held in Geneva, Switzerland. She was the highest rated player in the event but finished 8th/9th, including a loss to the Women's World Champion 2012–13, Anna Ushenina. Her score was 5/11 (+3 −4 = 4, TPR 2470).
From 11 to 14 June, she played a four-game match with David Navara for the CEZ Chess Trophy 2013. All four games ended in draws, so the winner would be decided by tie breaks. After each player won with white in the blitz portion, an armageddon game won by Hou, as black, gave her the trophy. Her performance rating for the classical games was 2707.
From June 30 to July 3, Hou was part of the team representing China in the 4th Asian Martial Arts Games held in Incheon, South Korea. She won a gold medal in the classical portion of the event with a 6.5/7 score (+6 =1). In August, she took part in the Chess World Cup 2013 in Tromsø, Norway. She was one of four female participants in the 128-player single-elimination tournament. Her opponent for the first round was Alexei Shirov. After two draws in the classical portion of the match, they proceeded to tiebreaks. Hou won the first rapid game with white and lost the second with black. In the next tiebreaker set she lost both games resulting in her elimination.
As the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2011–2012, Hou won the right to challenge Anna Ushenina in a 10-game match for the world title. Scheduled from September 10 to the 27th, the Women's World Chess Championship 2013 was played in Taizhou, Jiangsu, China. She won the match in 7 games with a 5.5–1.5 score (+4 =3, TPR 2730) regaining her championship title.
From 19 to 26 October, Hou played in the European Chess Club Cup 2013 as a member of team, Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo. She played board 1 with 5/6 score (+4 =2, TPR 2736) and for the second year in a row, her team swept the round robin competition with a 7–0 score. From 12 to 18 December, she played in the SportAccord World Mind Games in the chess discipline. The tournament consisted of three events: rapid, blitz and the basque system. In the rapid event, Hou scored 5/7 (+3 = 4, TPR 2691) capturing the silver medal. In the blitz event, she won the gold medal with a 21.5/30 score (+19 −6 =5, ). Notable was that during the second day of the blitz event, Hou achieved a near perfect 9.5/10 score. In the final event played under the basque system, Hou won the silver medal on tiebreaks with a 7/10 score (+7 −3).
From 11 to 22 March, Hou competed in the 2014 China Chess Individual Tournament Group A in Xinghua, her birthplace. She again played against the men in the open section rather than in the women's section. She finished in 7th place with a 5.5/11 score (+2 −3 =6, TPR 2558).
From July 14 to July 24, Hou played in the grandmaster section of the prestigious Biel chess tournament. This was a six player category 19 event with an average rating of 2717 with Hou being the lowest rated player. She started with a win over Anish Giri and was tied for second entering the final round and could take joint first place by winning her final game against Pendyala Harikrishna. While she wound up losing the final game, Hou still had a successful tournament, finishing joint 3rd–5th with a 5/10 score (+2 −2 =6, TPR 2734).
From August 1 to August 14, Hou participated in 41st Chess Olympiad in Tromsø, Norway as board one of the top seeded Chinese Women's team. The team rattled off six straight wins before succumbing to the second seeded Russian team with Hou losing her individual game, as black, to Kateryna Lagno. She ended the Olympiad with a 7/9 score (+6 −1 = 2, TPR 2671) leading her team to the silver medal. Her own performance was good enough to receive the silver medal for board one.
Hou is the winner of FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013–14. From April 8 to April 22, she played in the 4th stage in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. Opening with 3 straight victories, she dominated from start to finish. Several times as white she eschewed her regular 1.e4 opening move and began with 1.c4 and 1.g3. She finished in 1st place with an 8.5/11 score (+6 =5, TPR 2695). From June 18 to July 2, she played in the 5th stage in Lopota, Georgia. Leading from start to finish, she won with a 9/11 score (+7 = 4, TPR 2773), a full two points over her nearest competitors. From August 24 to September 6, she competed in the 6th and final stage in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. She finished joint first with Ju Wenjun with an 8.5/11 score (+6 =5, TPR 2686).
At the final leg, the tournament's official awards, Big and Small Cups of Grand Prix, designed and manufactured by the Lobortas Classic Jewelry House, were presented. As the winner of the 2013–2014 Grand Prix Series, Hou Yifan was solemnly awarded the Small Cup during the official closing ceremony of the tournament.
During September 13 to 21, she competed at the 18th European Club Cup held in Bilbao, Spain. Once again she was the top board for Cercle d'Echecs de Monte-Carlo winning the individual gold medal for her performance 5/6 (+4 =2, TPR 2749) while leading her team to a second-place finish.
With the postponement of the Women's World Chess Championship 2014 she played in the Corsican Chess Circuit in October and won, beating Sergey Fedorchuk in the final. This has been described as the most important tournament yet to be won by a female player other than Judit Polgar.
