Carissa Yip, 12, knows about winning. She became the youngest female chess master in the United States at 11 in 2015, after beating countless chess pros.
The Andover seventh grader will play at the U.S. Women’s Championship in St. Louis from April 13 to 30. At the invitational tournament, 12 of America’s strongest female chess players will face off. Carissa’s rating of 2305 is a record high entry for the tournament.
“She has a love affair with chess and a talent for it,” said George Mirijanian, program director of the Wachusett Chess Club at Fitchburg State University. “There are chess players playing for decades who will never become a master. She’s done it in five years.”
Carissa learned chess at 6 from her father Percy Yip. At first, she lost to him and asked her mom to persuade him to let her win.
“I told her no, you have to challenge yourself, you can’t have people throw the game,” Yip said. “She has been playing chess for five years and she understands losing is part of the game.”
Most children start chess as a hobby with their peers. For Carissa, she cut her teeth playing two-hour matches with adults, becoming a formidable opponent.
“I’ve never seen her cry after losing a game,” Mirijanian said. “A lot of young players do that. She’s able to handle it and move on to the next game.”
Carissa also enjoys skiing and reading fantasy, particularly the Harry Potter books and the Red Pyramid series. Her ability to get through thick books has served her well in chess, when she blocks out all distractions.
“I focus at the position, think about beating my opponent,” Carissa said. She plays more games before tournaments and works with her coaches.
Massachusetts Chess Association president Nathan Smolensky witnessed Carissa’s meteoric rise as a chess prodigy firsthand.
“Her chess coach found that most remarkable, her ability to concentrate and just be focused on the game,” Smolensky said. “That patience, focus and diligence really stood out, not just her raw calculating ability.”
Carissa is on track to become an international master, with her dad accompanying her to tournaments. As a full-time IT architect, Yip cannot always take time off. While some chess prodigies are home-schooled so they can compete internationally, her parents want her to have a balanced life. Her father Percy is from Hong Kong, while her mother Irene is from China.
“We will not sacrifice school for chess. She does not have to break the record for youngest international master,” Yip said.
Apart from her chess career, Carissa’s life is like many 12-year-olds, splitting time between school on weekdays and Chinese school on weekends.
“Looking at her, she’s so small, but she is a very mature young lady,” Mirijanian said. “To me, she’s like an adult. When she engages in conversation with much older players, she’s at their levels.”
Carissa stays grounded, despite worldwide coverage for her chess prowess.
“We’ve seen a couple of prodigies over the years and some are just insufferable,” Smolensky said. “She has this great attitude. It makes us root for her harder. We’re excited to see where she can go.”
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