Hou Yifan: The Current Best Female Chess Player in the World

When we speak about Hou Yifanthe debate of male chess players vs female chess players will always ignite.

She has managed to set the chess field on fire because of her capabilities. Her capabilities have managed to help her in matching the strength of some of the elite chess players.

Born on 27 February 1994, Hou Yifan is the second-highest-rated female in history according to the FIDE Rankings.

Her journey to achieve this amazing achievement is what we will look at along with her attitude

How It All Began

Hou Yifan began chess at the age of 3 and it only took some weeks for her to be able to defeat her father even though we can’t consider him to be a good player.

This achievement lead her father to hire a professional chess coach as he couldn’t do anything to help her improve.

The chess coach was a former Chinese National Chess Champion by the name of IM Tong Yuanming.

That’s when her chess journey officially began. Within a few years of being coached by I.M. Tong, she was able to spot some mistakes and inaccuracies during their games from his side.

As an example of this female doing her best since her childhood, you can watch this video lesson where GM Igor Smirnov shows you how Hou Yifan defeated the Berlin Defense in just 11 moves.

Competitive Scene

At the age of 9, Hou Yifan had multiple mini achievements under her bag of trophies but this wasn’t enough.

The same year she got two major accolades; these are:

  1. The World Youth Championship title U10
  2. She became the youngest player selected in a Chinese National Chess Team

There was no doubt that she had the capabilities to become one of the top players in the world. So, changes had to be made that would see her talents exposed.

As such, in 2003, she had a new coaching team that included Ye Jiangchuan and Yu Shaoteng; Both of them are leading Grandmasters in China.

In 2007, she broke the record books again by becoming China’s Youngest National Champion at the age of just 13.

As a prodigy, this wasn’t much of a surprise, also considering that the parents did everything in their power to ensure that they were homeschooled.

For a prodigy to be homeschooled, this gives him/her the opportunity to focus more time on their talents with fewer distractions.

If you don’t know how strong are kids in chess, look at the game where a 9-year-old girl child scared Kasparov.

Road to the Grandmaster Title

The Grandmaster title requires that a player needs to have achieved a rating of 2500+with a total of 3 norms.

A norm is achieved when a player manages to perform at a level that is exceptionally excellent compared to the strength of the field.

For Hou Yifanher journey towards the title started in 2008 at the Aeroflot Open. In this elite tournament, she managed to finish in 31st position.

She had a score of 4½/9and her tournament performance rating was a whooping 2605thus earning her first GM norm.

The same year, she played in the Atatürk International Women Masters Chess Tournament. In this event, she managed to score 7/9.

The score left her a full point ahead of the field, thus earning the win with a performance rating of 2674. This also meant that she had earned her second GM norm, officially becoming a GM-elect.

In August of the same year, Hou Yifan took part in the World Junior Chess Championship. She was the only female in the open section.

This was also the first time that she had competed in the same tournament as male players. Officially, restarting that debate of whether females can be able to compete on the same level with males.

Hou Yifan managed to finish joint third–seventh with a score of 9/13, only losing one match. This performance ensured that she got her third norm and also a performance rating of 2661.

Initially, she wasn’t awarded the title of Grandmaster as FIDE had discredited her Atatürk norm. But after careful consideration, FIDE granted her the norm and Hou Yifan became the youngest Grandmaster in history at the time.

Becoming a World Champion

After attaining the title of Grandmaster, the next chapter in Hou Yifan’s career was to attain the title of World Champion.

In December of 2010she won the Women’s World Chess Championship after defeating Ruan Lufei via rapid tie breaks in the finals. That also made her the youngest Women World Champion in history.

The following year, she successfully defended her title against another powerhouse in Koneru Humpy.

FIDE had changed the event from being an eliminate tournament to have a candidates tournament like the main World Championship.

A Women’s Candidate Tournament finds multiple elite players competing, and the winner will be the one to challenge the current Women’s World Champion for the title.

In this case, Koneru Humpy had successfully defeated 7 other ladies in the Women’s Candidates Tournament in order to fight for the title.

