Harare, Zimbabwe (News of the South)-As a young girl, Yifan Hou was enchanted by the shapes of chess pieces.


This initial intrigue coupled with a natural flair for the game set her on track to become the youngest woman to earn the coveted Grandmaster title at just 14 years of age.


Today Hou, 23, is the top-ranking female chess player and the only woman in the World Chess Federation players.


But it’s not unusual for Hou — often referred to as the “Queen of chess” — to compete against a roomful of men. Indeed, she was the only woman to qualify for both the “open” and “women” divisions in the upcoming King Salman World Rapid and Blitz Chess Champuonships.


Unlike standard chess, speed chess is played under accelerated time controls, with each player given approximately 15 minutes per move in rapid chess, or 3 minutes in blitz chess.


But there will only be men playing in the “open” rapid and blitz championships next week, as Hou will not be competing due to other commitments.


It’s a very conflicting feeling for me, on the one hand, I should be happy and encouraged to be in the top 100,” Hou tells CNN. “And on the other hand, it’s a little bit upsetting to see the huge gap between the two genders.”


Clash of the champions

Hou currently ranks 64th in the world, with a rating of 2680. By means of comparison, the current world championn Magnus Carlsen is 157 points ahead with a rating of 2837.


But unlike many top players who dedicate every waking moment to improving their game, from an early age Hou decided chess would be a hobby and not a career.


“I do believe that if I put 100% of my energy into chess I would do much better than what I am right now,” she says. “But I think everyone has different dreams.”


At 16 Hou became the youngest-ever female world champion, on account of her winning the Women’s World Chess Championship. She held on to the tile from 2010 to 2011, and won it again in 2013 and 2016.


While Hou is currently the highest-ranking female player by nearly 100 pointsy, she lost the title of Women’s World Champion when she chose not to compete in the women’s tournament in 2016.


This was a conscious decision to protest the differences between the open and women’s world championship systems. While the world champion gets to defend his title against an official challenger, the incumbent female champion can get knocked out without even playing the new champion.-CNN




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