Women’s no. 1 Hou Yifan has set a new record by becoming the youngest full professor in the history of Shenzhen University at the age of 26. Hou Yifan, who recently studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, is now Professor of the School of Physical Education. Her goal is to make Shenzhen University into a major centre of chess, though chess fans will of course still be hoping to see Hou Yifan back in competition.Hou Yifan has made a habit of setting records. After winning her first world title at the age of 9 she competed in her first full Women’s World Chess Championship aged 12, knocking out Nadezhda Kosintseva and Natalia Zhukova. At 14 years, 6 months and 16 days she became the youngest grandmaster in the world at the time, and still holds the record as the youngest girl to pick up the full grandmaster title. She found time to lose a World Championship match before becoming the youngest Chess World Champion at the age of 16 in 2010.
She went on to win World Championship title matches against Humpy Koneru, Anna Ushenina and Mariya Muzychuk, but became disillusioned with the Women’s World Championship system where the title was decided in a knockout in alternative years.
Her achievements in open competitions include twice finishing second in the Gibraltar Masters and winning the 2017 Biel Chess Festival ahead of the likes of Harikrishna, Etienne Bacrot, Peter Leko, Ruslan Ponomariov and David Navara.
In 2018, however, she took a break in her chess career to study at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. Chess fans will have been hoping to see her make a full return to competitive chess, but today it turned out Hou Yifan has chosen to make a new step into academia!
Shenzhen is a Chinese city of 12 million people bordering on Hong Kong, that is already familiar to chess fans for its Shenzhen Masters chess tournament – won last year by Anish Giri. Hou Yifan isn’t turning her back on chess, since she’ll be heading the university’s chess program:
How to train high-level players to let them go further on their career path is naturally one aspect. However, after all, it is a minority that takes the career path, so I also hope to use chess to help improve the overall ability of students and cultivate their innovation - thinking.
We wish Hou Yifan luck in her new venture, but also hope she decides to get back to some regular over-the-board events when chess life returns to normal!
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