An Interview with Chess Prodigy Hou Yifan

Hou Yifan is a Chinese chess prodigy, who in 2008 became the youngest female in history to become a Grandmaster at the age of 14 years. In 2007, she became the youngest ever Chinese women’s champion and in 2008 she was the youngest player ever to qualify for the World Women’s Championship Finals, where she lost the title to Russia’s Alexandra Kosteniuk. As of September 2009, Yifan is the 3rd highest rated female player in the world behind Judit Polgar and Koneru Humpy.

Riding high on her recent triumph at the Asian Indoor Games in Vietnam where she won a gold medal for her country, the shy and charming girl spent a few minutes in conversation with The Viewspaper.

VP: Congratulations on winning the gold medal Yifan. Can you tell me a bit about how you got into chess?
Yifan: Thank you. I learnt the game at the age of 5 and a half. I was always interested in board games like Chinese checkers and Go. Nobody in my family knew how to play chess, so I was helped by a local coach.

VP: Do you get a lot of support from the Chinese federation?
Yifan: The federation sponsors my foreign tours when I represent the country, such as this one in Vietnam. They also arrange coaching camps for the top Chinese players several times in a year.

VP: Who is your personal trainer? How much time do you spend on chess?
Yifan: Grandmaster Yu Shaoteng is my personal trainer, and I work with him for 4VP:5 hours in a day through the week. Weekends are a bit more relaxed. We also have an official coach for the national team – Grandmaster Ye Jiangchuan. Sometimes I like to practice alone, but there are days when I just take a break from chess.

VP: What about school? Do you have plans to study later?
Yifan: I am enrolled in a school in Beijing but I attend rarely due to my travel schedule. I want to study beyond high school as I would like to learn things apart from chess.

VP: Do you get time for meeting friends and pursuing hobbies?
Yifan: Most of my friends are chess players, so I meet them often at tournaments. I like swimming, reading books, and Chinese pop music.

VP: Do you like travelling?
Yifan: Yes, I have been to around 10 countries so far. I like exploring different places and I am especially fond of beaches and the sea. My favourite place is Paris – I had a good trip to France.

VP: Which is your most memorable performance or game?
Yifan: I think my best performance was in the Women’s World Championship last year. I also played very well in the Women’s Super Tournament in Turkey in 2008, which I won by a clear margin.

VP: Is there any chess player or book that has inspired you?
Yifan: I admire Bobby Fischer, as he had a powerful playing style and also a strong personality. He is special because he won the World Championship at a time when Russians dominated the game and there was nobody in America.

I read a lot of chess books, and there is no clear favourite. Most of them are Chinese translations of Russian or English books.

VP: If you could spend an evening with anybody dead or alive, real or imaginar, whom would you choose and why?
Yifan: I would like to meet the Chinese athlete, Liu Xiang. He is my favourite sportsperson and I love the way he jumps across hurdles (at this point Yifan got up and demonstrated with actions!).

VP: What is your ultimate aim in chess?
Yifan: I just want to learn more about the game, and keep improving my standard. I don’t have any specific goals other than to become a very good chess player.

VP: Do you have any thoughts on why there are more strong men players than women?
Yifan: This is a difficult question for me! I don’t really care about such things, for me it is more important to focus on my own game and not think about negative things.

VP: What are your short term tournament plans?
Yifan: I will go back to China and participate in the China Mindsports Games – a large mind games meet. After that I will prepare for the World Cup in Siberia next month. I am working towards achieving a rating of 2600 from my current 2588, but I don’t want to pressurize myself with time limits.

Compiled by:
Kruttika Nadig

[Image courtesy:]