From December 11 to 18, Hou played in the 2014 SportAccord World Mind Games held in Beijing, China. The Mind Games consists of separate tournaments in 3 disciplines: rapid, blitz and basque. In the rapid event, she placed second capturing the silver medal, losing only to Valentina Gunina, the eventual event winner. Her performance was 5/7 (+4 −1 = 3, rapid TPR 2672). She won the gold medal in the blitz event with a 22.5/30 score (+20 −5 = 5, TPR 2718). Especially noteworthy in her blitz tournament was her performance pushed her official blitz rating to 2704, making her the second female player to cross the 2700 barrier in any rating format. In the final basque system event, Hou took home another gold medal with an 8.5/10 score (+7 =3).
When Hou turned twenty one in 2015 she lost her junior status. She ended the year, and her junior playing career, as the reigning Women's World Chess Champion, the 2nd highest rated female player, the highest rated girl, the 4th highest rated junior and the 71st highest overall rated active player with a FIDE rating of 2673.
Hou once again played in the 2015 edition of Tata Steel Chess Tournament held from January 15 to 25. She was the 12th seed out of 14 total participants in the Category 20 Master group and finished 11th with a 5/13 score(+1 −4 = 8, TPR 2670). While she performed approximately according to her rating, Hou had winning chances in a few of her games and even missed a drawing chance against world champion Magnus Carlsen after defending a difficult position as black for most of the game.
Shortly after, she returned to the scene of her greatest chess tournament triumph, the Gibraltar Chess Festival 2015 held from January 27 to February 4. Seeded 13th by rating, she placed joint 3rd–11th, 3rd by performance with a 7.5/10 score (+5 =5, TPR 2772) pushing her FIDE rating to 2686. She also won the 1st place prize for being the highest scoring female player. Her excellent performance in this event resulted in her rating surpassing Judit Polgár's classic rating for the first time in the March 2015 FIDE rating list, ending Polgár's 26 consecutive years reign as the top rated female player in the world. For the first time since Maia Chiburdanidze in January 1989 a single individual was both the top rated woman player and the reigning Women's World Chess Champion.
She played in the Hawaii Grandmaster Challenge 2015 in March, a two-day four player quadruple blitz and rapid round robin event. She began the first day with a 3.5/6 score before crushing her opponents the second day with five straight wins and a draw in the final game easily winning the event with a 9/12 score. Since this event conflicted with the Women's World Chess Championship 2015 she relinquished her title to Mariya Muzychuk at the conclusion of the Championship.
She played in the 2015 edition of Dortmund Sparkassen Chess Meeting which ran from June 27 to July 5. With an average rating of 2724, it qualified as a Category 20 supertournament. Hou finished in joint 7th/8th with a 2.5/7 score (−2 =5, TPR 2629)
Hou has been chosen as the first FIDE Presidential nominee for Chess World Cup 2015 held in Baku from September 10 to October 5. She made it past the first round of a World Cup for the first time in her career before losing in the second round 1.5–2.5 to Shakhriyar Mamedyarov after the 1st set of rapid tiebreaks. Her performance rating was 2685 for the event.
From October 2 to October 15, Hou competed in the 1st leg of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2015–16 held in Monte Carlo, Monaco. She started the event slowly, with a 2.5/4 score going into the first rest day. This included a loss to rival Humpy Koneru before stringing together a streak of six wins, winning the tournament with one round to spare. Her final score was 9/11 (+8 −1 = 2, TPR 2766).
She participated in an exhibition match against Parimarjan Negi held in the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis from November 12 to the 15th. The four-day event showcased a different chess variant each day: Basque Chess, Rapid Chess960, Rapid Chess and Blitz Chess with each game played counting for 1 point in determining the winner. Hou easily won the match: 0–2 in Basque, 3.5–0.5 in Chess960, 3–1 in Rapid Chess, and 4.5–3.5 in Blitz with a total score of 11–7.
As part of the joint Russian-Chinese Match of Friendship chess festival held from December 13 to 15 held in Shanghai, China, Hou participated in an exhibition match with the GM Evgeniy Najer the 2015 European Champion. Playing a series of rapid and blitz games, she won quite convincingly with a 9.5 to 4.5 score.
In the last chess event of the year, the 2nd edition of the 2015 Qatar Masters Open held from December 19 to the 30th in Doha, Qatar, Hou was the 22nd highest rated player in the tournament but finished in 38th place with a 5.5/9 score (+3 −1 =5, TPR 2591). The result was still good enough to win the top women's prize by a full point.
