Interviews Aug 22, 2016 | 4:02 PMby chess24 staff

Hou Yifan takes on the financial markets

Hou Yifan has joined Online Finance Learning Platform Tradimo as part of a €100,000 investment challenge. To mark the event the Women’s World Chess Champion gave a 40-minute interview to Tradimo CEO Sebastian J. Kuhnert, in which she revealed that her first dream had been to become a detective and talked about her decision to quit the Women’s World Championship cycle. Hou Yifan also met Atlético Madrid star Fernando Torres on her recent trip to Madrid.

Hou Yifan talked to Tradimo Interactive Founder & CEO Sebastian J. Kuhnert

It’s often been observed that the strategic thinking required for chess and exploiting the financial markets has something in common. Grandmasters have been headhunted for investment funds, Hikaru Nakamura recently said that if he quit chess he might switch to trading the foreign exchange markets full time and Sergey Karjakin is sponsored by Russian broker Alpari. Tradimo itself has worked with grandmasters in the past, including Rustam Kasimdzhanov. chess24 and Tradimo share a parent company and used to share an office with Sebastian and his team in Gibraltar, but their latest project was entirely on their own initiative.

The interview with Hou Yifan is of great interest to chess fans, with the Women’s World Champion going into detail about her formative years, her university studies and her plans for the future after her decision to withdraw from the Women’s World Championship cycle. Check it out below:

If you don’t have time to watch the full interview here are a few snippets that caught our attention:

On the dream of being a detective

For example, I like reading. When I was very young, I began with many classical books. Later on, I also liked detective books, history books, biographies…

Of course when I was young I wanted to achieve my dream, but my dream actually changed quite quickly. I remember, at some moment probably I even wanted to be a detective. Later on I wanted to be a strong chess player and, coincidentally, I found out that there are some similarities between the two things, because both need theoretical thinking. Probably you need to think very far away in the future, and then step by step go back to the current to see what kind of things you need to do. So my other dream influenced my values quite a lot.

On being “rich”

First of all, talking about rich… I think at least chess players, among athletes, can’t say we have a very promising income, especially talking about women players. If we can play the top men’s events, be a Top 10 player in the world, it could be kind of promising, but for a women’s player, even if you are playing a World Championship match, it is probably a little bit better than a normal job, but it is nevertheless far away from the ‘rich’ level. And for me, although sometimes I participate in invitational tournaments and some activities, it’s ok, it’s something reasonable, we could call it this way.

In this situation we still need to think how to manage our incomes — it’s actually quite important — especially to a chess player. Most of the chess players I met are proud about their strategy, about their management, so for money I believe that we should also learn something to better manage our income. For this situation, I think I’m still kind of a beginner, although now it’s not only my parents who take care of prizes or whatever it is, but I’m still more focusing on my studies, chess, and not spending that much time on learning or managing my money. So I still hope I will improve those skills in the near future, since it’s actually very important.

On whether women are more risk-adverse and objective in chess (as in finance)

Since I’m not really familiar with the financial world, I believe what you are saying is quite true, but for the chess world, I see actually the opposite. Probably, yes, the men are stronger, more aggressive, to think that ‘I’m the centre’, not the centre of the world, but ‘I want to be the strongest person’, but actually, for chess players, I think they are more practical…

Men players sometimes would play the game and adjust to the tournament situation. For example, if they are playing the last round and only a draw will bring them the championship, they would actually play quite stable, quite solid. And sometimes they are not playing so good and already have no hope to win the tournament. They can feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not in the best shape’, so probably also this time they will not fight strongly — I see this as a practical chess player.

But for women sometimes, or at least for me it’s like this, even if the situation is not so ideal I still want to fight for every game, just to focus on each chess move, every game, to show the best quality — trying to fight for a win like this… I don’t know… probably this is also the negative side for women players to become stronger, because sometimes we are more emotional, and you cannot judge objectively.

On what’s needed to get into the Top 10

I think there are a lot of ways I need to change or improve but, generally speaking, I need to be more professional. It includes spending more time on chess, and my training should be more systematic, whether in the opening, middlegame or endgame — I think each part I need to improve. Some theoretical training is also important. And also I think to enter the top 10 I also need to have a very, very strong belief, because sometimes something even seems like a miracle… Talking about his, I remember a story where a mother suddenly saw her young daughter very close to a car coming by — I don’t remember the exact details, probably two meters — and normally even with the fastest speed you cannot catch the daughter, but because this was a very dangerous situation the mother miraculously tried to do it and took her daughter to a safe place.

So that means that under some very specific, urgent situations your potential is over your estimation or imagination. So for chess, or even talking about my situation, if you really have a strong desire to enter that level, probably one day you could do it. But of course this not only depends on your thinking, you need to really work a lot.

On chess as a universal language

I would like to say that chess is not only a sport, but also can be considered to be an art, an educational tool or even a language. Because, for example, while we are talking to each other, we might not have the same language but still playing a chess game we can feel like: "Ah, you're an attacking player and I'm more solid, and then we can feel each other's personality”.

It turns out chess is something Hou Yifan and Fernando Torres have in common!

On her studies

I actually just graduated this summer at the beginning of July and my major was International Relations. Although it sounds like quite a political major it actually contains also economics, international law and some philosophy as well — definitely some fundamental things — but actually it’s quite a mixed major where we could absorb a lot of general information from different subjects. So for me I thought it's quite useful, because for the Bachelor’s, four years of studying, instead of learning something very specific for me the more important thing was that I could really learn something. Although it’s fundamental it could be helpful for my future life and could also open my horizons and, talking about my future plans besides continuing my chess career, to improve my ratings, I'm also hoping to have my Master studies, mainly abroad.  But since the last World Championship match was postponed from the original date to this year, it kind of broke my original plan, so that’s why I didn't have enough time to do my application for the Master studies, so currently I will take at least a gap year, or probably even more than one year, to prepare, but mainly to focus on chess and doing some other interests and activities.

2700 or another Women’s World Championship title?

Well, definitely the first one is more important for me from my point of view and I believe that probably most of the spectators could guess that, because I've already won four times the Women's World Championship — of course it proves that, at least for this period, I'm keeping my level, but if it's four, five or even six times, I don't see a huge difference between the numbers. Although it shows that you are still one of the best players, at least for the women’s section, for me the more important thing is to improve my rating, to become stronger and more competitive in the top events — in the open fields.

So how to become that level as a chess player? The general thing is to improve your rating, because the rating is calculated by each game. If you win a game, you win points, if you lose, then you lose a few points, so you need to be more stable to achieve good results in a long period and then your rating can jump to a higher level. And for me, I don't know why, but there is this very coincidental fact that, for example, five or six years back I was "hesitating" around 2600 or 2550, I don't remember, and then each 50 points I would be hesitating there for at least a few months or even one year, and currently I'm at the level about 2650 or 2660 and it's already another year, so I hope that I could make this jump in the near future.

To learn more about Hou Yifan and Tradimo, including the chance to win a trip to Beijing and have dinner with the Women's World Champion, check out this special page.

If you want to hear more about Hou Yifan’s career from the star herself, check out her chess24 video series:

Meanwhile, that wasn’t all Hou Yifan was doing in Madrid recently. World Champion Magnus Carlsen may be a Real Madrid supporter who’s twice kicked off games for the team, but Hou Yifan got to watch their football rivals Atlético Madrid train... and to meet Fernando Torres. The club icon and star striker said he’d learned chess in school, but he wasn’t so keen to take on the Women’s World Champion on the chessboard!

Can't say we blame him!

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