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Carissa Yip ’21 Becomes Youngest American Female International Master in Chess

COURTESY OF CARISSA YIP

Yip became the youngest female National Master just four years after starting her chess career at age seven.


At age 16, Carissa Yip ’21 [a][b][c][d][e]earned her third and final International Master (IM) norm, or good performance, in chess at the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence (SPICE) Cup, making her the youngest American female IM in history. In the past year, she also won a 10,000 dollar scholarship at the 2019 Junior Girls’ Chess Championship and became the highest-rated American female player.

Yip said, “I got the International Master title, and to get this title you have to get three norms. To get a norm, you have to achieve a certain… performance rating in a tournament. There’s some other requirements like the average rating of your opponents and number of foreigners, but the most important part is the performance rating.”

Yip decided to take a leave for the 2019-2020 school year in order to try and reach her goal of becoming an IM. She decided that balancing her schoolwork, extracurriculars, and other time demands on top of her chess would be too difficult. Yip initially thought obtaining the IM title would “take a lot longer,” but managed to achieve it in only two months. After becoming an IM in October, she has begun considering returning to Andover for the winter term.

“I was really focused on breaking this International Master record… At [Andover], schoolwork and extracurriculars [are] a lot to handle… So, I didn’t really have a lot of time to work on chess. And that’s why I decided to take my year off— because I thought it would take me a while to get this international master title,” said Yip.

Yip started playing chess seriously when she was seven years old, playing against her father and in her school’s chess club. By learning quickly and establishing a long record of wins, Yip broke the record for youngest female National Master and youngest female to beat a Grandmaster by ages 11 and 12. Playing in tournaments against high-level opponents allowed Yip to raise her ranking, which is established by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) ratings.

“[When I started] I didn’t really know how the pieces moved, so my dad taught me, and then I crushed him pretty quickly. I won the school championship too, so then I actually started playing real tournament games. I quickly won my very first rated game against someone rated 1300… For an IM, performance rating has to be 2450 and for a GM your rating has to be 2600. But the rating difference is only 100 points, so IM’s also have to pass the 2400 FIDE rating mark, while GMs have to pass the 2500 FIDE rating mark,” said Yip.

According to Yip, one catalyst for the speed of her achievement was her performance in the U.S. Junior Girls Chess Championship this summer, where she was able to gain 150 FIDE rating points over the course of the championship, rocketing up her ranking for female U.S. chess players. According to Yip, 150 FIDE rating points would typically take three to four years to achieve, yet she was able to obtain hers in just under two weeks. Yip was also able to gain all three norms required for the IM title.

“I decided to take a year off and then over the summer I just had [this] sudden jump of 150 points, almost, and I crossed 2400, I got my second norm, and then just a couple weeks back, I got my last one,” said Yip.

George Hsieh ’21 started playing chess when he was nine and initially got to know Yip through a shared class. Hsieh knows Yip better from Andover Chess Club[f], however. He is proud of Yip’s accomplishments and hopes she will continue to perform well in the future.

“She came to chess club one time, and she beat me 20 times in a row. So that’s how I sort of got to know her after that… I think [becoming an IM] is a huge accomplishment. I mean, that’s one tier below Grandmaster. I was just shocked and I immediately texted her congratulations when I found out,” said Hsieh.

According to Yip, she trains by practicing tactics on Chess.com and by reviewing mistakes in her past games. However, her rating has hovered around the same 2400 range for the past few years, largely due to the amount of time she spends working at Andover.

“I’ve kinda been stuck at the same rating level for a couple years, from high 2300s to low 2400s. Anyway, I just had to keep working hard and eventually get past it. You just have to keep going, and ever since I started school at [Andover], I didn’t have that much time for chess studying,” said Yip.

The next step for Yip is achieving the highly prized Grandmaster (GM) title in chess. While Yip hopes to win her first GM norm in an upcoming December tournament held in Seattle, she has some time before the cutoff of her next potential record.

Yip said, “The next step is GM… that’s a year or two away, so I’m not thinking too much about it. The youngest American female GM was actually Irina Krush at 29, so I have 12 years to get the GM record.”

Hsieh expressed optimism at Yip’s ability to get the Grandmaster title in a record time.

“I think she can accomplish that, maybe not this year or next year, but to break the record, she still has [about 12] years. I think that she can accomplish Grandmaster sometime in that time span,” said Hsieh.