For the third time, Hou competed in the top group of the Tata Steel Chess Tournament held from January 15 to 31. This year she was seeded 13th out of 14 participants in this Category 20 event. She started strongly, going +1 in her first six games before faltering with four losses in the following five games. She placed 12th with a 5/13 score(+1 −4 = 8, TPR 2672).
In early February, Hou played and won in a four-game match against Cristobal Henriquez Villagra in Punta Arenas. Billed as a Bicontinental Chess Match, it was scheduled to be played in two locations, but due to inclement weather, they were unable to play in Antarctica. She won the match with a 2.5–1.5 score(+2 −1 =1, TPR 2584).
Qualifying for the Women's World Chess Championship 2016, in March, as the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013–14, she reclaimed the World Championship title from Mariya Muzychuk in Lviv, Ukraine with a 6–3 score (+3 =6, TPR 2685).
From March 23–26 Hou played in a four player 3 round classical/3 round rapid robin tournament to determine the qualifier for the 4th edition of Norway Chess. She finished in 3rd place with a 1/3 score (−1 =2, TPR 2531) in the classical portion and 2/1 score (+2 −1, TPR 2716) in the rapid portion.
In May, Hou dropped out of the current Women's World Championship cycle, effectively relinquishing the crown. She explained her reasons in a Chessbase interview, mainly objecting to the format wherein the Women's World Champion is decided alternately by a knockout tournament and then a match. She also expressed her willingness to participate in the cycle if the format were amended to mirror that of the World Chess Championship.
She played in the Vugar Gashimov Memorial, a category 20 tournament held in, Shamkir Azerbaijan, from May 26 to June 4. She was the ninth seed out of ten participants and finished in last place with a 2.5/10 score (−4 = 5, TPR 2578)
Hou played in the Eurasian Blitz Cup from June 17–20 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Seeded 17th on the strength of her 2704 blitz rating, she came in 29th place with a 12.5/22 score (+10 −7 = 5, TPR 2650). Among the female competitors, while having a superior performance rating, she came in second to Harika Dronavalli on tiebreaks.
At the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival, Hou finished with a score of 6/10 (the tournament was won by Hikaru Nakamura). Her round 7 win against the French master Borya Ider, in which she made an early positional sacrifice of queen for two minor pieces, was described as "truly astonishing" by organizer and chess journalist John Saunders. In the final round, she appeared to throw her game against Indian Grandmaster Lalith Babu, playing a ridiculous opening and resigning after 5 moves. She later explained that she was upset about being paired against other female players in 7 of her 9 previous games of a Swiss system tournament, however tournament organizer Brian Callaghan said the pairings were simply the result of a computer program.
Hou Yifan was one of 24 players selected to play in the FIDE Grand Prix 2017, a qualification stage for the World Chess Championship 2018. She reached position 17 in the final standings, and thus was not able to qualify for the Championship.
In April she participated at the Grenke Classic at Baden-Baden. She finished 5th out of eight players, beating Fabiano Caruana and drawing against Magnus Carlsen after having come close to winning.
In June she re-entered the top 100 players, as world no. 85.
In December, she won the 2019 Belt and Road World Chess Woman Summit with 5/7 points.
Rated 2686 in the March 2015 FIDE rating list, Hou was the world no. 59 player and world no. 1 woman player (overtaking the recently retired Judit Polgár's rating for the first time). On 1 July 2006, she was the youngest ever player to enter the Top 50 Women (Number 8) and Top 20 Girls (Number 2) FIDE lists at age of 12 (rated 2488), since FIDE began releasing these lists in 2000.
Between the April 2006 and July 2006 FIDE rating lists, she gained an impressive 190 rating points from a rating of 2298 to a rating of 2488, which made her the eighth highest rated female player, and the second highest rated girl, in the world.
Four-time winner of the honorary Caissa Cup as the best female player of the year (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014). Chess Award of Caissa, designed and executed by artisans of the Lobortas Classic Jewelry House, was solemnly presented at the 40th Chess Olympiad in Istanbul on September 2, 2012 during a meeting of the Commission for Women's Chess with the participation of Susan Polgar chairing the commission.
Hou Yifan primarily plays 1.e4 as White. As Black, she usually plays the Sicilian Defence (including the Najdorf and Dragon variations) as well as the French Defence against 1.e4, while against 1.d4 she plays the Nimzo-Indian, Bogo-Indian and Queen's Indian defences.
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Yifan claimed that there are many reasons for the lack of female contenders at the chess top-level. She says there is a physical aspect to long chess games that might advantage men, and that men generally work harder at chess than women growing up. She uses Chinese girls as an example and points out that most prefer a balanced life, prioritizing things like university and family life at the cost of working on chess. But she claims there are also external factors: girls playing chess growing up are only encouraged to compete for the girl's title, which might lower their motivation.
She admits that it is difficult to measure the causes.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Hou Yifan.|
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