By the age of 18 Chinese prodigy Hou Yifan had already accomplished enough to fill most careers, winning, defending and then, temporarily, losing the Women’s World Championship title. Like Judit Polgar before her she doesn’t need to be compared only to other women to stand out. She learned to play when she was 3, had coaching by an international master when she was 5 and won the Girls U10 World Youth Championship at the age of 9. She moved to Beijing to study at the National Chess Centre when she was 10 and her progress never stopped.
She first competed in the Women’s World Championship aged 12, when she was knocked out only after sensationally beating Nadezhda Kosintseva and Natalia Zhukova. At 14 she became the world’s youngest grandmaster, and the youngest female grandmaster in history. In 2008 she lost a World Championship final to Alexandra Kosteniuk, but there was no stopping the inevitable, and in 2010 16-year-old Hou Yifan became the youngest ever Women’s World Champion.
Hou Yifan gave a glimpse of her potential in 2012, when she beat four 2700+ players on her way to a first-place playoff against Nigel Short in the 2012 Gibraltar Masters. Three years later in February 2015 she finished second in the same event and achieved a career milestone – an official rating above Judit Polgar’s. That ended the now retired Hungarian’s incredible 26-year reign as women’s no. 1.