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’s Top 100 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 Championships.
“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.”
But from an early age Hou decided chess would be a hobby and not a career, unlike many top players who dedicate every waking moment to improving their game.
“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.”
While chess is still a priority, Hou intends to study an MSc in Education at the University of Oxford in 2018.
(Original report appeared in CNN)