On the Other Side of the Board: Carissa Yip Addresses Sexism and Gender Imbalance in Chess

To exemplify the sexism she has found within the chess community, Caris-
sa Yip ’22 remembered an instance when the organizers of a tournament
asked her father to pull her out of the competition because they believed
she would cause a scene when she lost. Above, Yip signing a chessboard at
the 2021 U.S. Women’s Chess Championship.

“A testament to my growth as a chess player, [winning against four former champions] was really a crazy moment for me to realize that I have become better than the players that I looked up to,” shared Carissa Yip ’22 after defeating four former women chess champions and winning the 2021 U.S. Women Chess Championship. 

The US Women’s Chess Championship features the top 12 women players in the country. According to Yip, she has been following the event since the beginning of her chess career at the age of seven, watching all the commentaries and games and idolizing each player. 11 years later, after securing her victory in the tournament Yip is now the highest ranked female chess player in the U.S. 

“My ultimate aspirations for chess have always been beyond this tournament too, so I imagined winning would just be another title. But it suddenly felt so much more real when it actually happened. It just really sunk in that this was the highest national women’s title and what I’d been working towards for the last few years,” said Yip.  

Yip also commented on the separated fields for the tournament, with different groups for men and women. As gender inequity remains as a prevalent issue in the chess community, Yip believes having distinct titles provides further incentive for more women to enter the field. 

“It’s a tough balance to strike because right now with the U.S. championships, it’s separated with the open section and the women’s section. If a woman does become high rated enough, they could play in the open section just like that. The top 12 players in the country are men right now. And a large part I think is due to the fact that there are no women in chess. So there has been a growing movement in the past decade to get more women into chess and women titles tie that because they encourage more women to enter the game and these titles are easier to get.”

Sharing an anecdote from her first tournament, Yip described how she faced sexism early on in her chess career. Looking back on this moment, she explained how sexism is still prominent within the chess community and poses challenges to women chess players even now.

“The organizers tried to convince my dad to withdraw me because they were worried as a little girl, I would cause a scene when I lost. A few months later, at another tournament, this old man just knocked all the pieces off the board and screamed at me after he lost. It’s definitely very difficult to be a woman in chess for reasons like this,” said Yip.

Yip added, “The sexism within chess is very difficult to explain. For instance, it’s a really hotly debated topic within chess on whether or not men are simply better than women at this game. Many people think men are better because the top players in the world are all men. Though the reason for this is scientifically proven to be the large discrepancy between the number of men and women in the field, it doesn’t stop the pervasiveness of sexism in chess.” 

Elaborating on the burden of carrying the title of best U.S. female chess player, Yip discussed the implications this title holds for other female chess players. Further, she expressed her gratitude for receiving this honor and hopes that these experiences can motivate her to achieve future titles. 

“There are always people waiting for me to fail so they can use it as ammunition against all women players. This is a burden to carry, but I’m also in a way thankful that it’s my burden to carry. I know that every new thing I accomplish opens up new opportunities and possibilities for other girls and women, and even though it’s a difficult responsibility to bear, I think it’s one of the utmost importance as well. I trust myself to continue improving and becoming better,” said Yip.