Born in 1994 in China, Hou Yifan learnt the game at five. Soon after that, her family moved to Bejing to support Hou's chess career, as her remarkable chess was evident. She was admitted to the National Chess Academy for talented youngsters from all over the country and studied under the guidance of GM Ye Jiangchuan.
In 2003 Hou won the Girls U10 World Junior Championship and, a year later, shared first place in the open section. A true chess prodigy, she made her debut in the national team at the 2006 Chess Olympiad aged 12 and scored 11/13 playing on the third board. A year later, she became the youngest-ever Chinese women's chess champion. In August of 2008, Hou achieved the title of Grandmaster.
Unsurprisingly, Hou Yifan entered the 2008 Women's World Championship as one of the clear favourites. Hou indeed reached the final, where she fell to Alexandra Kosteniuk. Two years later, at the next championship (Hatay, Turkey), Hou was unstoppable and became the youngest-ever Women's World Champion at the age of 16.
In 2011 she defended her title against Humpy Koneru without a single loss (+3-0=5) but was eliminated in the second round of the 2012 World Women's Championship by Monica Socko. Hou returned strong, qualified for the title match as the winner of the FIDE Grand Prix 2011-2012 and in 2013, crushed the defending champion Anna Ushenina (+4-0=3) to regain the title.
She did not play in the next championship (Sochi, 2015) and relinquished the title, but again set up the title match as the winner of the FIDE Women's Grand Prix 2013-2014. Just like in two previous title matches, Hou Yifan convincingly outplayed Mariya Muzychuk, not losing a single game (+3-0=6).
Hou opted not to defend her title in the 2017 knockout championship and a year later entered Oxford to study for a Master of Public Policy.
After graduation, Hou Yifan has stayed away from the fight for the chess crown, but it seems she has not said her last word.