Hou Yifan defended the title in a dominant display as she won 3 games and drew 5 with no losses. Meaning the 10 games scheduled event only had 8 games in total played overall.

The format changed again to an elimination pool for the 2012 Women’s World Chess Championship.

She lost her title in the second round after being eliminated from the tournament. However, since she had won the FIDE Women’s Grand Prix 2011–2012giving her the opportunity to challenge the new champion for the title in the following year.

Anna Ushenina was the new Women’s World Championand we finally got a 10 game match between her and Hou Yifan.

In a dominant fashion again, Hou Yifan won the match with a score of 5.5–1.5. From the games, she won 4 games and drew 3 gamesthus regaining her title.

This was the last time she held the title as in the following year she relinquished it to Mariya Muzychuk after not appearing for the event.

She hasn’t participated in the title ever since as she hates the single-elimination format. But she did express her interest in fighting for the title if the format is changed back into having the candidates tournament.

Top of the FIDE Rankings

over the years, Judit Polgar had always dominated the Female FIDE listbut in March 2015, that all changed as Hou Yifan became number 1.

When the new ratings appeared, Hou Yifan had a rating of 2686while Judit Polgar had a rating of 2675. Thus ending Judit Polgar’s 26-year streak being number one on the female rankings.

At the same time, when she reached this rating of 2686this was her peak rating, which makes her the second-highest-rated female.

Only Judit Polgar has managed to have a higher rating as she reached 2700+ during her peak earlier in the years.

Interests vs. Talent

Hou Yifan has had an amazing career. But many players state that even now she is capable of making more history in chess.

The main disruption to this is the fact that she wishes to have a normal life and she takes chess as a hobby rather than a career.

This was evident as she became the youngest Professor at Shenzhen University. She achieved this goal in 2020 at the age of 26.

The last active event that she played was in March 2020when she played only 2 games of the Bundesliga. Since then, she hasn’t part taken in any classical events.

Notable Games

These chess games are simply a sample. We look at this female player, Hou Yifan, doing her best against some world chess champions.

Hou Yifan vs. Magnus Carlsen

In classical matches, Magnus leads Hou Yifan 7-0 with one draw. This makes the draw between the two players one of the best matches she has had against the current World Champion.

In the game, the position was rather equal both in material and position. Though Stockfish did state that Hou Yifan had a minor advantage at some point, it wasn’t really a clear one.

It was a great decision for her to exchange material and simplify the game as Magnus Carlsen is a monster in the endgame.

Hou Yifan vs. Vladimir Kramnik

Vladimir Kramnik is a former World Chess Champion and he has also reached a FIDE peak rating of 2800+.

They have only encountered each other twice in classical matches with a win going to Vladmir Kramnikwhile the other game was a draw.

What makes this game special is that it showed off Hou Yifan’s defensive skills. In this game, she managed to come back from a +2,7 position on move 15 to draw the game.

This is also the game that made Vladimir Kramnik comment on Hou Yifan’s capabilities to reach the top.

Hou Yifan vs. Viswanathan Anand

Viswanathan Anand is yet another former World Chess Champion. He has held the title on multiple occasions, including when there was a split between FIDE and Garry Kasparov.

During his peak, Viswanathan Anand managed to reach a peak rating of 2800+ according to FIDE.

This game was filled with excitement as Anand decided to go into an exchange down variation. This is after he exchanged his rook for a knight on move 15.

After that, the game never really got going as both players just produced solid positions led by their pawn structures.

The game ended in a draw mainly because none of the players had adequate material to launch an attack on the enemy pieces.

These games are a testament to Hou Yifan’s capabilities. Even when the former and current world champion face her, she can hold them off.

Conclusion

We as chess fans have high expectations for Hou Yifan. Even at the age of 27 We still expect her to come back to the game. Possibly to compete at the highest level against some of the elite male chess players.

There has been an incident where she resigned from her game just after 5 moves. This is mainly because she was being consistently paired against females in an event that had a majority as males.

This is a sign that she believes she can be able to compete and defeat males if given the chance.

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