1. Where did your story with chess begin?
It started when I was seven years old. There was a school chess club at my elementary school. My parents were skeptical because to get into chess club, you had to actually know how the pieces move, and I had no clue how that worked. So, what happened was my dad ended up learning how to play first and he taught me how the pieces move. And then, at first, I just really liked [it] because I was beating everyone. I guess that’s how my passion for chess started.
2. How was your sabbatical year? What did you do? Where did you go?
I took a year off because I was trying to get my International Master title, which is one title below Grand Master, [the highest title a chess player can attain]. The reason [why I took a sabbatical year] was because Andover has this policy where you can’t take more than five days of personal time in a year, [but] a lot of these big chess tournaments I go to take two weeks or so. So, I wanted more opportunities to play in those higher-level events, which is why I ended up taking a gap year.
I played in quite a few chess tournaments and probably the biggest one I played during the gap year would be the Cairns Cup in February in Saint Louis, where it was the world’s best female players. It was a pretty fun experience for me because I had no idea how I got invited to play there. I got to play against people who I sort of grew up looking up to and idolizing, so it was a pretty crazy feeling to be like, ‘Wow, I’m playing in the same tournament at the same level.’
3. What is your favorite chess piece on the board? Which color?
Well, the typical answer would be a queen, but that’s a little too cliche for me. So, I’ll have to go with the knight. I remember that was my favorite piece when I started learning how to play. It also took me an insanely long time to learn how it moves because I just could not understand L-shapes. Probably the black knight because usually, in the openings, my first move, as black, my opening move would be moving my knight out to the center.
4. What do you do before your matches? Any pre-match rituals or lucky items?
I’m a bit superstitious. In chess, you have to take notation while you’re playing your game, so writing down the moves with pen and paper. If I won a game with [that] pen, I’ll continue to use it. But if I lost a game with it, I’ll throw it out and get a new one. So yeah, I have a huge stash of pens in my backpack just for that. The same goes for the food that I eat during the tournament. If I play a good game, I’ll try to have the same meal. It’s kind of odd, but it works, sometimes.
5. How has the pandemic influenced you in terms of chess and/or personally?
In general, a lot of chess events got cancelled, but the thing is you could play chess online. It’s just not really the same as over-the-board tournament chess because you can’t really gain any rating or titles because there is such a high possibility of players cheating. It’s all for fun. Eventually, we did play the National Championships online. I played the U.S. Junior Girls Championships—which I won—and that was online. The other time I played was during the U.S. Women’s Championship, also online, and I got second there.
6. What are some key lessons from chess that you have applied to your life outside the game?
I would say that my logical reasoning skills have been most affected by chess, in that I use [them] pretty often in my daily life. It helps build critical thinking skills and such, which are obviously important for your own intellectual growth. For example, in certain classes, I could apply logical reasoning and certain subjects would be easier for me.
7. Do you think that the lack of tournaments has affected your chess playing?
Usually, chess is more about the theory than practice. In general, I don’t really go to many tournaments. I probably go to less than ten tournaments every year. You need to put in a lot of work into chess behind the scenes… Lots of aspects of chess to work on, but I haven’t really found much time to do it ever since I started high school. I haven’t looked at chess for quite a while since school started. This is a pretty common pattern for me. So, usually, I don’t do anything during the school year, then in the summer, when tournaments are happening more often, that’s when I put some more work in. It’s hard to handle school and chess at the same time.
8. What is your favorite food to eat?
This is gonna sound kind of basic, but probably mashed potatoes. I feel like potatoes are so versatile, but in their mashed form, it’s the best. But then my parents make fun of me for having lame food choices. But they’re so good. And if it has a little gravy on top? It just ties the whole thing together.
9. What were your thoughts on “The Queen Gambit?”
Honestly, I haven’t watched “The Queen’s Gambit” yet because I don’t have Netflix. But I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, both by chess players and [those] who didn’t know a lot about chess before it came out. I like the general storyline of it. I think it’s pretty nice that they made the main character female because there does need to be more female representation in chess.
10. What is your perspective on female representation in chess?
Generally, there [are] a lot more guys who play chess than girls. I remember when I was a kid, I would go to my local clubs and I would be the only girl there. I remember, when I was around eight or something, I got invited to this national girls’ tournament, and made a lot of female chess friends there. That social aspect of chess is really important because I feel like if you’re really passionate about something but [can’t] make friends in that field, especially at a younger age, it [can discourage you and make you] quit. It [has] a pretty detrimental effect on the number of females who play chess.
Also, there is a sort of culture of being looked down upon because you’re a female in chess. I remember when I went to my first tournament, there was some kid who was really good at the time. My dad was telling me how he was super talented, and said, “You should try to play him.” So, I [asked], “Do you want to play a game?” and he said, “Nah, you’re a girl.” But then, two years later I was better than him and totally crushed him. Also, as you get older, there is also some sort of harassment from male chess players, especially older ones. So, a lot of factors discourage females from really getting into the game.